Were you born under the sign of the Fonz? Are you a Cosby Show kid? A member of the Seinfeld generation? Find out the most popular TV shows from the years you, your friends and perhaps your children were born.
Click on the arrow to see a year-by-year look of the No. 1-rated entertainment TV shows for the seasons ending 1965-2019, per Nielsen stats compiled by The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows and Television and Record Industry History Resources. Sports and news programs have been excluded.
The 2007-2019 CBS sitcom went out on top. In its 12th and final season, The Big Bang Theory, starring Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco, finished as the 2018-2019 TV season's highest-rated entertainment program, behind NBC's Sunday Night Football in the overall Nielsen rankings. Its "tearful" finale was watched by some 18 million viewers.
The Big Bang Theory's Season 10 was another ratings success. It kicked off with Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) reciting their wedding vows before friends and family. (The couple eloped in Las Vegas in Season 9.)
In the 2015-2016 season, NCIS, starring Mark Harmon, saw a crossover storyline with NCIS: New Orleans, the departure of agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) -- and a No. 1 finish in the ratings. At 13 seasons old, the CBS procedural became the oldest scripted series on record to win the year-end ratings crown.
NBC's Sunday Night Football was the overall No. 1 show of the 2014-2015 season; The Big Bang Theory took honors as the top-rated entertainment show. The comedy's eighth season got off to a bumpy start when production was delayed by protracted contract negotiations involving Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco.
In the 2013-2014 season, Sunday Night Football was again the overall No. 1 show, but NCIS was the top entertainment show. The procedural's 11th season was marked by the departure of agent Ziva David (Cote de Pabl0), and a story arc that served as a backdoor pilot for what would become NCIS: New Orleans.
NCIS' top-rated 10th season began where it's much-watched ninth season left off: with the team, including Pauley Perrette's Abby Sciuto, digging out from a terror bombing that leveled their headquarters.
Country crooner Scotty McCreery's crowning as American Idol's Season 10 champ was a turning point for the then-Fox singing competition: It marked the last time to date that the powerhouse franchise finished as TV's No. 1 show. Idol actually finished No. 1 and No. 2 in the Nielsen rankings, thanks to its Wednesday and Tuesday installments, respectively.
In American Idol's No. 1-rated sixth season, the confetti fell for Jordin Sparks. At age 17, Sparks was -- and still is -- the youngest Idol champ in franchise history. (Scotty McCreery, another 17-year-old Idol winner, was about two months older than Sparks at the time of his victory.)
Call it the Carrie Underwood effect. One year after American Idol crowned what would be its biggest star in Underwood, the show soared to the top of the Nielsen rankings for the first time. It went on to produce another batch of stars, including Katharine McPhee, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler and Season 5 champ, Taylor Hicks.
CSI, the CBS procedural starring William Peterson and Marg Helgenberger, found itself atop the 2004-2005 Nielsen rankings. In addition to the ratings title, the crime show's fifth season was distinguished with an Emmy nomination for Quentin Tarantino, who directed the episode, "Grave Danger."
In its fourth season, the 2000-2015 crime show, featuring Gary Dourdan as forensics team member Warrick Brown, held off a surging American Idol to capture the ratings crown.
The Las Vegas-set ensemble drama scored the first of its three ratings victories in the 2002-2003 season. In the year-end rankings, CSI easily topped NBC's Friends and Fox's short-lived reality-show hit, Joe Millionaire.
From 1994-2004, Friends made six stars of its ensemble cast, but claimed only one ratings title. The NBC comedy made it to No. 1 in Season 8, the one with the Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Ross (David Schwimmer) pregnancy. The season also featured a guest-star appearance by Aniston's then-husband, Brad Pitt.
The season-two edition of Survivor, formally titled Survivor: The Australian Outback, introduced audiences to Elisabeth Hasselbeck, then known as Elisabeth Filarski -- and scored the CBS reality show's only No. 1 finish to date.
Along with NCIS and American Idol, which was revived by ABC in 2018, Survivor is the only currently running primetime show in this list.
The U.S. version of the hit British game show became a ratings phenomenon during a summer 1999 run. ABC soon plugged the show into its 1999-2000 fall schedule. Airing on multiple nights, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, featuring host Regis Philbin and his monochrome suits and ties, finished the season as TV's No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 shows. Though the primetime version flamed out in 2002, the syndicated edition ran until 2019. In 2020, Jimmy Kimmel was tapped to host a new primetime Millionaire.
In the 1998-1999 season, ER was a show in transition: The NBC medical drama introduced Kellie Martin as med-student Lucy Knight, and prepared to say goodbye at season's end to George Clooney, who'd played Dr. Doug Ross since show's 1994 inception. One thing that didn't change: ER was TV's No. 1 show, for the third time in four years.
While ER endured a high-profile departure in Season 3 -- the exit of original series star Sherry Stringfield -- the 1994-2009 NBC drama kept right on running with the likes of Anthony Edwards, as tireless emergency-room doctor Mark Greene.
In its second season, ER notched its first ratings crown, its first Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series -- and a new high-water mark with the episode, "Hell and High Water," about the storm-drain heroics of Doug Ross (George Clooney).
In its sixth season, Seinfeld became TV's No. 1 show for the first time. Its long, fitful climb to the top was all but forgotten as the now-beloved show celebrated its 100th episode.
While 60 Minutes was TV's overall No. 1 program in the 1992-1993 season, ABC's Roseanne topped all entertainment shows. The comedy's namesake star, billed in Season 5 as Roseanne Arnold, won a Primetime Emmy for acting to go along with her Nielsen success.
