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Year in Review: Top Rated Shows of 2020 — ‘Jeopardy! GOAT,’ ‘NCIS,’ ‘The Masked Singer,’ NFL Football Dominate

Jeopardy Greatest of All Time Alex
Courtesy of ABC

The pandemic didn’t slow down the NFL, which once again dominated Variety’s ranker of the most-watched television telecasts of the year. No surprise, of course, Super Bowl LIV was easily the top program of 2020, with 102 million viewers on February 2.

Actually, seven of the ten telecasts of the year came from the NFL, and 28 out of the top 100 of the year. The other major sports leagues weren’t as lucky: Impacted by delayed seasons and playoffs due to COVID-19, only Game 6 of baseball’s World Series made it on the top 100 list, while the NBA Finals completely missed the ranker this year. And that’s despite teams from the nation’s second-largest market, Los Angeles, winning both of them.

Scripted series accounted for 39 of the top 100 slots, while competition series took up nine spots. The Season 4 post-Super Bowl premiere of “The Masked Singer” was easily the most-watched entertainment program of the year, with 27.4 million viewers. (It kept humming throughout the year, landing 16 slots in the top 100 telecasts among adults 18-49.)

The Oscars were next, averaging 24.3 million on February 9. The Grammy Awards and Golden Globes also made the list, but the Emmys did not. Among adults 18-49, the Grammys (5.66 rating) actually drew a higher rating than the Oscars (5.49) in 2020.

Audiences gravitated to ABC’s January stunt “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time,” as all four installments made it on the end-of year list. That was the most of any reality show.

NCIS” landed the most episodes on the ranker, with 10, while uber producer Dick Wolf dominated with 20 slots, divided between “FBI,” “FBI: Most Wanted,” “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Med.”
And given how this was one of the most tumultuous years in recent history, news programs and coverage can be found all over this year’s ranker. CBS’ “60 Minutes” shows up five times, while 11 slots are devoted to debates or election coverage.

Two of last year’s most-watched series, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” retired in 2019, and no new scripted series have come along to fill the void in a major way. As a result, most of 2020’s most-watched telecasts come from sports, news, unscripted series and awards shows.

Remember half-hour comedies? Do viewers? Four episodes of CBS’ “Young Sheldon” were the only sitcoms to make this year’s list of top 100 telecasts with total viewers. Among adults 18-49, there were none.

NBC led this year’s total viewer telecast ranker with 37 programs (up from 15 last year), followed by CBS with 27 (vs. 57 last year, thanks to “Big Bang”), then Fox (12), ABC (10), Fox News Channel (7), ESPN (6) and CNN (1).

Here’s our ratings roundup of the year’s most-watched telecasts (in Live+7 ratings), according to broadcast and cable measurements, in both total viewers and adults 18-49.

RELATED: Year in Review: Most-Watched Television Networks — Ranking 2020’s Winners and Losers

[For historical record, here are previous year-end telecast rankers: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.]

MOST-WATCHED PRIMETIME TELECASTS OF 2020 (TOTAL VIEWERS)

