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The Most Watched Programs in TV History


The most watched television broadcast is the English Premier Football
League.  It is broadcast to 600 million households in 202 countries and
reportedly watched by more than 1.2 billion people per week.  On July 20,
1969, over 600 million people watched the first humans walk on the surface of
the moon.  A satellite broadcast of an Elvis Presley show live from Hawaii,
titled "Aloha from Hawaii" on January 14, 1973, is reported to have reached
over 1 billion viewers globally.

The funeral of Princess Diana was viewed by over 2 billion people and more
than 2 billion watched Pope John Paul II service.  During the 2008 Olympics,
it's estimated that 1 billion people watched the Men's Basketball game
between China and the USA.  On July 7, 2009, following the death of Michael
Jackson, it is estimated that his funeral was seen by more than 1 billion
people worldwide.  This list will focus on the most watched TV programs in
history and it is organized by country, although viewing numbers were only
available for certain areas of the world. 


Most Viewed TV Shows (between 1996-2008)

1996 & 1997: Blue Heelers

Blue Heelers was a long-running Australian police drama series which depicted
the lives of police officers stationed at the fictional Mt. Thomas police station
in the small town of Victoria
.  The show won a total of 32 awards and was
nominated for a further 50, including 25 Logie Awards, five of which were the
Gold Logie; the most coveted television award in Australia.  Blue Heelers was
Australia's most popular television drama, drawing more than 2.5 million
viewers every week at its peak. 

Blue Heelers

1998-2000: Friends

Friends is an American sitcom created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman,
which premiered on NBC on September 22, 1994.  The series revolves around
a group of friends in the area of Manhattan, New York City
.  Friends received
positive reviews throughout its run, and became one of the most popular
sitcoms of all time.  The series won many awards and was nominated for 63
Primetime Emmy Awards.  It was also very successful in the ratings,
consistently ranking in the top ten all over the world. 


2001: ER

ER is an American medical drama series created by novelist Michael Crichton
that aired from September 1994 to April 2009.  It is set primarily in the
emergency room of fictional County General Hospital in Chicago, Illinois
.  ER
won 23 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series (1996), and
received 123 Emmy nominations, the most of any television show in history.

2002: National Nine News Sunday

Nine News is the news service of the Australian Nine Network.  Previously
known as National Nine News, it has traditionally been the most popular
service in the country, but in recent years, the Seven Network's Seven News
has become the highest rated evening news service in Australia.

2003: The Block

The Block was an Australian reality television show broadcast on the Nine
Network.  It was hosted by Jamie Durie and consisted of four couples who
compete against each other trying to renovate a home in an apartment block
and sell it at auction for the highest price.  The series ran for two seasons in
2003 and 2004.

2004: Australian Idol

Australian Idol is a Logie Award-winning Australian singing competition, which
began its first season on July 27, 2003.  It is part of the Idol franchise that
originated from the reality program Pop Idol created by British entertainment
executive Simon Fuller. 

2005: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives is an American television comedy-drama series
created by Marc Cherry.  The setting of the show is the street of Wisteria
Lane in the fictional American town of Fairview in the Eagle State.  It follows
the lives of a group of women, seen through the eyes of their dead neighbor.
They work through domestic struggles and family life, while facing the secrets,
crimes and mysteries hidden behind the doors of their seemingly perfect
suburban neighborhood.

The show is a multiple Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award
winner, and in April 2007 it was reported to be the most popular show in its
demographic worldwide, with an audience of approximately 120 million.

Desperate Housewives

2006: Dancing with the Stars (Australia)

Dancing with the Stars is a Logie Award-winning, Australian light entertainment
reality show airing on the Seven Network.  The show is based on the United
Kingdom BBC Television series Strictly Come Dancing and is part of BBC
Worldwide's international Dancing with the Stars franchise.

2007: Kath and Kim

Kath & Kim is a Logie Award-winning character-driven Australian television
comedy series, created by Jane Turner and Gina Riley.  The series revolves
around the relationships of the title characters, who play a dysfunctional
mother and daughter.

Kath and Kim

2008: Packed to the Rafters

Packed to the Rafters is an Australian family-oriented comedy-drama television
series which premiered on the Seven Network in 2008.  The series features a
mix of lighthearted comedy and revolves around the Rafter family.  The show
tackles some serious social issues and has won numerous awards.

