Whenever a wildly popular TV show ends, it’s always a massive event. Everything builds to this epic conclusion, and often, even those who stopped watching years ago will tune back in to see how it all gets wrapped up.
That’s why over the years, series finales have drawn some absolutely astonishing ratings. In fact, the final episode of one show beat the Super Bowl that year, and it remains the most-watched episode of any series ever made.
15. Star Trek: The Next Generation — 31.0 million
Star Trek: The Next Generation | CBS
It was never a guarantee that Star Trek could go on and be just as successful with an entirely new crew and storyline. But The Next Generation was a hit, regularly drawing between 10 and 15 million viewers throughout its run. The final episode aired on May 23, 1994, and 31 million people tuned in.
Unlike the original series, which ended with a fairly random episode, The Next Generation went out with a bang. “All Good Things…” received extremely positive reviews, and its viewership was the highest for the finale of any sci-fi show ever. It’s also the most-viewed series finale ever for a syndicated show.
14. Everybody Loves Raymond — 32.9 million
Everybody Loves Raymond | CBS
Everybody Loves Raymond was incredibly successful for CBS, with episodes in the last few seasons regularly drawing over 20 million viewers. If it were on today and still getting those numbers, it would be CBS’ highest-rated sitcom, beating even The Big Bang Theory.
Naturally, the last episode was gigantic. Airing on May 16, 2005, “The Finale” — in which everyone goes into a panic when Raymond has to undergo a medical procedure — drew 32.9 million viewers.
Believe it or not, even though this finale aired over a decade ago, it’s the most recent one on our list.
13. Dallas — 33.3 million
Dallas | CBS
Dallas, the CBS series about a feuding Texas family, aired for a whopping 14 seasons from 1978 through 1991. In the last episode, “Conundrum,” J.R. Ewing sees what the family would have been like had he never been born, i.e. It’s a Wonderful Life.
The 33 million people who tuned in for the series finale were surprised when the whole thing actually ended on a massive cliffhanger, which wasn’t resolved until a TV movie five years later.
This is a rare case, though, where the series finale was not the highest-rated episode of the show. That was “Who Done It,” the episode that resolved the infamous “Who shot J.R.?” cliffhanger and drew over 80 million viewers.
12. Frasier — 33.7 million
Frasier | NBC
Frasier is arguably the greatest spin-off of all time, and it lasted for the exact same number of seasons as the original series, Cheers. The finale’s ratings were not nearly as monumental as Cheers, but they were still good enough to make the top 15.
On May 13, 2004, 33 million people tuned in to watch the Frasier series finale, “Goodnight, Seattle.” That was a big month for series finales, as Friends had concluded just one week prior. Friends, however, was significantly more popular — we’ll get to that in a bit.
11. Home Improvement — 35.5 million
Home Improvement | ABC
Tim Allen’s ABC sitcom Home Improvement arguably hasn’t made as much of a cultural impact as some of the other sitcoms on this list. But it maintained spectacular numbers all throughout its run, regularly drawing between 15 and 20 million viewers.
The last season was the lowest rated of all of them, but a lot of people who had tuned out came back in for the final episode, which aired on May 25, 1999 and attracted an audience of 35.5 million viewers.
10. Family Ties — 36.3 million
Family Ties | NBC
For seven seasons, Michael J. Fox played the young conservative Alex P. Keaton on the classic sitcom Family Ties, which aired from 1982 to 1989.
In May 1989, the series finale — in which Alex prepares to move to New York — drew 36.3 million viewers. That makes it the third biggest series finale of the 1980s.
9. All in the Family — 40.2 million
All in the Family | CBS
One of the most iconic sitcoms of all time, All in the Family wrapped up a nine-season run in 1979. What’s interesting about this one is that it wasn’t really a traditional series finale at all. “Too Good Edith,” the last episode of one of the greatest shows ever, just involves Edith getting sick and trying to prepare for a St. Patrick’s Day party. A few months later, the series continued with the spin-off Archie Bunker’s Place.
Still, despite the fact that the last episode of All in the Family was not much of a conclusion, it managed to earn over 40 million viewers.
8. The Cosby Show — 44.4 million
The Cosby Show | NBC
Although it’s difficult to watch now, The Cosby Show was a major deal when it was on, remaining the No. 1 show in the Nielsen ratings for much of its run.
After eight seasons, the show concluded with “And So We Commence,” in which Theo graduates from college and the family has a party. The finale aired on April 30, 1992, which happened to be day two of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. At the time, Bill Cosby went on the news and asked people to stop what they were doing and watch the Cosby Show series finale.
