This is our listing of the Top Pop Television Shows to appear on American TV since 1950. Our Pop Culture Criteria is based upon factors such as ratings, longevity, number of episodes and overall impression on our society.
This list of shows mixes all varieties of TV Shows. However, this list includes TV Series as opposed to Top Pop TV Events such as the Superbowl, Presidential Debates, Breaking News Coverage and the OJ Simpson Trial. Those events can be found on our Top Pop TV Events page.
FOX 2002 – 2016 & ABC 2018 – Present
18 seasons, 609 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 & 2010
American idol is number one on our list because it is the Top-Rated Television Show for six seasons, which surpasses all others. With the prospect of “Making it Big” and providing the winner with a ticket to stardom as a Pop Singer, the show epitomizes the American Dream and has launched the careers of numerous singers.
All in the Family
CBS 1971 – 1979
9 seasons, 205 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 & 1975
Considered to be among the most popular and well-done television shows of all-time, the series revolves around the politically incorrect Archie Bunker. Based in the early 70’s in Queens New York the show tackled numerous controversial subjects ranging from religion and abortion to homosexuality and racism. Norman Lear’s brilliant writing allowed for both memorable comedy and poignant dramatic moments. The dynamic of the greatest generation dealing with the up and coming and ever-evolving baby boomer generation led to numerous arguments between Archie and his son-in-law Meathead. Spin-offs from the show included the extraordinarily successful The Jeffersons and Archie Bunker’s Place.
The Cosby Show
NBC, 1984 – 1992
8 seasons, 202 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 & 1989
As a successful movie actor and comedian Bill Cosby had already had another Pop Culture Cartoon success with Fat Albert. The Cosby Show brought family’s together for the life and times of Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable and his growing family. Based in New York City the show broke new ground with its all black cast and won numerous Awards for its work. The Cosby Show was wholesome, and storylines were full of positive moral messages, which made it one of the most important Family TV shows of all time. Ironically, Cosby would later stray far from the shows image.
CBS, 1968 – Present
52 seasons, ~2,400 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1979, 1982, 1991, 1992 & 1993
As the all-time leader in episodes, 60 Minutes has had tremendous “Staying Power” and generations of Americans have tuned in to see its news and investigative reports. Essentially created the category of “News Magazine” show. The show’s iconic stopwatch is an image identified by hundreds of millions of Americans.
I Love Lucy
CBS, 1951 – 1957
6 seasons, 180 episodes (Includes Christmas Episode)
Top-Rated TV Show for 1952, 1953, 1954 & 1956
As the Top-Rated TV Show for four out of its six seasons, the show found critical acclaim and is considered by some to be the best TV Show of All-Time. Married in real life Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were also “married” on the show. As one of the first shows to utilize a three-camera shoot with 35mm film, I Love Lucy had a formula for laughs that set the standard for productions for 70+ years.
Gunsmoke (Does Not Include Gunsmoke Radio Show)
CBS, 1955 – 1975 (Not Including Marshal Dillion Series)
14 seasons, 402 episodes (Not Including Marshal Dillion Series)
Top-Rated TV Show for 1957, 1958, 1959 & 1960
Beginning as a radio show, Gunsmoke has tremendous staying power with 20 seasons and for four straight seasons was the Top-Rated TV Show. The series helped launch the popularity of “westerns” as a genre and was tied with Law & Order as the longest running primetime live action show.
NBC Sunday Night Football
NBC, 2006 – Present
15 seasons, 285 episodes/games
Top-Rated TV Show for 2011, 2013, 2014 & 2018
As an unscripted show, this series may seem out of place, but much like 60 Minutes NBC’s Sunday Night Football has become part of American Pop Culture. The weekly broadcast of National Football League games has turned into a ratings bonanza, both for the league and its broadcast partners.
NBC, 1959 – 1973
14 seasons, 431 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1964, 1965 & 1966
The Ponderosa ranch was the homestead for Ben, Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright during the 14 seasons of this iconic TV Western.