Packed to the Rafters


The Scarf, a thriller series by Francis Durbridge, received a 89% market share
in January of 1962.  It is considered the biggest so-called "Straßenfeger" in
German television history.  One year later, the Tim Frazer series by Durbridge
went for a market share between 80 and 93%.
Germany’s Top 8 Primetime Telecasts of All Time

1. 2006 FIFA World Cup: Germany vs. Italy

29.6 Million Viewers

This match was a semi-final match that Italy won 2-0.


2. UEFA Euro 2008: Germany vs. Turkey

29.4 Million Viewers

This match was a semi-final match that Germany won 3-2.

3. 1990 FIFA World Cup: West Germany vs. Argentina

28.7 Million Viewers

This match was the 1990 World Cup final.  West Germany won 1-0, with a late
Andreas Brehme penalty sealing their third World Cup win.


4. UEFA Euro 1996: Germany vs. Czech Republic

28.4 Million Viewers

This match was a first round contest that Germany won 2-0.

5. UEFA Euro 2008: Austria vs. Germany

28.1 Million Viewers

This match was in the early rounds of Group B play and Germany won the contest 1-0.

6. Die Schwarzwaldklinik: Episode - Die Schuldfrage

28 Million Viewers

Die Schwarzwaldklinik (The Black Forest Hospital) was one of the most
successful German TV shows of Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF).  It was
produced between 1985 and 1989.


7. UEFA Euro 2008: Portugal vs. Germany

27.7 Million Viewers

This was a quarter-final match that Germany won 3-2. 

8. 2002 FIFA World Cup: Germany vs. Brazil

27 Million Viewers

This match was the 2002 World Cup Final.  The contest was played at the
International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan.  Brazil won 2–0, winning a record
fifth title.

Germany’s Most Watched U.S. TV Series Episodes

1. Columbo

Episode – How to Dial a Murder

8 Million Viewers, Aired September 21, 1992


2. Earth 2

Episode – First Contact

7.4 Million Viewers, Aired October 29, 1995


3. seaQuest DSV

Episode – To Be or Not to Be

7 Million Viewers, Aired January 19, 1994


4. Ring of the Musketeers: Part 1

6.9 Million Viewers, Aired December 1, 1992


5. Lonesome Dove: Episode #2

6.8 Million Viewers, Aired January 11, 1992


6. Quincy, M.E.

6.7 Million Viewers, Aired November 16, 1993



China Central Television's Spring Festival Gala has routinely attracted
between 700 million and one billion viewers since the early 1980s.  The Spring
Festival Gala is an evening gala of the drama, dance, and song, which is
broadcast on the eve of Chinese New Year, live on CCTV-1, and by satellite
all over the world.  The New Year's Gala is a cultural phenomenon in China,
and has become a necessity in many people’s New Year’s night celebration.

In 2007, China’s main news broadcast
Xinwen Lianbo had a daily audience of
135 million people. 
Follow Me!  Which is a BBC beginner's English program
that was broadcasted in China as part of the re-establishment of an
educational system after the end of the Cultural Revolution was estimated to
have attracted a nightly audience of 350 million people during the early 1980s.



In November 2006, the Academy of Television published a list of the most
watched television programmes in Italian history, based on the highest-rated
episode for each series.  The episodes all came from U.S. television series.

1. ER – 7.1 Million Viewers


2. Beverly Hills, 90210 – 5.8 Million Viewers


Beverly Hills, 90210 is a prime time television drama series that aired from
October 4, 1990 to May 17, 2000 on various networks around the world.  It is
the first series in the Beverly Hills, 90210 franchise.  The show followed the
lives of a group of teenagers living in the upscale, star-studded community of
Beverly Hills, California and attending the fictitious West Beverly High School.

3. House – 5.7 Million Viewers


House is an American television medical drama that debuted on November 16,
2004.  The show's central character is Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) an
unconventional, maverick medical genius who heads a team of diagnosticians
at the fictional Princeton‑Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (PPTH) in New
.  Distributed to 66 countries, House was the most watched television
program in the world in 2008.  The show has received several awards,
including a Peabody Award, two Golden Globe Awards, and three Primetime
Emmy Awards.


4. Lost – 5.6 Million Viewers

Lost is an American serial drama television series.  It follows the lives of plane
crash survivors who landed on a mysterious tropical island, after a commercial
passenger jet flying between Sydney, Australia, and Los Angeles, United
States, crashed somewhere in the South Pacific.  The show airs on the ABC
Network in the United States, as well as on regional networks in many other
countries.  Critically acclaimed and a popular success, Lost garnered an
average of 16 million viewers per episode on ABC during its first year.

