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100 Most-Watched TV Shows of 2018-19: Winners and Losers

As traditional ratings continue to decline, so do the networks’ reliance on those numbers as a benchmark. Nowhere was it more noticeable than at this month’s upfronts presentations in New York, where the “r” word on everyone’s tongues wasn’t “ratings” — it was “reach.”

Sure, everyone still touted their No. 1 status when they could — but what does that even mean in an age where live + same day ratings, or even live + 7 stats (covering the first seven days of time-shifted viewing on demand and via DVRs) only tell part of the story?

“We went from households to demos and now we’re going from demos to more data-driven decisions,” said CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl. “The business has always been more complex than melting a network’s health down to an 18-49 number. This is the industry saying, yeah, there’s something more than just boiling things down to one number.”

Fox executive vice president/head of research Will Somers said as ratings diminish, he still sees them as “part of what’s an increasingly fragmented puzzle, but an incomplete one. What you’re seeing is continued progression away from conventional metrics.”

“Reach” is one way to guide advertisers, he added, but it’s not a perfect stat either.

But ratings remain the most common way to compare the linear performance of shows both on broadcast and cable. And with another TV season drawing to a close, Variety looked at the season-to-date rankers for broadcast and cable, using the most recent live+7 ratings (which include seven days’ worth of DVR and video on-demand usage).
Here’s a final look at some of the hits and misses of 2018–2019, followed by our complete list of the 100 most-watched shows of the season, according to both adults 18-49 and total viewers.

WINNERS

“The Masked Singer”: Who would have thought that a campy show about celebrities attempting to sing pop hits, while under heavy masks and costumes, would be this year’s primetime sensation? Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” based on a South Korean format, blew audiences away as the No. 1 new TV show of the year. And not just that, it’s the top-rated entertainment series overall, tied with “This Is Us,” on the broadcast networks. It’s also the highest-rated reality show in four years.

“It’s the kind of confirmation that it’s still possible to launch new hits, especially with fresh formats,” said Fox research head Will Somers. “The talent competition and singing competition genre was ripe for a breath of fresh air.”

Fox is taking advantage of the hit, scheduling two cycles next year and also airing an edition after the Super Bowl. “The Masked Singer” also flew counter to most talent competition shows this season: “The Voice” and “American Idol” are down, while CBS’ “The World’s Best,” despite premiering after the Super Bowl, was a flop.

Game of Thrones”: Plenty has been written about the success of the final season of HBO’s juggernaut, but nonetheless it’s remarkable to see a show available to a fraction of TV households — about 35 to 40 percent of the country — rank No. 1 among adults 18-49, and beat all but two broadcast shows (available in nearly 100 percent of the country) in total viewers.

NFL football: Remember all that talk about football ratings declining? The erosion of NFL viewership has been greatly exaggerated, as NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” ended the year as the most-watched program for the 8th year in a row, and its 19.3 million viewers is up from last year’s 18.3 million. Also up: Fox and NFL Network’s “Thursday Night Football” package, and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” lineup. In demos, “Game of Thrones” took the crown — but after that, football took the second, third, and fourth positions.

LOSERS

Comedy: As TV’s No. 1 comedy, CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” goes away, the networks are finding it difficult to make viewers laugh. Among adults 18-49, CBS’ “Young Sheldon” and ABC’s “Modern Family” and “The Conners” are the only other sitcoms in the top 25, while the total viewers top 25 only features “Big Bang,” “Young Sheldon” and “Mom” in the top 25. Perhaps it’s another example of audiences shifting to other platforms: At the upfronts, NBC proclaimed that “The Good Place” is actually its most-viewed series — thanks to non-linear viewership. In the traditional total viewers ranker, which does feature seven days of time shifting, the comedy barely squeaks into the top 100.

“Comedy is something we’re all trying to figure out,” said one network exec. “That’s been a recurring theme for a long time. We’re trying to break the comedy code, and we’re all going to give it a shot in our own way next season. Hopefully someone finds the right DNA for a comedy hit.”