Rank PROGRAM (NETWORK) VIEWERS (000) DATE AIRED
1. SUPER BOWL LIV: Chiefs vs. 49ers (Fox) 102,031 2/2/2020
2. NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: 49ers vs. Packers (Fox) 43,625 1/19/2020
3. NFL PLAYOFFS: Packers vs. Seahwaks (Fox) 38,023 1/12/2020
4. AFC WILDCARD PLAYOFF: Titans vs. Patriots (CBS) 31,828 1/4/2020
5. AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF: Titans vs. Ravens (CBS) 29,828 1/11/2020
6. THE MASKED SINGER (Post-Super Bowl Season 3 Premiere) (Fox) 27,407 2/2/2020
7. COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: LSU vs. Clemson (ESPN) 25,842 1/13/2020
8. THE OSCARS (ABC) 24,316 2/9/2020
9. NFL THURSDAY SPECIAL: Chiefs vs. Texans (NBC) 20,853 9/10/2020
10. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Chiefs vs. Raiders (NBC) 19,777 11/22/2020
11. GRAMMY AWARDS (CBS) 19,774 1/26/2020
12. GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS (NBC) 19,196 1/5/2020
13. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams vs. Cowboys (NBC) 19,151 9/13/2020
14. 60 MINUTES (CBS) 18,611 10/25/2020
15. PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (Fox News) 18,135 9/29/2020
16. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Packers vs. Saints (NBC) 18,026 9/27/2020
17. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Seahawks vs. Patriots (NBC) 17,935 9/20/2020
18. JEOPARDY! GREATEST OF ALL TIME, Night 3 (ABC) 17,388 1/9/2020
19. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Saints vs. Buccaneers (NBC) 17,094 11/8/2020
20. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Eagles vs. Cowboys (NBC) 17,080 11/1/2020
21. NCIS, S17 E20 “The Arizona” (CBS) 16,820 4/14/2020
22. JEOPARDY! GREATEST OF ALL TIME, Night 2 (ABC) 16,730 1/8/2020
23. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Packers vs. Bears (NBC) 16,633 11/29/2020
24. NCIS, S17 E19 “Blarney” (CBS) 16,569 3/31/2020
25. NCIS, S17 E18 “Schooled” (CBS) 16,529 3/24/2020
26. JEOPARDY! GREATEST OF ALL TIME, Night 1 (ABC) 16,371 1/7/2020
27. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Patriots vs. Ravens (NBC) 15,971 11/15/2020
28. PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (Fox News) 15,737 10/22/2020
29. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (CBS/BET) 15,702 2/25/2020
30. NCIS, S17 E15 “Lonely Hearts” (NBC) 15,656 2/11/2020
31. NCIS, S17 E14 “On Fire” (CBS) 15,525 1/28/2020
32. NCIS, S17 E16 “Ephemera” (CBS) 15,509 2/18/2020
33. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Cardinals vs. Seahawks (Fox/NFL) 15,421 11/19/2020
34. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Buccaneers vs. Bears (Fox/NFL) 15,348 10/8/2020
35. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Seahawks vs. Vikings (NBC) 15,304 10/11/2020
36. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Eagles vs. 49ers (NBC) 15,218 10/4/2020
37. JEOPARDY! GREATEST OF ALL TIME, Night 4 (ABC) 15,072 1/14/2020
38. NCIS, S17 E13 “Sound Off”(CBS) 15,045 1/21/2020
39. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Chiefs vs. Ravens (ESPN) 14,902 9/28/2020
40. NFL MONDAY FOOTBALL SPECIAL: Patriots vs. Chiefs (CBS) 14,780 10/5/2020
41. ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE 9PM (Fox News) 14,605 11/3/2020
42. FBI, S2 E18 “American Dreams” (CBS) 14,574 3/24/2020
43. 911: LONE STAR, S1 E1 Pilot (Fox) 14,561 1/19/2020
44. 60 MINUTES (CBS) 14,557 11/8/2020
45. ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE 10PM (Fox News) 14,503 11/3/2020
46. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Buccaneers vs. Raiders (NBC) 14,496 10/25/2020
47. VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (ABC) 14,469 10/15/2020
48. 60 MINUTES (CBS) 14,353 11/29/2020
49. NCIS, S17 E17 “In a Nutshell” (CBS) 14,313 3/10/2020
50. NCIS, S17 E12 “Flight Plan” (CBS) 14,231 1/14/2020