CBS, 1978 – 1991
14 seasons, 357 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1980, 1981 & 1983
The epitome of this shows Pop Culture status may be best depicted by the iconic “Who Shot J.R.?” episode. Over 83 million viewers made the episode the most-watched television episode in history at the time. Based upon the fictitious Ewing family that prospered over an oil fortune from their archetypal Southfork Ranch this Prime-Time soap opera led its loyal viewers through salacious plot twists that were the talk of water coolers around the nation. The show’s popularity led to numerous spin-offs, which included Knots Landing that was also a hit.
NBC, 1994 – 2009
15 seasons 331 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1995, 1996 & 1998
Set in a fictitious Chicago hospital, ER was created by the real-life medical doctor John Michael Crichton, a Chicago native turned filmmaker and author. ER was a platform to superstar status for George Clooney and Noah Wyle. The Thursday night drama was part of NBC’s “Must-See TV” and consistently won its ratings slot.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigations
CBS, 2000 – 2015
15 seasons, 337 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 2002, 2003 & 2004
An immensely popular show that spawned multiple spinoff TV shows including, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY and CSI: Cyber. The series also gave rise to CSI: The Experience, which has both a traveling museum and interactive attractions in Las Vegas and The Mall of America.
The Beverly Hillbillies
CBS, 1962 – 1971
9 seasons, 274 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1962 & 1963
The show started off in color (First 4 Seasons) and then switched to color (Final 5 Seasons).
Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In
NBC, 1968 – 1973
6 seasons, 140 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1968 & 1969
Although the longevity of show is a bit brief to make our list, at the time this was a hugely popular hit and was TV’s number one show for two seasons in a row. A terrific ensemble comedy cast that featured Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Lily Tomlin and more. The show’s iconic “Sock-it-to-me” became one of many catch phrase(s) for the late 1960’s.
Laverne & Shirley
ABC, 1976 – 1983
8 Seasons 178 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1977 & 1978
This atypical Americana show was based upon to working-class ladies just trying to get by showing Independence that young women could thrive in the workplace the show broke new ground in the Dynamics of this all American they’re memorable TV theme “Making Our Dreams Come True” echoes the show’s upbeat and whimsical nature. Many memorable sketches place the cast in situations showcasing multiple types of comedic action and the brilliance of Creator & Producer Gary Marshall was on full display.
NBC, 1989 – 1998
9 seasons 180 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1994 & 1997
Based Loosely on the life of comedian Jerry Seinfeld freeze revolves around the everyday lives of the series 4 main characters Jerry, George, Elaine, and “Cosmo” Kramer. The “show about nothing” made an indelible impression on pop culture starting in the 1990s see-through today many catch phrases such as no soup for you got a yada well as this for the rest of us.
CBS, 2003 – Present
17 seasons, 398 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 2012 & 2015
The Big Bang Theory
CBS, 2007 – 2019
12 seasons, 279 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 2016 & 2017
NBC, 1982 – 1993
11 seasons, 273 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1990
The iconic Boston bar where everybody knows your name was another major rating draw for NBC must see TV. The ensemble cast helped turn Ted Danson (Sam Malone), George Wendt (Norm), John Ratzenberger (Cliff), Kelsey Grammar (Dr. Frazer Crane), and Woody Harrelson ( ) into household names. The actual real-life Boston bar is the Bull & Finch Pub, which is still in service today.
ABC, 1974 – 1984
11 seasons, 255 episodes
Top-Rated TV Show for 1976
Set in the 1950’s the show follows the life and times of the Cunningham’s a midwestern family from Wisconsin. The show had two separate memorable TV theme songs, which helped lead to the show’s instant success. The show was immensely popular and spawned many successful spin-offs including Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy. Joanie Loves Chachi and more. One of the show’s iconic characters Fonzie has many pop-culture references such as his tagline “Hey” and iconic black leather jacket that has been on display in the Smithsonian since the early 1990’s. The show also added Pop Culture terminology with “Jumping the Shark.”
Top Pop TV Classics, Gameshows, Specials & Daytime/Late Night
The Tonight Show
NBC 1954 – Present
66 seasons, 12,700+ episodes.