The remake trend: Last year’s No. 1 show, “Roseanne,” didn’t return — for reasons everyone’s pretty familiar with by now. Its replacement, “The Conners,” did very well, all things considered: It’s broadcast TV’s top-rated new comedy, if you consider it a brand-new show, averaging a solid 2.3 rating in the demo — justifying ABC’s desire to bring the show back even without star Roseanne Barr. But it’s no “Roseanne,” which ended the 2017-2018 TV season with a 6.2 rating.

Still, that number was destined to come back to earth, similar to NBC’s high-flying launch of its “Will & Grace” reunion, followed by that show’s sharp downward turn. “Will & Grace” averaged a 1.5 rating in the demo, vs. 2.8 last year. Meanwhile, CBS’ “Murphy Brown” return never got off the ground, averaging a 1.3.

“The Passage” and “Life in Pieces”: The Fox drama “The Passage” was this season’s highest-rated series in adults 18-49 not to secure a renewal, while CBS’ comedy “Life in Pieces” is so far the most-watched series to be canceled. (Some shows, however, remain on the bubble, as the networks haven’t announced the fates of several late-season series.)

R. Kelly: The disgraced pop crooner is finally getting his due in the court of public opinion. Accused by multiple women of sexual assault and statutory rape, Kelly was the subject of Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly,” a six-part series that told the story of his victims and was a smash for the channel. “Surviving R. Kelly” was the No. 3 non-sports series on cable this season among adults 18-49, behind just AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and FX’s “American Horror Story.”

Appointment TV: Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but it is a sign of the times that two of linear TV’s biggest hits, “Game of Thrones” and “The Big Bang Theory,” are both departing in the same year. In other words, this ranker will look much different next season.

“I don’t believe this is the end of mass appeal shows,” Kahl said. “There are still plenty of shows in the top 20 that are getting tens of millions of viewers every week. Perhaps this opens the door for the kind of next cultural phenomenon show to step up and get some traction. Is it harder these days with so many choices? Yeah, it probably is. But I don’t think by any means it’s the end of an era.”

TOP 100 SHOWS OF 2018-2019, ADULTS 18-49

America’s most-watched series of the 2018-2019 season in the key advertising demographic (measured in ratings points) are …