In Roseanne's big-rated Season 4, D.J. (Michael Fishman) turned 10, Becky (Lecy Goranson) broke up -- and reunited -- with Mark (Glenn Quinn), Darlene (Sara Gilbert) pondered her future -- and 60 Minutes edged the comedy for the overall No. 1 spot in the year-end Nielsen rankings.
Like Friends, Cheers is another long-running, still-popular sitcom that seems as if it must've been TV's No. 1 show for seasons on end, but, no: The NBC comedy about Boston barkeep Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and his family of workplace friends only claimed one ratings crown -- in its ninth season. In all, Cheers ran 11 seasons, from 1982-1993..
For five of the eight seasons that it ran on NBC from 1984-1992, The Cosby Show was TV's No. 1 hit. Its crown in Season 6 was the final one of its top-rated run.
In The Cosby Show's top-rated Season 5, Lisa Bonet returned to the cast full-time after her character, Denise Huxtable, dropped out of Hillman College -- and exited the Cosby spin-off, A Different World.
In The Cosby Show's top-rated Season 3, Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and family lip-synced their way through James Brown's "I Got the Feelin'" -- their way of celebrating Cliff's parents 50th-wedding anniversary (in the episode, "Golden Anniversary").
In the 1985-1986 season, The Cosby Show became the first -- and still only -- TV series with a majority non-white cast to emerge as the medium's No. 1 show. Based on the comic persona of Bill Cosby, the series also paved the way for Seinfeld, Roseanne, Home Improvement and other top-rated 1990s sitcoms that were built around stand-up comedy stars.
While The Cosby Show owned the second half of the 1980s, the primetime soap ruled the first half. In the 1984-1985 season, the crown was worn in high fashion by the Joan Collins-era Dynasty. The ABC drama's fifth season scored buzz -- and viewers -- for a guest-starring run by Rock Hudson, and a bullet-riddled cliffhanger, known as the Moldavian massacre.
In Season 6, Dallas was literally on fire: The primetime soap's season-ending cliffhanger saw J.R. (Larry Hagman) overcome as fire tore through his family's Southfork estate. The show reigned as TV's top entertainment show, but was edged by 60 Minutes for the overall No. 1 spot.
In Dallas' fifth season, featuring Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal as the devoted Bobby and Pam Ewing, the drama was TV's undisputed ratings champ. Along the way, the soap proved that the couple that wears Western-styled plaid shirts together stays together.
Dallas' top-rated Season 4 was one for the record books: An estimated 83 million people tuned in the soap on Nov. 15, 1980, to watch it reveal the identity of the character who shot J.R. Ewing in the previous season's finale. (Retro spoiler alert: The trigger was pulled by Kristin Shepard, J.R.'s sassy sister-in-law, played by Mary Crosby.)
Just as you can't tell the history of primetime without "jiggle TV," you can't tell the story of the 1979-1980 TV season without Three's Company, the ABC sitcom that jiggled like few others -- and scored more viewers than anything besides 60 Minutes. The show originally starred John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers.
In the last 55 years, only one show led by a woman character or characters finished a season as TV's overall ratings champ, and that show was Laverne & Shirley. The ABC retro sitcom (and Happy Days spin-off) starring Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams pulled off the feat twice. (During its heyday, Roseanne, as noted, was TV's top-rated entertainment show, but not the overall No. 1 program.)
Laverne & Shirley first climbed to No. 1 in Season 3, wherein the Milwaukee beer-factory coworkers met teen-idol Fabian and rang in the year 1960.
A year before Fonzie (Henry Winkler) literally jumped the shark in Season 5's "Hollywood, Part 3," ABC's Happy Days ascended to No. 1 for its first and only season-ratings win. The nostalgia-minded comedy's run at the top was marked by the high-school graduation of Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), and Fonzie's star-crossed love with Pinky Tuscadero (Roz Kelly).
Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) was the original king of Queens. In its sixth season, the New York City-set All in the Family won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, and notched its fifth straight year as TV's No. 1 show. Overall, All in the Family ran for nine seasons on CBS, from 1971-1979.
In its top-rated fifth season, All in the Family tackled its latest hot-button issue: inflation.
Future filmmaker Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally...) won a Primetime Emmy for his portrayal of Archie Bunker's All in the Family foil, Michael "Meathead" Stivic, while Sally Struthers claimed two statuettes during her run as Gloria, Archie's daughter and Mike's wife.
The quintessential series of the politically charged Watergate years and post-Vietnam era, All in the Family was as acclaimed as it was popular. From 1971-1973, the show pulled off three straight Primetime Emmy wins for Outstanding Comedy Series.
Following a middling ratings performance in its freshman year, All in the Family zoomed to the top of the rankings in its sophomore season, thanks to electric episodes such as "Sammy's Visit," in which entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., playing himself, planted a kiss on the bigoted Archie Bunker.
Marcus Welby, M.D., starring Robert Young (Father Knows Best) as a kindly family doctor in Santa Monica, Calif., ran for seven seasons on ABC from 1969-1976. It emerged as TV's No. 1 show in its second season. Marcus Welby and ER are the only two medical dramas in this top-rated rundown.
From 1968-1973, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In mined the culture -- and bikinis -- of the flower-child generation for a broadly popular NBC sketch-comedy show that introduced audiences to Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin. And, as Saturday Night Live would do some years later, spawned catchphrase ("Sock it to me") after catchphrase ("Veeerry interesting"). It spent two years as TV's No. 1 show.
Set on the Ponderosa, the fictional ranch home of the Cartwrights, Bonanza ran for 14 seasons on NBC, from 1959-1973.