Most Popular TV Series

You’ve probably seen videos like this one before. It animates bar graphs over time in a way that almost makes them seem like horse races. There are a few companies that create the software to do this and it’s really become popular in the last year.

Finally though, we get to see one of these charts represent something we really care about: television.

The big takeaway

You start the graph with The Cosby Show and its 60 million viewers. No matter how far the graph goes you never see anything that gets even close to 60 million viewers. Game of Thrones gets into the 50s very briefly but then fades away, due to its short seasons. In recent history The Big Bang Theory is the only broadcast show to get up even into the 40s.

This video starts in 1986, which I’ll say is probably a pretty good year to start. I’d have started in 1984, but it’s a minor point. The real point to make is that prior to the mid-1980s, almost all TV was consumed live. Today less and less of it is. The data shows all views for the first week including streaming, which is why the numbers are even partially comparable. If this chart were to show only same-day views, it would look a lot worse.

But overall it’s not as bad as you think

As long as you factor in streaming and the first seven days, this chart actually looks pretty good. Yes, the population is a lot greater today. But for all the talk of live TV going the way of the dodo, this chart is pretty uplifting. It shows that a lot of broadcast shows still can compete. No, they can’t deliver Cosby level numbers. But they can still deliver tens of millions of people and that’s good news for broadcasters. Streaming and premium channels are here to stay and they have the ability to dominate. That’s for sure. All it takes is one look at the rise of Game of Thrones to tell you that. But the idea that people have stopped watching television just isn’t supported by these numbers.

But, uh, Fox?

The Fox network started in 1986, the same year as this video starts. Did they ever have any show in the top 10 according to this chart? I didn’t see one although I’ll admit I didn’t watch it in slow motion with my eyes glued to the screen. But regardless, it’s pretty obvious that ABC, NBC, and CBS are still where it’s at. They may wax and wane, taking more or less share over the years, but amazing it’s really still a three horse race despite all of the newcomers. That’s what really amazes me.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.