Clearly, they listened, as the finale drew almost 45 million viewers, making it the fifth highest-rated series finale for a scripted comedy.
7. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson — 50.0 million
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson | NBC
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson‘s last episode actually managed to beat the series finale of almost every scripted series ever made. On the show’s final episode, which aired on May 22, 1992, Carson did not have any guests on. Instead, he took the time to look back on the show’s 30-year run, concluding with a farewell monologue delivered while sitting on a stool.
Carson was such an important part of the history of television that his last episode drew 50 million viewers. No final episode of any other talk show has ever topped that.
6. Magnum, P.I. — 50.7 million
Magnum, P.I. | CBS
The seventh season of Magnum, P.I. got dark, with Magnum actually dying and going to heaven in the final episode. This was originally meant to be the series finale, but fans were not happy.
CBS thankfully ended up bringing Magnum, P.I. back for one more season, having Magnum wake up from a coma at the start. So the real series finale, “Resolutions,” aired on May 1, 1988, and it scored an impressive 50 million viewers. The finale also received a much better reception than the “original” finale a year prior.N
5. Friends — 52.5 million
Friends | NBC
The highest-rated series finale to air in the 21st century is still Friends, which wrapped up its 10-season run on May 6, 2004. Every episode of Friends‘ final season scored between 20 and 25 million viewers, which is already a crazy amount. But the finale, which NBC spent weeks hyping up, attracted an eye-popping 52.5 million viewers.
Not only is “The Last One” one of the most-viewed series finales of all time, but when it aired, it was the most viewed entertainment broadcast in six years. It seems extraordinarily unlikely that any modern show’s series finale will be able to draw over 52 million viewers, meaning that Friends‘ record as the most-watched series finale of the century is pretty secure.N
4. Seinfeld — 76.3 million
Seinfeld | NBC
Although the Friends finale was huge, it didn’t even come close to topping the last episode of Seinfeld, which had aired on NBC six years prior.
Seinfeld tended to be a pretty small-scale show, which might spend an entire episode on the characters trying to get a table at a restaurant. But Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld went big with the finale, and the secrecy surrounding its plot led to weeks of media speculation. It ended up involving characters from all throughout the show returning in order to testify against the gang in court.
The episode was a massive cultural event, drawing 76.3 million viewers, one of the highest ever for a sitcom. Unfortunately, the last episode also garnered famously divisive reactions.Next: A crazy number of viewers tuned in to see the mystery of this show resolved in the series finale.
3. The Fugitive — 78.0 million
The Fugitive | ABCHow many ways can you consume cannabis?Ad by Namaste Find the formats and methods to consume cannabis that are best for you.
The Fugitive, a drama series in which a man, Dr. Richard Kimble, is wrongfully convicted of his wife’s murder and goes on the run in hopes of finding the real killer, captivated the nation from 1963 through 1967. The first several seasons were mysterious about the identity of the “One-Armed Man,” who really murdered Dr. Kimble’s wife.
This all built up to the final episode, in which the identity of the killer is finally revealed. The finale drew an astonishing 78 million viewers, making it the most-watched series finale for a drama in history.
2. Cheers — 84.4 million
Cheers | CBS
While the ratings for the Friends and the Seinfeld finales were impressive, neither were able to beat Cheers, which wrapped up on NBC in 1993. The finale, “One for the Road,” was a special triple-length episode airing on May 20, 1993, and it featured Shelley Long returning as Diane Chambers.
It was by far the most-watched final episode of any show airing in the 1990s, and the second most-watched series finale of all time.
1. M*A*S*H — 105 million
M*A*S*H | CBSHow many ways can you consume cannabis?Ad by Namaste Find the formats and methods to consume cannabis that are best for you.
The series finale of M*A*S*H remains the highest-viewed episode of any show ever aired, drawing a historic 105 million viewers in February 1983. More people watched the M*A*S*H finale than watched the Super Bowl that year. In fact, it was the most watched television broadcast in U.S. history until 2010, when Super Bowl XLIV surpassed it.
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was a special, feature-length conclusion to a show that for years helped Americans process the senselessness of the Vietnam War, even though the show itself was technically about the Korean War. The finale depicts the final days of the war, as a ceasefire goes into effect and the characters say goodbye.
Since television viewership is so fragmented these days, there is simply no conceivable way any modern show will be able to attract an audience like this, meaning the M*A*S*H finale will likely remain the most viewed episode of any TV show for the rest of time.
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