Television shows can define a generation. As new storylines are constantly pitched and it seems like a new series debuts every couple months, some shows make quick appearances and aren’t able to sustain viewers for more than a season. A few standout achievements in television, however, stick around for years. Now, online viewing platforms such as Netflix and Hulu have revolutionized TV viewing and have made thousands of these well-loved episodes available to viewers at any time of the day, long after they’ve gone off the air.
The popularity of a certain series can be measured in many different ways — longevity, viewership and its place in daily life, to name a few. A lot of popular shows have viewing parties and die hard fans who get attached to plot lines. People take their shows pretty seriously.
It seems like everyone has a few shows they love. They talk about them with their friends, reference jokes and catch every episode when it airs. If by chance they happen to miss it, they refuse to let anyone talk about the episode in their presence. You most likely have a few shows that you love too. Check below to see if any of your favorites made the list of the most popular shows of all time!
12. The Sopranos
This mafia-based series ran from 1999-2007 and ended with a controversial bang. The pilot for the show first premiered in 1997 and was later picked up and aired on HBO through the eight years and 86 episodes. Throughout its time, The Sopranos won tons of awards, too many to list on here. It has undergone syndication and is now aired on A&E.
The plot revolves around an American-Italian family and focuses primarily on Tony Soprano, the father. The show exposes the challenges he faces while trying to balance being a mobster as well as a family man. The comedic insights into his life come primarily from his therapy sessions.
11. Modern Family
A more modern take on popular shows, Modern Family aired in 2009 and is still going strong. Its premiere was watched by 2.6 million viewers and the show now rakes in about 2 million per episode. The show displayed so much promise that within its first year it was nominated for an Emmy.
Modern Family is about, you guessed it, the modern family. It’s filmed as a mockumentary where the family members talk directly to the camera. The story follows three different families — a father’s new family with a hot younger wife, and the families of his two children, one gay son and his daughter, the typical soccer mom. Episodes detail the different antics of the families, but always end on a positive note. The episodes don’t stem too much from each other, so it’s easy to pick up at any point.
10. Breaking Bad
Nothing like a sob drug story to engage viewers. Breaking Bad was the first show of its kind, an exploration of a taboo topic that blurs the edges between right and wrong. It originally aired in 2008 on AMC and continued to run through 2013. While it wasn’t aired for too long – how long can you drag on the making of drugs? – it still made quite a splash with viewers.
The plot follows a high school science teacher’s journey to pay his medical bills by making and selling meth. The story involves his friends and family as well as some of a drug crime ring. Its controversial nature won the show 29 awards and a place on the list of the most-watched television shows of all time.
9. Mad Men
An homage to another age, Mad Men is a throwback to the 60s and 70s in America. The show started in 2007 on AMC and is coming to a close this year. This drama is draped with 19 awards and is one of the most successful television dramas to ever be created.
The story follows the lives of men who work at Sterling Cooper, an ad agency on Madison Avenue, hence the name Mad (Madison) Men. The plot focuses mainly on a creative director and details his professional as well as personal life. The show accurately depicts life in the 1960s and the struggles members of society faced as they were ushered into the 70s.
8. Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones made fantasy medieval action cool again. The show is based off best-selling books and is doing even better than the original print. Even though the show aired in 2011 and is only on its fourth year, people are already hooked. It has a following that’s reached record numbers of views on HBO of both domestic and international proportions.
The plot is detailed and follows different families’ quests to conquer and retain the throne over their mythical land. It’s full of sex, violence, nudity and dragons. The detail of the plot makes it pretty complicated so it’s best to watch it from the beginning and to pay attention. The characters in the novel can easily get mixed up so putting faces to them in a television drama has made the storyline much clearer and more successful.
7. Orange Is The New Black
Only two years old and not aired on television, this show is one of the first of its kind. Orange Is The New Black was created by Netflix, based on the novel Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. In its second season the show won 12 Emmy’s and has already been renewed through 2016.
The plot revolves around Piper’s life in a women’s correctional facility and portrays it in a comedic light. Her journey to jail, home life and friendships are all explained and re-evaluated throughout her time in prison. It’s a completely new, un-scary take on jail that makes the show here to stay.
6. House of Cards
Netflix is really cranking out the hits. The American show is based on a mini-series that aired on BBC as well as the novel by Michael Dobbs. The show has only been around for three seasons and there was no guarantee of renewal at any stage – after each series, the future was decided. However, lead actor Kevin Spacey believes the show will be around for about 12 seasons.
House of Cards follows one man’s political journey in the U.S. Government. It outlines the lives of people he interacts with and also closely follows his wife’s ambitious life. Crime, murder, cover-ups and framing are all major parts of the scandalous drama.
Friends aired from 1994 until 2004 and is still regularly syndicated. It’s won over 60 awards and consistently ranks high on lists about the best series of all time. 52.5 million viewers tuned in to the series finale, which made it the fourth most watched closure in history.
This show is about friends, shocker, who are living in Manhattan; it’s the original How I Met Your Mother. The plot revolves around their friendship as well as romantic tension between some characters in the group. The comedy most often features the personal, and occasionally professional, antics of the group members. They most often convene at a local coffee shop, Central Perk, to discuss their lives.
4. Family Guy
Another long running comedy, Family Guy has been on air since 1998. It did well its first few years, but Fox cancelled the show for two years in 2001. Due to high ratings of DVD sales and viewer demands, the show was quickly put on air again. It has been the most successful and awarded animated comedy since The Flinstones in 1961.
Family Guy is about the Griffin family — mom, dad, son, daughter, baby and dog. They seem like the all-American family, but they’re always getting into some new adventure. The episodes are usually able to stand alone so people can tune in whenever. Some people argue that the show is going downhill and that the comedic intervals aren’t what they used to be, but viewership is as high as ever and the show doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
3. Saturday Night Live
SNL has been on-air since 1975, which makes it the longest running (and still popular) shows of all time. The show has aired over 40 seasons and more than 784 episodes. It has received 184 Emmy nominations, which is significantly more than any other show. It’s been so popular that many other countries have tried to create spinoffs, but none are as successful. However, it has served as a platform for many of the producers, directors, writers and actors to jump to extremely illustrious careers.
This late night comedy is composed of monologues and different sketches that celebrities are usually featured in. Each episode is different so viewers can tune in and enjoy the hilarity, even if they haven’t seen previous episodes. SNL has been a major force in paving the comedic road and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.
2. The Simpsons
It can be said that this is the original Family Guy. The show aired in 1989 after it was featured as a short aside in The Tracey Ullman Show and was widely popular. The show has aired for more than 25 seasons and has put out over 570 episodes. It is now the longest running animated show as well as the longest running primetime scripted comedy.
The show revolves around a middle-class American family of yellow characters. The show parodies American culture, society, television and humans in general. Many of the show’s expressions have come to fruition in daily life because it’s so popular.
1. I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy is a scripted American tv show that aired from 1951 to 1957 on CBS; a modified version was later run from 1957 to 1960. While the show wasn’t on long, it managed to create a huge following. It was the most watched show in the U.S. for four out of its six seasons. It ended it’s reign at the top of the Nielson Ratings, which measure audience size and composition. This position has only been matched by two other shows.
I Love Lucy is a comedy about Lucy’s life as a mother, wife and aspiring star. She constantly gets her family and friends into hilariously sticky situations, which magically get resolved by the end of the show. While the series has been off-air for many years, it still has an average of 40 million American viewers and tons more around the world.