The Most Popular TV Shows of All Time

  • Cast of “Cheers”
Cast of “Cheers”
Credit: Aaron Rapoport/ Corbis Historical via Getty Images

The way we watch television is changing, and so is the way we measure viewership: 2023 was the first year in which viewers who no longer pay for traditional TV such as cable service outnumbered those who still do. Cord-cutting is increasingly the norm as people flock to Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services. The small screen remains a favorite passive pastime all the same, with Nielsen ratings and other metrics  showing why the following seven shows have proven so enormously popular with viewers around the world. All of them proved popular throughout their run, with individual episodes (often their finales) setting records for viewership.

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The Fugitive (1963-1967)

Before it was a Harrison Ford movie, The Fugitive was a wildly popular TV series. It took all 120 episodes — 90 broadcast in black and white, 30 in color — to reveal what really happened to the wrongly accused Dr. Richard Kimble (portrayed by David Janssen), and America was more than ready by the end. The series finale, “The Judgment,” set a record when 78 million people watched it, but The Fugitive’s place atop the ratings mountain didn’t last long. When the series ended in 1967, the show that eventually dethroned it was just five years from making its own debut on the small screen.

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