51. TRUMP TOWN HALL (NBC) 14,113 10/15/2020
52. FBI, S2 E19 “Emotional Rescue” (CBS) 14,087 3/31/2020
53. NCIS,  S17 E11 “In the Wind” (CBS) 14,042 1/7/2020
54. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Packers vs. 49ers (Fox/NFL) 13,665 11/5/2020
55. ELECTION COVERAGE: SATURDAY (CNN) 13,603 11/7/2020
56. THE MASKED SINGER, S4 E9 “The Group C Finals” (Fox) 13,588 11/26/2020
57. ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE, 8PM (Fox News) 13,399 11/3/2020
58. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams vs. Buccaneers (ESPN) 13,293 11/23/2020
59. 60 MINUTES (CBS) 13,029 11/15/2020
60. FBI: MOST WANTED, S1 E9 “Reveille” (CBS) 12,947 3/24/2020
61. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: 49ers vs. Rams (NBC) 12,778 10/18/2020
62. WORLD SERIES GAME 6: Dodgers vs. Rays (Fox) 12,756 10/27/2020
63. CHICAGO FIRE, S8 E15 “Off the Grid” (NBC) 12,736 2/26/2020
64. DISNEY FAMILY SING-A-LONG (ABC) 12,721 4/16/2020
65. CHICAGO FIRE, S8 E20 “51’s Original Bell” (NBC) 12,647 4/15/2020
66. YOUNG SHELDON, S3 E21 “A Secret Letter and a Lowly Disc of Processed Meat” (CBS) 12,644 4/30/2020
67. CHICAGO P.D., S7 E15 “Burden of Truth” (NBC) 12,601 2/26/2020
68. 60 MINUTES (CBS) 12,586 10/11/2020
69. YOUNG SHELDON, S3 E19 “A House for Sale and Serious Woman Stuff” (CBS) 12,582 4/2/2020
70. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Colts vs. Titans (Fox/NFL) 12,577 11/12/2020
71. CHICAGO FIRE, S8 E17 “Protect a Child” (NBC) 12,558 3/18/2020
72. CHICAGO FIRE, S8 E18 “I’ll Cover You” (NBC) 12,523 3/25/2020
73. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (NBC) 12,485 2/19/2020
74. CHICAGO FIRE, S8 E 19 “Light Things Up” (NBC) 12,418 4/8/2020
75. THE GOOD DOCTOR, S3 E20 “I Love You” (ABC) 12,412 3/30/2020
76. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Buccaneers vs. Giants (ESPN) 12,369 11/2/2020
77. YOUNG SHELDON, S3 E20 “A Baby Tooth and the Egyptian God of Knowledge” (CBS) 12,225 4/16/2020
78. THIS IS US, S4 E18 “Strangers: Part Two” (NBC) 12,190 3/24/2020
79. CHICAGO MED, S5 E18 “In the Name of Love” (NBC) 12,155 3/25/2020
80. VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (Fox News) 12,143 10/7/2020
81. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Broncos vs. Jets (Fox/NFL) 12,122 10/29/2020
82. THE VOICE, S18 E5 “The Blind Auditions, Part 5” (NBC) 12,065 3/16/2020
LIVE FROM THE RED CARPET (ABC) 12,065 2/9/2020
84. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Vikings vs. Bears (ESPN) 12,017 11/16/2020
85. AMERICA’S GOT TALENT, S15 E1 “Auditions 1” (NBC) 11,984 5/26/2020
86. CHICAGO MED, S5 E17 “The Ghosts of the Past” (NBC) 11,980 3/18/2020
87. CHICAGO P.D., S7 E17 “Before the Fall” (NBC) 11,972 3/18/2020
88. STATE OF THE UNION 2020 (Fox News) 11,920 2/4/2020
89. CHICAGO FIRE, S8 E14 “Shut it Down” (NBC) 11,907 2/12/2020
90. CHICAGO MED, S5 E20 “A Needle in the Heart” (NBC) 11,897 4/15/2020
91. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Cardinals vs. Cowboys (ESPN) 11,894 10/19/2020
92. THE GOOD DOCTOR, S3 E19 “Hurt” (ABC) 11,870 3/23/2020
93. CHICAGO MED, S5 E19 “Just a River in Egypt” (NBC) 11,835 4/8/2020
94. CHICAGO PD, S7 E19 “Buried Secrets” (NBC) 11,828 4/8/2020
95. CHICAGO PD, S7 E18 “Lines” (NBC) 11,820 3/25/2020
96. CHICAGO PD, S7 E20 “Silence of the Night” (NBC) 11,801 4/15/2020
97. CHICAGO FIRE, S8 E12 “Then Nick Porter Happened” (NBC) 11,782 1/22/2020
98. CHICAGO FIRE, S8 E11 “Where We End Up” (NBC) 11,781 1/15/2020
99. YOUNG SHELDON, S3 E16 “Pasadena” (CBS) 11,754 2/20/2020
100. THIS IS US, S4 E17 “After the Fire” (NBC) 11,742 3/17/2020
Source: Nielsen, 1/1/20 – 11/29/20. L7 Data. All Telecasts, Broadcast and Cable (excluding telecasts with durations under 25 min, including SB and NFC). Broadcast Prime, telecast with start times within daypart (M-Sat 8P-11P; Sun 6:30P-11P).