Rank Title (Network) Rating/SHARE
1. Game of Thrones (HBO) 6.4/25
2. NFL Sunday Night Football (NBC) 6.1/24
3. NFL Thursday Night Football (Fox/NFL Network) 4.4/19
4. NFL Monday Night Football (ESPN) 4.0/17
5. This Is Us (NBC) 3.8/16
The Masked Singer (Fox) 3.8/16
7. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) 3.7/17
8. The Walking Dead (AMC) 3.2/12
9. Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) 2.9/13
10. Manifest (NBC) 2.8/12
11. Young Sheldon (CBS) 2.6/11
12. 9-1-1 (Fox) 2.5/10
The Good Doctor (ABC) 2.5/11
14. The Bachelor (ABC) 2.4/10
American Horror Story (FX) 2.4/11
Modern Family (ABC) 2.4/10
17. The Conners (ABC) 2.3/10
18. New Amsterdam (NBC) 2.2/10
America’s Got Talent: Champions (NBC) 2.2/9
Survivor (CBS) 2.2/10
21. Chicago PD (NBC) 2.1/10
Chicago Fire (NBC) 2.1/9
The Voice — Monday (NBC) 2.1/9
24. Empire (Fox) 2.0/9
A Million Little Things (ABC) 2.0/9
26. Chicago Med (NBC) 1.9/9
NCIS (CBS) 1.9/9
The Voice — Tuesday (NBC) 1.9/8
29. Law & Order: SVU (NBC) 1.8/9
Surviving R. Kelly (Lifetime) 1.8/8
Mom (CBS) 1.8/8
32. The Goldbergs (ABC) 1.7/8
Last Man Standing (Fox) 1.7/9
The Passage (Fox) 1.7/7
Criminal Minds (Fox) 1.7/8
Titan Games (NBC) 1.7/7
American Idol — Sunday (ABC) 1.7/7
Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC) 1.7/7
39. Station 19 (ABC) 1.6/7
FBI (CBS) 1.6/7
The Good Place (NBC) 1.6/7
Mayans M.C. (FX) 1.6/8
The Amazing Race (CBS) 1.6/7
The Resident (Fox) 1.6/7
45. The Neighborhood (CBS) 1.5/7
Star (Fox) 1.5/7
Family Guy (Fox) 1.5/6
The Rookie (ABC) 1.5/7
How to Get Away With Murder (ABC) 1.5/7
S.W.A.T. (CBS) 1.5/7
The Orville (Fox) 1.5/7
Will & Grace (NBC) 1.5/6
Bull (CBS) 1.5/7
American Idol — Monday (ABC) 1.5/6
55. The Simpsons (Fox) 1.4/6
Bob’s Burgers (Fox) 1.4/5
Seal Team (CBS) 1.4/6
The World’s Best (CBS) 1.4/6
Blue Bloods (CBS) 1.4/7
24 Hours to Hell & Back (Fox) 1.4/6
Saturday Night Football (ABC) 1.4/7
American Housewife (ABC) 1.4/6
NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS) 1.4/5
Single Parents (ABC) 1.4/6
Superstore (NBC) 1.4/7
NCIS: New Orleans (CBS) 1.4/6
Schooled (ABC) 1.4/6
68. The Enemy Within (NBC) 1.3/6
60 Minutes (CBS) 1.3/6
Hawai’i Five-0 (CBS) 1.3/6
America’s Funniest Home Videos (ABC) 1.3/5
Hell’s Kitchen (Fox) 1.3/6
Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta (VH1) 1.3/6
Magnum P.I. (CBS) 1.3/5
Murphy Brown (CBS) 1.3/5
Real Housewives of Atlanta (Bravo) 1.3/5
77. Lethal Weapon (Fox) 1.2/5
Black-ish (ABC) 1.2/5
Teen Mom II (MTV) 1.2/5
The Blacklist (NBC) 1.2/6
Life in Pieces (CBS) 1.2/6
Whiskey Cavalier (ABC) 1.2/6
Dancing with the Stars (ABC) 1.2/5
God Friended Me (CBS) 1.2/4
World of Dance (NBC) 1.2/5
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo) 1.2/5
The Cool Kids (Fox) 1.2/6
The Flash (The CW) 1.2/5
The Curse of Oak Island (History) 1.2/5
Fam (CBS) 1.2/5
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC) 1.2/5
92. Shark Tank (ABC) 1.1/4
Bless This Mess (ABC) 1.1/5
The Kids Are Alright (ABC) 1.1/5
Good Girls (NBC) 1.1/5
Teen Mom (MTV) 1.1/4
Splitting Up Together (ABC) 1.1/5
Masterchef Junior (Fox) 1.1/5
Man With a Plan (CBS) 1.1/5
Gotham (Fox) 1.1/5
NBA Saturday Primetime (ABC) 1.1/5
The Gifted (Fox) 1.1/5
Preliminary Live+7 Days, Prime, Original telecasts only. Includes: Cable programs that premiered on or after 8/27/18 (through Top 200, A18-49); Excludes: Specials, Movies, and Pre/Post Sports.

