What 29 TV Shows Have Been #1 in the Annual Nielsen Rankings?

“NCIS” is the last scripted show and the last drama series to rank #1 in the annual Nielsen rankings.

Since 1950, TV viewership has been tracked by the Nielsen Media Company (albeit with estimates from diaries, then set-top boxes and within the last ten years, local people meters) to determine the ratings and share of audience tuned in to every program on every network (and local market station) that subscribes to the service. And at the end of every broadcast TV season, those network programs are ranked according to the percentage of audience tuned in to any given program.

The below list shows the #1-ranked program for every broadcast TV season since then:

1950-1951  The Texaco Star Theatre  (NBC)

1951-1952  Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts  (CBS)

1952-1953  I Love Lucy  (CBS)

1953-1954  I Love Lucy  (CBS)

1954-1955  I Love Lucy  (CBS)

1955-1956  The 64,000 Question  (CBS)

1956-1957  I Love Lucy  (CBS)

1957-1958  Gunsmoke  (CBS)

1958-1959  Gunsmoke  (CBS)

1959-1960  Gunsmoke  (CBS)

1960-1961  Gunsmoke  (CBS)

1961-1962  Wagon Train  (NBC)

1962-1963  The Beverly Hillbillies  (CBS)

1963-1964  The Beverly Hillbillies  (CBS)

1964-1965  Bonanza  (NBC)

1965-1966  Bonanza  (NBC)

1966-1967  Bonanza  (NBC)

1967-1968  The Andy Griffith Show  (CBS)

1968-1969  Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In  (NBC)

1969-1970  Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In  (NBC)

1970-1971  Marcus Welby, MD  (ABC)

1971-1972  All in the Family  (CBS)

1972-1973  All in the Family  (CBS)

1973-1974  All in the Family  (CBS)

1974-1975  All in the Family  (CBS)

1975-1976  All in the Family  (CBS)

1976-1977  Happy Days  (ABC)

1977-1978  Laverne & Shirley (ABC)

1978-1979  Laverne & Shirley (ABC)

1979-1980  60 Minutes  (CBS)

1980-1981  Dallas  (CBS)

1981-1982  Dallas  (CBS)

1982-1983  60 Minutes  (CBS)

1983-1984  Dallas  (CBS)

1984-1985  Dynasty  (ABC)

1985-1986  The Cosby Show  (NBC)

1986-1987  The Cosby Show  (NBC)

1987-1988  The Cosby Show  (NBC)

1988-1989  The Cosby Show  (NBC)

1989-1990  [tie] Roseanne (ABC) / The Cosby Show (NBC)

1990-1991  Cheers  (NBC)

1991-1992  60 Minutes  (CBS)

1992-1993  60 Minutes  (CBS)

1993-1994  60 Minutes  (CBS)

1994-1995  Seinfeld  (NBC)

1995-1996  ER  (NBC)

1996-1997  ER  (NBC)

1997-1998  Seinfeld  (NBC)

1998-1999  ER  (NBC)

1999-2000  Who Wants to be a Millionaire?  (ABC)

2000-2001  Survivor  (CBS)

2001-2002  Friends  (NBC)

2002-2003  CSI  (CBS)

2003-2004  American Idol  (FOX)

2004-2005  American Idol  (FOX)

2005-2006  American Idol  (FOX)

2006-2007  American Idol  (FOX)

2007-2008  American Idol  (FOX)

2008-2009  American Idol  (FOX)

2009-2010  American Idol  (FOX)

2010-2011  American Idol  (FOX)

2011-2012  Sunday Night Football  (NBC)

2012-2013  NCIS  (CBS)

2013-2014  Sunday Night Football (NBC)

2014-2015  Sunday Night Football (NBC)

2015-2016  Sunday Night Football (NBC)


Notes and Observations:

– 29 programs since 1950 have ranked #1 in the annual Nielsen ratings.

– From 1951 to 1961, CBS aired the #1-ranked program — a record-setting 10-season streak that remains unbroken to this day.