THE 50 TOP-RATED PRIMETIME TELECASTS OF 2020 (ADULTS 18-49)

Rank PROGRAM (NETWORK) RATING (18-49) DATE AIRED
1. SUPER BOWL LIV: Chiefs vs. 49ers (Fox) 30.66 2/2/2020
2. NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: 49ers vs. Packers (Fox) 12.56 1/19/2020
3. NFL PLAYOFFS: Packers vs. Seahwaks (Fox) 10.80 1/12/2020
4. THE MASKED SINGER (Post-Super Bowl Season 3 Premiere) (Fox) 9.36 2/2/2020
5. AFC WILDCARD PLAYOFF: Titans vs. Patriots (CBS) 9.04 1/4/2020
6. AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF: Titans vs. Ravens (CBS) 8.38 1/11/2020
7. COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: LSU vs. Clemson (ESPN) 7.81 1/13/2020
8. NFL THURSDAY SPECIAL: Chiefs vs. Texans (NBC) 6.82 9/10/2020
9. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams vs. Cowboys (NBC) 6.24 9/13/2020
10. GRAMMY AWARDS (CBS) 5.66 1/26/2020
11. THE OSCARS (ABC) 5.49 2/9/2020
12. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Chiefs vs. Raiders (NBC) 5.45 11/22/2020
13. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Packers vs. Saints (NBC) 5.38 9/27/2020
14. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Seahawks vs. Patriots (NBC) 5.31 9/20/2020
15. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Saints vs. Buccaneers (NBC) 5.09 11/8/2020
16. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Chiefs vs. Ravens (ESPN) 4.97 9/28/2020
17. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Eagles vs. Cowboys (NBC) 4.95 11/1/2020
18. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Packers vs. Bears (NBC) 4.89 11/29/2020
19. GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS (NBC) 4.87 1/5/2020
20. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Buccaneers vs. Bears (Fox/NFL) 4.77 10/8/2020
21. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Patriots vs. Ravens (NBC) 4.52 11/15/2020
22. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Eagles vs. 49ers (NBC) 4.55 10/4/2020
23. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Cardinals vs. Seahawks (Fox/NFL) 4.52 11/19/2020
24. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Buccaneers vs. Raiders (NBC) 4.38 10/25/2020
25. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Falcons vs. Eagles (NBC) 4.22 10/11/2020
26. THE MASKED SINGER, S4 E9 “The Group C Finals” (Fox) 4.17 11/26/2020
27. NFL MONDAY FOOTBALL SPECIAL: Patriots vs. Chiefs (CBS) 4.10 10/5/2020
28. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Packers vs. 49ers (Fox/NFL) 4.01 11/5/2020
29. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams vs. Buccaneers (ESPN) 3.87 11/23/2020
30. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Cardinals vs. Cowboys (ESPN) 3.80 10/19/2020
911: LONE STAR, S1 E1 Pilot (Fox) 3.80 1/19/2020
NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Buccaneers vs. Giants (ESPN) 3.80 11/2/2020
33. NFL SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: 49ers vs. Rams (NBC) 3.77 10/18/2020
34. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Colts vs. Titans (Fox/NFL) 3.66 11/12/2020
35. ELECTION COVERAGE: SATURDAY (CNN) 3.62 11/7/2020
36. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL:  Saints vs. Chargers (ESPN) 3.50 10/12/2020
37. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Broncos vs. Jets (Fox/NFL) 3.58 10/29/2020
38. ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE 10PM (Fox News) 3.48 11/3/2020
39. WORLD SERIES GAME 6: Dodgers vs. Rays (Fox) 3.45 10/27/2020
40. PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (Fox News) 3.44 9/29/2020
41. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Vikings vs. Bears (ESPN) 3.44 11/16/2020
42. NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Giants vs. Eagles (Fox/NFL) 3.42 10/22/2020
ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE 9PM (Fox News) 3.42 11/3/2020
44. NFL MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams vs. Bears (ESPN) 3.40 10/26/2020
45. THE MASKED SINGER, S3 E10 “The Super Nine Masked Singer Special: Groups A, B and C” (Fox) 3.37 4/1/2020
46. DISNEY FAMILY SING-A-LONG (ABC) 3.35 4/16/2020
47. NFL DRAFT (ESPN) 3.34 4/16/2020
48. ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE, 9 PM (CNN) 3.32 11/3/2020
49. ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE, 10 PM (CNN) 3.29 11/3/2020
50. NBA FINALS, Game 5: Lakers vs. Heat (ABC) 3.28 10/9/2020
Source: Nielsen, 1/1/20 – 11/29/20. L7 Data. All Telecasts, Broadcast and Cable (excluding telecasts with durations under 25 min, including SB and NFC). Broadcast Prime, telecast with start times within daypart (M-Sat 8P-11P; Sun 6:30P-11P).