The Top 10 TV Shows With the Biggest Audiences

A lot of us are couch potatoes. There is nothing more peaceful and serene in the world than relaxing on your couch, gorging on junk food and beer and hugging the remote while watching our favorite television shows. There have been some shows that have attracted more people than usual. Here is a list of the top 10 TV shows with the biggest audiences ever based on percentage of households watching.


10 M*A*S*H Finale, February 28, 1983 – 60.2 percent


Around 50.15 million was tuned in to the finale of M*A*S*H, a television series that aired for 11 years. That is equivalent to more than 60 percent of all households and 77 percent of those watching tv at the time. In terms of actual number of households watching, it is second to the 53.6 million who saw the 2010 Super Bowl when the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts. The episode was entitled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” and showed the 4077th MASH unit during the final days of the Korean War.


9 Dallas “Who Done It?” Episode, November 21, 1980 – 53.3 percent

The episode is more popularly known as “Who Shot J.R.?” The finale of the previous season ended with one of the show’s characters, J.R. Ewing, getting shot twice by an unseen gunner. It was supposed to be answered in September, but an actor’s strike in Hollywood further delayed the reveal. It did generate more interest and publicity however. Even the Queen Mother and the US presidential candidates got into the hype. The result was one of the biggest audiences of all time as 41.47 million learned that Kristin Shepard, J.R.’s sister-in-law and mistress, shot him.


8 Roots Finale, January 30, 1977 – 51.1 percent

This is the 90-minute finale to one of the greatest miniseries of all time. It traced the story of an African American family and how his ancestors moved from Africa to the United States. Around 36.38 million saw the finale, equivalent to 51.1 percent of all households with a 71 percent share of all television viewers at that time.


7 Super Bowl XVI, January 24, 1982 – 49.1 percent

Super Bowls have traditionally been one of the most watched shows in the United States. The days leading to the big game, as well as the day after, are like holidays as everyone gets ready to watch the show. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, despite giving up more yards in offense and more touchdowns. This is the first of their four Super Bowls in the 1980s, all quarterbacked by Joe Montana.


6 Super Bowl XVII, January 30, 1983 – 48.6 percent

The Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins, 27-17, in the culmination of a football season that got shortened by a player’s strike. It was a rematch of the Super Bowl ten years before when the Dolphins beat the Redskins on its way to its much-heralded perfect season. The game was once more played at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California. The result was different this time around, however, as the Redskins overcame a halftime deficit to score 17 unanswered points in the second half and win the Super Bowl.


5 1994 Winter Olympics, Women’s Figure Skating Short Program, February 23, 1994 – 48.5 percent

This one got all hyped up as it featured the drama of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. They were rivals during the qualifying stage in the U.S. Kerrigan was the favorite, so Harding hatched a plan to get Kerrigan out of the way by hiring a hitman to club the latter’s knee. Harding then won the U.S. qualifiers and the right to represent the country in the Olympics. Because of the circumstances, the U.S. decided to send Kerrigan as well, in lieu of Michelle Kwan who had finished second. The electric atmosphere of the Olympics was further heightened by the two’s rivalry. Kerrigan ended up with silver, while Harding placed tenth.


4 Super Bowl XX, January 26, 1986 – 48.3 percent

The Chicago Bears massacred the New England Patriots, 46-10, in this game. It was a perfect ending to an almost-perfect season when they lost only one game. The team featured a then-revolutionary defense that yielded only seven rushing yards and pushed the Patriots back to negative yardage in the first half. The Bears also recorded seven sacks during the game.


3 Michael Jackson Talks to…Oprah, February 10, 1993 – 47.9 percent

This interview of the “King of Pop” by the “Queen of Talk” drew 36.5 million households, which is equivalent to 47.9 percent rating and 67 percent share of all television viewers. Total viewers were estimated to be more than 90 million. This was before allegations of sexual abuse came to light, but the interview was still able to focus on controversial topics, like Jackson’s plastic surgeries and changes in skin tone. The gloved one was famous for his shyness and aversion to interviews, so when he opened up to Oprah about the tabloid stories coming out, it made for a huge media event. It was also during this interview that Jackson revealed that he was afflicted with the disease called vitiligo, a skin disorder that destroyed the pigmentation of his skin and that caused him to become whiter.


2 Gone with the Wind Part 1, November 7, 1976 – 47.7 percent


This is the 1939 film classic about the Civil War and the Reconstruction period from the point of view of a white Southerner. It is considered to be the highest-grossing movie of all time if revenues were adjusted to take into account the inflation rate. It is also one of the greatest movies of all time. When it was shown on television, it was divided into two parts. The first part garnered 33.96 million households for a 65 percent share and 47.7 percent rating.


1 Gone with the Wind Part 2, November 8, 1976 – 47.4 percent

The second part of this classic was shown the following night. It garnered a slightly lower 33.75 million households for a 64 percent share and 47.4 percent rating.

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