American Idol spent a record eight seasons (all consecutive) as the #1-ranked program.

All in the Family spent five seasons (all consecutive) as the #1-ranked program. It’s tied with The Cosby Show — which also spent five consecutive seasons as the #1-ranked program (though its fifth season was in a tie with Roseanne). They continue to share that five-year record among scripted programs.

– The long-running newsmagazine 60 Minutes also has five #1-ranked seasons (1980, 1983, 1992, 1993 and 1994). But it holds several other distinctions as well: it is the only newsmagazine to achieve a #1 ranking, it achieved those #1 rankings furthest in its run (for its 12th, 15th, 24th, 25th and 26th seasons) and, with nine years between its second and third #1-ranked season, has the longest gap between #1-ranked seasons.

I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke and Sunday Night Football each spent four seasons as the #1-ranked program. Gunsmoke‘s four #1-ranked seasons were consecutive.

BonanzaDallas and ER each have three #1-ranked seasons. Only that of the former were consecutive.

The Beverly Hillbillies, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Laverne & Shirley and Seinfeld have each ranked #1 twice. All but the latter were consecutive.

I Love Lucy, 60 Minutes, DallasSeinfeld, ER and Sunday Night Football achieved their #1-rankings over non-consecutive seasons.

Once Nielsen started tracking viewership, The Texaco Star Theatre was the first program, in 1951, to rank #1 — making NBC the first network to air a #1-ranked program.

– In 1971, Marcus Welby, MD became the first ABC series to achieve a #1 ranking.

– In 2004, American Idol became the first FOX series (and so far the only) to achieve a #1 ranking.

 NCIS achieved its first #1 ranking in 2013 for its 10th season — which is the furthest into a series run that a scripted program has topped the rankings.

The Beverly Hillbillies in 1963 and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in 2000 are the only two programs to achieve a #1 ranking for their first seasons.

The Beverly Hillbillies is the only program to achieve a #1 ranking for its first TWO seasons (in 1963 and 1964).

I Love Lucy in 1957, The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998 are the only three programs to achieve a #1 ranking for their final seasons.

– A CBS show has ranked #1 a leading twenty-nine times. An NBC show has ranked #1 twenty-three times. A FOX show has ranked #1 eight times. And an ABC show has ranked #1 seven times.

– 12 CBS shows have ranked #1 (Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, I Love Lucy, The $64,000 QuestionGunsmoke, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, All in the Family, 60 Minutes, Dallas, SurvivorCSI, and NCIS).

– 10 NBC shows have ranked #1 (The Texaco Star Theatre, Wagon Train, Bonanza, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, The Cosby Show, CheersSeinfeld, ER, Friends and Sunday Night Football).

– 6 ABC shows have ranked #1 (Marcus Welby, MD, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Dynasty, Roseanne and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?).

– 1 FOX show has ranked #1 (American Idol).

– The longest gap between #1 rankings for a network is ABC at 16 years and counting; their most recent #1-ranked show was Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in 2000.

– 11 comedies have achieved a #1 ranking (I Love Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, All in the Family, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Cheers, Seinfeld and Friends).

– The last comedy series to achieve a #1 ranking was Friends in 2002.

– 9 dramas have achieved a #1 ranking (Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Bonanza, Marcus Welby, MD, DallasDynasty, ER, CSI and NCIS).

– The last drama series to achieve a #1 ranking was NCIS in 2013.

– 3 variety series have achieved a #1 ranking (The Texaco Star Theatre, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In).

– The last variety series to achieve a #1 ranking was Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In in 1970.

– Two game shows have achieved a #1 ranking (The $64,000 Question and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?).

Sunday Night Football is the only sports program to rank #1.

The Andy Griffith Show, Laverne & Shirley (twice) and NCIS are the only three spinoffs to achieve #1 rankings.

Happy Days is the only #1-ranked program to have a spinoff series also rank #1 (Laverne & Shirley).


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