TOP 100 SHOWS OF 2018-2019, TOTAL VIEWERS

America’s most-watched series of the 2018-2019 season are …

Rank Title (Network) VIEWERS (000)
1. NFL Sunday Night Football (NBC) 19,276
2. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) 17,436
3. NCIS (CBS) 15,914
4. Game of Thrones (HBO) 15,319
5. Young Sheldon (CBS) 14,572
6. NFL Thursday Night Football (Fox/NFL Network) 14,428
7. This Is Us (NBC) 13,798
8. Blue Bloods (CBS) 12,833
9. FBI (CBS) 12,713
10. The Good Doctor (ABC) 12,642
11. Manifest (NBC) 12,607
12. America’s Got Talent: Champions (NBC) 12,394
13. NFL Monday Night Football (ESPN) 11,935
14. Chicago Fire (NBC) 11,708
15. The Masked Singer (Fox) 11,566
16. Bull (CBS) 11,351
17. Chicago Med (NBC) 11,325
18. Chicago PD (NBC) 11,181
19. New Amsterdam (NBC) 11,096
20. The Voice — Monday (NBC) 10,894
21. NCIS: New Orleans (CBS) 10,864
22. 60 Minutes (CBS) 10,839
23. The Voice — Tuesday (NBC) 10,338
24. Mom (CBS) 10,321
25. 9-1-1 (Fox) 10,300
26. Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) 10,160
27. NCIS: Los Angeles (NET) 10,181
28. Hawai’i Five-0 (CBS) 10,126
29. The Conners (ABC) 9,963
30. Survivor (CBS) 9,708
31. God Friended Me (CBS) 9,618
32. American Idol — Sunday (ABC) 9,015
33. Dancing With the Stars (ABC) 8,681
34. S.W.A.T.  (CBS) 8,592
35. Murphy Brown (CBS) 8,472
36. Seal Team (CBS) 8,461
37. Magnum P.I. (CBS) 8,361
38. Last Man Standing (Fox) 8,333
39. The Rookie (ABC) 8,314
40. Criminal Minds (CBS) 8,217
41. Madam Secretary (CBS) 8,117
42. American Idol — Monday (ABC) 7,998
43. The Neighborhood (CBS) 7,991
44. The Walking Dead (AMC) 7,928
45. The Bachelor (ABC) 7,923
46. Modern Family (ABC) 7,825
47. A Million Little Things (ABC) 7,779
48. The Resident (Fox) 7,738
49. MacGyver (CBS) 7,697
50. Station 19 (ABC) 7,686
51. Law & Order: SVU (NBC) 7,412
52. The Enemy Within (NBC) 7,359
53. The Code (CBS) 7,271
54. The Blacklist (NBC) 7,168
55. Life In Pieces (CBS) 7,068
56. Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC) 6,965
57. The Amazing Race (CBS) 6,862
58. Fam (CBS) 6,670
59. The Passage (Fox) 6,622
60. Whiskey Cavalier (ABC) 6,448
61. Man With a Plan (CBS) 6,421
62. The World’s Best (CBS) 6,409
63. The Goldbergs (ABC) 6,375
64. Empire (Fox) 6,370
65. America’s Funniest Home Videos (8pm) (ABC) 6,350
66. The Village (NBC) 6,136
67. Titan Games (NBC) 6,048
68. America’s Funniest Home Videos (7pm) (ABC) 5,855
69. The Orville (Fox) 5,789
70. Bless This Mess (ABC) 5,713
71. The Cool Kids (Fox) 5,709
72. The Fix (ABC) 5,581
73. American Housewife (ABC) 5,530
74. Lethal Weapon (Fox) 5,395
75. Will & Grace (NBC) 5,313
76. Happy Together (CBS) 5,263
77. Dancing With the Stars: Juniors (ABC) 5,219
78. How to Get Away With Murder (ABC) 5,145
79. Saturday Night Football (ABC) 5,121
80. The Kids Are Alright (ABC) 5,057
81. Schooled (ABC) 5,046
82. The Red Line (CBS) 5,027
83. American Horror Story (FX) 4,893
84. 20/20 (ABC) 4,892
85. Star (Fox) 4,804
86. World of Dance (NBC) 4,773
87. The Great Christmas Light Fight (ABC) 4,743
88. Dateline Friday (NBC) 4,722
89. For the People (ABC) 4,703
90. Shark Tank (ABC) 4,692
91. Single Parents (ABC) 4,670
92. Curse of Oak Island (History) 4,664
93. Black-ish (ABC) 4,571
94. The Good Place (NBC) 4,565
95. 24 Hours to Hell & Back (Fox) 4,502
96. 48 Hours (CBS) 4,475
97. Dateline Sunday (NBC) 4,402
98. Superstore (NBC) 4,345
99. Blindspot (NBC) 4,341
100. Hell’s Kitchen (Fox) 4,138
Preliminary Live+7 Days, Prime, Original telecasts only. Includes: Cable programs that premiered on or after 8/27/18 (through Top 200, P2+); Excludes: Specials, Movies, and Pre/Post Sports.

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