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The 5 Most-Watched TV Finales of All Time


Sunday's "Mad Men" finale generated plenty of headlines, but the AMC drama's ratings pale in comparison to the ratings for some network television juggernauts. The finales of these 5 shows reign supreme in the ratings race.

The End

Anyone who watches television, reads news websites or has a smartphone knows the acclaimed AMC television series “Mad Men” came to an end Sunday after 7 seasons and 92 episodes.

The show was held up as one of the best programs on television. That may have something to do with its location on the dial. Many of the most critically acclaimed series in recent years have aired on cable, rather than traditional broadcast networks. That fact shows in the ratings. While the “Mad Men” finale drew historic ratings for AMC, the total viewership of 3.3 million people pales in comparison the most-watched network finales of all time.

So which series finales drew the most viewers?

What follows is a list of the Top 5 most-watched series finales in history. The list is based on Nielsen Ratings, and only includes full series (thus, miniseries are not on the list). All 5 of the shows aired on broadcast networks, and the series span from the 1960s to the first decade of this century. Almost all of them feature strong ensemble casts, and 2 of the 4 had main characters who were physicians.


52.5 million viewers

The NBC sitcom lasted 10 seasons and 236 episodes before it came to an end in May of 2004. The show featured a strong ensemble cast and witty writing. It won 62 primetime Emmy awards during its run, and was a ratings smash for NBC almost from the very start.


76.3 million viewers

Another NBC sitcom, also with a strong ensemble cast, is next on the list. Seinfeld lasted 9 seasons and won critical acclaim throughout. However, it didn’t become a ratings juggernaut until its fourth season. And while the series finale was one of the most watched ever, it was also highly controversial, with the main characters ending up in jail.

Image via Flickr user Global Jet/Creative Commons

The Fugitive

78 million viewers

The ABC drama is one of 2 shows on the list that prominently featured physicians. In this series, actor David Janssen starred as physician Richard Kimble, who was on the run after being falsely implicated in his wife’s murder. The show lasted 4 seasons, and 120 episodes.


93.5 million viewers

By the time Cheers ended in 1993, everyone really did know the names of the show’s stars, including Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley, and Woody Harrelson. The NBC show made it 11 seasons and 270 episodes. Over that time it won 28 Emmys. It later spawned the spin-off “Frasier” which also went on to critical and commercial success.

Image via Flickr user InSapphoWeTrust/Creative Commons


125 million viewers

The beloved dramedy about Korean War medics is considered one of the greatest television series of all time, and the popularity of its series finale proves it was also wildly successful commercially. The show aired on CBS and starred Alan Alda, Loretta Swift, Jamie Farr, and William Christopher. Its finale was estimated to have been viewed in 60% of US homes.

Image via Wikipedia/Fair Use

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