5. Charmed – 5.2 Million Viewers

Charmed is an American television series that originally aired from October 7,
1998, until May 21, 2006, on The WB Television Network
.  The series follows
the four Halliwell sisters, Prue, Piper, Phoebe and, later, Paige, who are the
culmination of the long Warren line of powerful, good witches.  The sisters,
despite being perceived as normal by the non-supernatural community, are
known as The Charmed Ones in the magical community, whose prophesized
destiny is to battle against evil beings, such as demons and warlocks, in order
to protect innocent lives from being endangered.

United Kingdom

Most Watched Episodes in History

1. EastEnders

Episode - Den Divorces Angie

30 Million Viewers, Aired December 25, 1986

EastEnders is a long-running, popular British television soap opera, first
broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 19 February 1985.  It
currently ranks as one of the most watched shows in the United Kingdom.
EastEnders examines the domestic and professional lives of the people who
live and work in the fictional London Borough of Walford in the East End of
London.  The series primarily centres around the residents of Albert Square, a
Victorian square of terraced houses, and its neighbouring streets.  Today, four
episodes are broadcast each week on BBC One and an omnibus edition
screens on Sunday afternoons.


2. Morecambe and Wise

Episode - Morecame and Wise Christmas Show

28 Million Viewers, Aired December 25, 1977

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, usually referred to as Morecambe and Wise,
were a British comic double act, working in variety, radio, film and most
successfully in television.  Their partnership lasted from 1941 until
Morecambe's death in 1984.  They have been described as "the most
illustrious, and the best-loved, double-act that Britain has ever produced.”  The
show had end-of-year Christmas specials, which became such an institution
during the 1970s that few British families would dream of missing them.

3. Coronation Street

Episode - Alan Bradley killed by Tram

26.9 Million Viewers, Aired December 8, 1989

Coronation Street is an award-winning prime time soap opera set and
produced in Manchester and created by Tony Warren.  It is the longest
running and most watched soap opera on British television.  The show was
first broadcast on December 9, 1960, and has been distributed all over the
world.  Since 1960, Coronation Street has featured many characters whose
popularity with viewers and critics has differed.

4. Coronation Street

Episode - Hilda Ogden Leaves

26 Million Viewers, Aired December 25, 1987

Only Fools and Horses

Episode - Time On Our Hands

24.4 Million Viewers, Aired December 29, 1996

Only Fools and Horses is a British television sitcom, created and written by
John Sullivan.  The show is set in Peckham in south London and stars David
Jason as ambitious market trader Derek "Del Boy" Trotter, Nicholas Lyndhurst
as his younger brother Rodney, and Lennard Pearce as their aging
grandfather (later replaced by Buster Merryfield as their Uncle Albert). Backed
by a strong supporting cast, the series chronicles the group’s highs and lows
and follows their attempts to get rich.

The show is critically and popularly acclaimed and has received numerous
awards, including recognition from the British Academy, the National
Television Awards, and the Royal Television Society.  The episode Time On
Our Hands was the final episode of the 1996 Christmas trilogy and holds the
record for the highest UK audience for a sitcom episode.

Only Fools and Horses

6. EastEnders

Episode - Pat Butcher Runs Down Little Girl

24.3 Million Viewers, Aired January 2, 1992

7. Royal Variety Performance

Episode - Shirley Bassey, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

24.2 Million Viewers, Aired November 14, 1965

The Royal Variety Performance is a gala evening held annually in the United
Kingdom, which is attended by senior members of the British Royal Family,
usually the reigning monarch.  In more recent years Queen Elizabeth II and
The Prince of Wales have alternately attended the performance.  The
performance showcases a variety of family entertainment, including comedy,
singing, dance, magic and other speciality acts, with many of the performers
and hosts being popular celebrities.  It is a variety show.

The event is organized on behalf of the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent
Fund of which Queen Elizabeth is patron.  All proceeds are donated to the
fund.  The performance is televised to the public and is considered by many to
be a tradition of the Christmas season, being held late in November, or early
in December. 

Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

8. To the Manor Born

Episode - Series 1 Finale

23.9 Million Viewers, Aired November 11, 1979 

To the Manor Born is a British sitcom that first aired on BBC1 from 1979 to
1981.  The show stars Penelope Keith, who plays Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, an
upper-class woman who, upon the death of her husband, has to move out of
her beloved manor house.  The manor is then bought by Richard DeVere,
played by Peter Bowles, a nouveau riche millionaire supermarket owner.  The
programme proved popular and it received high audience figures for many of
its episodes, with the season one finale being the most watched British
television programme, excluding live events, of the 1970s.

Top 8 One-off Event Broadcasts in UK History

1. 1966 FIFA World Cup Final

32.3 Million Viewers, Aired July 30, 1966

The 1966 FIFA World Cup Final was a match contested by England and West
Germany at Wembley Stadium in London, and had an attendance of 98,000.
 England defeated West Germany 4-2 after extra time to win the Jules Rimet
Trophy.  It is the only time that England has won the World Cup. 


2. Funeral of Princess Diana

32 Million Viewers, Aired September 6, 1997


3. British Royal Family Documentary

30.7 Million Viewers, Aired 1969


Royal Family (1969) is a celebrated and reverential BBC documentary made
by Richard Cawston to accompany the investiture of the current Prince of
Wales.  The documentary is frequently held responsible for the greater press
intrusion into the Royal Family's private life since its first broadcast.

4. Apollo 13 Splashdown

28.6 Million Viewers, Aired April 17, 1970


Apollo 13 was the third manned mission by NASA that was intended to land on
the moon, but a mid-mission technical malfunction forced the lunar landing to
be aborted.  Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin
heat, and a shortage of potable water, the crew returned safely to Earth, and
the mission was termed a "successful failure."

Apollo 13 Crew

5. FA Cup replay: Chelsea vs. Leeds

28.5 Million Viewers, Aired April 29, 1970

The first 1970 FA Cup Final took place on April 11, 1970 at Wembley Stadium
and ended 2–2. The replay at Old Trafford was on April 29.  It was the first
Wembley final to span two separate days.

Royal Wedding of Charles & Diana

28.4 Million Viewers, Aired July 29, 1981

7. Wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips

27.60 Million Viewers, Aired November 14, 1973

8. JFK Assassination - News Broadcast

24.15 Million Viewers – Aired November 22, 1963

United States

Every one of the Super Bowl’s rank high on the most viewed programs in U.S.
history.  The most watched Super Bowl was last year’s match-up between the
Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  98.7 Million Americans tuned in
for the game.

Winning Catch

Highest Rated Network Broadcasts in U.S. History


1. M*A*S*H: Episode - Goodbye, Farewell and Amen (Series Finale)

106 Million Viewers, Aired February 28, 1983


M*A*S*H is an American television series developed by Larry Gelbart.  The
series is a medical drama/comedy that follows a team of doctors and support
staff stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu,
South Korea, during the Korean War.  Goodbye, Farewell and Amen is a
television movie that served as the 251st and final episode of the M*A*S*H
television series.  Closing out the series' eleventh season, the 2½-hour
episode is still the single most watched television broadcast in American


2. Dallas: Episode - Who Done It?

83 Million Viewers, Aired November 21, 1980


Who Done It is the fourth episode in the 4th season of the television series
Dallas.  The episode resolved the Who shot J.R.? cliffhanger from the
previous season.  It remains the second most watched television episode in
U.S. history.

3. Roots Series Finale

Aired January 30, 1977


Roots is a 1977 American television miniseries based on Alex Haley's work.
The series received 36 Emmy Award nominations and went on to win nine.  It
also received unprecedented Nielsen ratings and the finale stands as the
third-highest rated U.S. television program ever.


4. XVII Winter Olympics: Ladies' figure skating - Short Program
Featuring Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding

Aired February 23, 1994


5. Gone with the Wind Telecast (Part 1 & Part 2)

Aired November 7 and 8, 1976


6. Bob Hope Christmas Special

Aired January 15, 1970

Bob Hope

7. The Day After

Aired November 20, 1983

The Day After is an American television movie which aired on November 20,
, on the ABC Television Network.  The film portrays a fictional nuclear
war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact that rapidly escalates into a
full scale exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The film
focuses on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri, as
well as several family farms situated next to nearby nuclear missile silos.

8. The Fugitive

Series Finale: The Judgment: Part 2

Aired August 29, 1967

The Fugitive is an American television series that aired on ABC from 1963 to
1967.  David Janssen starred as Richard Kimble, a doctor from the fictional
town of Stafford, Indiana, who is falsely convicted of his wife's murder and
given the death penalty.  En route to death row, Kimble's train derails and
crashes, allowing him to escape and begin a cross-country search for the real
killer, a "one-armed man".