NBC, 1966 – 1969, 48 seasons, `9,000 episodes.
Also gave rise to the syndicated series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1992-1999, 176 episodes, Filmation‘s, Star Trek The Animated Series, 1973-1974, syndicated series Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1987-1994, 178 episodes, UPN, Star Trek: Voyager, 1995-1998, UPN, Star Trek: Enterprise, 2001-2005, Streaming, Star Trek: Discovery, 2017-Present. Also, see Top Pop Action & Adventure Movies for more.
When aliens finally make themselves visible here on planet earth they will not say “take me to your leader” they will ask “where is Gene Rodenberry!”
The Price is Right
CBS, 1972 – Present *Began as a weekly night-time show on NBC in 1957-1963, ABC 1963-1964, switched to a daytime Monday through Friday show in 1972.
48 seasons, `9,000 episodes, Longest Running National Gameshow in U.S. History
The image of Bob Barker and his skinny microphone is American Pop Culture at its BEST!
Wheel of Fortune
NBC, 1975 – 1989, CBS, 1989-1991, NBC 1991, Syndicated 1992 – Present
51 seasons, 6,500+ episodes, Longest Running Syndicated Gameshow in U.S. History
Merv Griffin created two of the longest lasting, most successful and Popular gameshows with Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
NBC, 1964 – 1975, 1978, 1979, Syndicated, 1975 & 1984 – Present
47 seasons, ~10,000 episodes, 39 Daytime Emmy Awards, which is Most of all-time
ABC 1976–1985, Syndicated 1977–1985, ABC Primetime 1978–1984, CBS 1988 – 1995, Syndicated 1999 – Present.
37 seasons*, 3,000+* episodes.
The Brady Bunch
ABC, 1969 – 1974
5 seasons, 117 episodes, Television Spin-offs include, The Brady Kids (animated show 1972-74), The Brady Bunch Hour (Comedy/Variety show 1977), The Brady Brides (Situation Comedy 1981), A Very Brady Christmas, CBS 1986), The Bradys (Drama 1990). Movie Spin-offs include, The Brady Bunch Movie, 1995, A Very Brady Sequel, 1998. 2007 TV Land Pop Culture Award. *Extensive Syndication
Since first hitting TV as a syndicated series the Brady Bunch has essentially been on television everyday for nearly 50 years!
The Today Show
NBC, 1952 – Present
68 “seasons,” over 18,200 episodes, Fifth Longest Running U.S. Television Series
Monday Night Football
ABC, 1970 – Present
50 seasons, ~670 episodes
Saturday Night Live, *NBC’s Saturday Night, 1975-77, aka SNL
NBC, 1975 – Present
46 seasons, 890+ episodes
CBS, 1957 – 2009
52 seasons, 15,762 episodes, Longest Running Dramatic Series of all-time
This classic soap opera
NET, 1969 – 1970, PBS, 1970 – Present, *HBO, 2016 – 2020 (New Episodes Premiere on HBO and are then shown on PBS)
50 seasons, ~4,500 episodes
Anyone 50 years old or younger can most certainly can, “tell you how to get, how to get to Sesame Street!”
A Charlie Brown Christmas
CBS 1965 – 2000, ABC, 2001 – 2019
55 seasonal specials
Miniseries – 8 episodes
Roots Part VIII is the third most watched episode all-time, Parts VI & V are among the top 25 most watched episodes of all-time
The epic tale of Kunta Kinte
The Ed Sullivan Show
CBS, 1948 – 1945
24 seasons, 1,068 episodes
ABC*, 1952 – 1989
37 seasons, 3,000+ episodes. *(Also appeared on WFIL for 5 Seasons, USA Network for 1 Season and Syndication)
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
NBC 1964 – 1972, CBS 1973 – Present
Longest continually running Christmas Special
Syndicated 1971 – 2006
35 seasons, 1,117 episodes.
The Jerry Springer Show
Syndicated 1991 – 2018
27 seasons, 5,084 episodes.