9. Cheers

Series Finale: One for the Road

Aired May 20, 1993

Cheers is an American situation comedy television series that ran for eleven
seasons from 1982 to 1993.  The show is set in the Cheers bar in Boston,
Massachusetts, where a group of locals meet to drink and have fun.  Cheers
became a highly rated television show in the United States, earning a Top 10
rating during eight of its eleven seasons, including one season at #1.  The
show earned 28 Emmy Awards from 117 nominations.      


10. The Ed Sullivan Show: The Beatles First Appearance

73.3 Million Viewers, Aired February 9, 1964


Most Viewed Series Finales


1. M*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

106 Million Viewers, Aired February 28, 1983


2. Cheers: One for the Road

80 Million Viewers, Aired May 20, 1993


3. Seinfeld

76.3 Million Viewers, Aired May 14, 1998


Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July
5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication.
The series was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.  The show was
set predominantly in an apartment block on New York City's Upper West Side
(but shot mainly in Los Angeles, California), the show features a host of
Jerry's friends and acquaintances, who include George Costanza, Elaine
Benes and Cosmo Kramer.  The program led the Nielsen Ratings in its sixth
and ninth seasons and finished among the top two every year from 1994 to

4. Friends

52.5 Million Viewers, Aired May 6, 2004


5. Magnum, P.I.

50.7 Million Viewers, Aired May 1, 1988


Magnum, P.I. is an American television show starring Tom Selleck as Thomas
Magnum, a private investigator living on Oahu, Hawaii.  The series ran from
1980 to 1988. 

Magnum, P.I.

6. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

50 Million Viewers, Aired May 22, 1992


The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson is a late-night talk show hosted by
Johnny Carson under the Tonight Show franchise from 1962 to 1992.  For its
first ten years Carson's Tonight Show was based in New York City with
occasional trips to Burbank, California; in May 1972 the show moved
permanently to Burbank.  Today, The Tonight Show is hosted by Conan


7. The Cosby Show

44.4 Million Viewers, Aired April 30, 1992


The Cosby Show is an American television situation comedy starring Bill
Cosby.  The show focused on the Huxtable family, an upper-middle class
African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York.  According to TV Guide,
the show was TV's biggest hit in the 1980s, and almost single-handedly
revived the sitcom genre. 

Cosby Show

8. All in the Family

40.2 Million Viewers, Aired April 8, 1979


All in the Family is an American situation comedy that was originally broadcast
on the CBS television network from January 12, 1971 to April 8, 1979.  The
show broke ground in its depiction of issues previously considered unsuitable
for U.S. network television comedy, such as racism, homosexuality, women's
liberation, rape, miscarriage, breast cancer, menopause and impotence.  It
ranked #1 in the yearly Nielsen ratings from 1971 to 1976.  As of 2009, it has
along with The Cosby Show and American Idol been the only shows to top the
ratings for at least five consecutive seasons.


9. Family Ties

36.3 Million Viewers, Aired May 14, 1989

Family Ties is a television sitcom that aired on NBC for seven seasons, from
1982 to 1989.  The show takes place in Columbus, Ohio and follows the life of
the Keaton family.  It reflects the move in the United States from the cultural
liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s to the conservatism of the 1980s.


10. Home Improvement

35.5 Million Viewers, Aired May 25, 1999


Home Improvement is an American television sitcom starring Tim Allen, which
aired 1991 to 1999.  In the 1990s, it was one of the most watched sitcoms,
winning many awards.  The series centered on the Taylor family, which
consists of father Tim, his spouse Jill, and their three children.  The Taylors
live in suburban Detroit, Michigan and have a neighbor named Wilson who is
often the go-to guy for solving Tim and Jill's problems.

Home Improvement

11. Dallas (May 3, 1991)

12. Everybody Loves Raymond (May 16, 2005)

13. Gunsmoke (March 31, 1975)

14. The Fugitive (August 29, 1967)

15. Newhart (May 21, 1990)

16. Star Trek: The Next Generation (May 23, 1994)


17. The Golden Girls (May 9, 1992)

18. Frasier (May 13, 2004)

19. Night Court (May 13, 1992)

20. Full House (May 23, 1995)

Night Court

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