100 Most-Watched TV Series of 2021-22: This Season’s Winners and Losers

·16-min read

Don’t call it a comeback. But thanks to sports, ever-expanding drama franchises and a handful of new hits, the Big 4 broadcast networks managed to avoid another year-to-year collapse during the now-concluded TV season.

Football once again ruled primetime, led by NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” while “Thursday Night Football” showed up twice on Nielsen’s top-rated series’ chart due to a quirk of some games airing only on NFL Network, and others simulcast on both Fox and NFL. (This won’t be an issue next year, as “Thursday Night Football” moves to Amazon Prime Video — and off this chart.)

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But beyond that, network TV’s embrace of procedural dramas is giving broadcasters a fighting chance at survival. Dick Wolf is keeping the lights on at NBC and CBS, as the hitmaker’s “Law & Order,” “One Chicago” and “FBI” trilogies all make up a good chunk of the year’s most-watched TV show ranker. But ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and Fox’s “9-1-1” universe also remain potent.

Proving that networks can still launch new hits, freshman shows like CBS’ “Ghosts,” Fox’s “Next Level Chef,” NBC’s “La Brea” and ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” all made the grade this year. As a result, CBS ended the recently concluded 2021-22 TV season flat, with 6.2 million viewers, followed by NBC (helped by the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics), up 14% vs. last year with 6 million viewers. Fox was in third, with 4.5 million (up 7%).

ABC, the only major network without an NFL package, wasn’t as lucky: It landed in fourth place with 4.2 million viewers, down 10%.

But overall, not a bad showing and a relief after last year’s collapse, when ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox all suffered huge, double-digit dips. But this year’s tallies are still not back to network TV’s already eroding pre-pandemic audience numbers — and they probably never will be again. Those audiences, who migrated to other platforms in recent years, are at least probably still watching some of these shows. But their viewership is now being measured in the digital space, as they’re very unlikely to ever return to the linear world.

We remain in a period of transition, and that’s probably even more acutely felt in basic cable, where audiences are fleeing in even larger numbers than at the broadcasters. (There are some huge exceptions, like ESPN and TNT, but obviously because of sports.)

And yet the biggest entertainment show on TV is once again found on basic cable: Paramount Network — which had mostly gotten out of the original series business — suddenly has the No. 1 non-football show on television, “Yellowstone.”

The show’s sudden appearance in this year’s regular TV season ranker comes after Paramount decided to move Season 4 of “Yellowstone” into the fall. The modern-day Western from Taylor Sheridan had aired during the summers from 2018-20, keeping it out of Nielsen’s traditional September to May TV season tally. But this year, the show ran on Paramount from November to January — putting it up against traditional season favorites like “This Is Us” and “NCIS.” And for the first time since AMC’s “The Walking Dead” was a phenomenon, basic cable managed to beat out broadcast with the most-watched series (that wasn’t NFL football) in both total viewers and adults 18-49.

Here’s a final look at some of the hits and misses of 2021–22, along with our lists of the most-watched shows of the season, according to both adults 18-49 and total viewers, using the most recent live+7 ratings (which include seven days’ worth of DVR and video on-demand usage).

WINNERS

Taylor Sheridan: The new king of primetime, Sheridan’s “Yellowstone” now reps the only entertainment series to average a 2.0 rating or better among adults 18-49. (Last year, “This Is Us” and “The Masked Singer” both secured a 2.0, but dropped this time). And while “Yellowstone” overtook broadcast staples including “NCIS” in total viewers, that’s actually not all. His series “1883” and “The Mayor of Kingstown” also made it on to the top 100 lists — but weren’t included here, because in both cases they were just two episode samples on Paramount Network, before moving on to their Paramount+ streaming home. An honorable mention here to Paramount Network for helping keep the basic cable scripted dream alive; ditto AMC, which still placed “The Walking Dead” and “Better Call Saul” on the rankers.

“Curse of Oak Island”: It’s still there. We’ll continue to marvel at the staying power of History channel’s “Curse of Oak Island,” a show that no one knows in Hollywood, but is clearly a phenomenon in other parts of the country. Last year, it was the most-watched cable entertainment series overall; this year, it’s No. 2 behind “Yellowstone.”

“90 Day Fiancé”: The “90 Day Fiancé” franchise also continues to amaze: “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days,” “90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way” and “90 Day Fiancé” are among the top-rated cable series of the year in adults 18-49.

“Ghosts”: The CBS hit comedy was the most-watched new series of the year in primetime, and was tied with Fox’s “Next Level Chef” as the top-rated freshman in the demo.

LOSERS

“Magnum P.I.”: Time for Thomas Magnum to solve the biggest mystery of his career: Who killed CBS’ “Magnum P.I.”? Much to the chagrin of the series’ fans, “Magnum” was the most-watched series to still earn a cancellation this year. It was axed despite averaging 7.3 million viewers (just down slightly from last year’s 7.4 million), good enough for No. 28 on the chart.

Baseball: NFL dominates the ratings schedule, and NBA makes the top 100 charts too. But where’s the original pastime? Once again, there’s no regular MLB franchise that makes the ratings grade.

Adults 18-49 ratings charts: How much longer can we even keep reporting young adult demos, when the numbers become microscopic? When there’s a 12-way tie for 19th place with a 1.0 rating, and the top 100 chart ends with a 28-way tie for 89th place with a 0.5 rating… the numbers lose any real meaning or value.

THE 100 TOP-RATED SERIES OF 2021-22 (ADULTS 18-49)

Rank

PROGRAM (NETWORK)

RATING /SHARE

18-49 VIEWER (000)

1.

NFL Sunday Night Football (NBC)

5.1/32

6,604

2.

NFL Thursday Night Football (Fox/NFL)

4.3/31

5,609

3.

NFL Monday Night Football (ESPN)

3.3/23

4,305

4.

NFL Thursday Night Football (NFL)

2.7/20

3,467

5.

Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

2.1/13

2,766

6.

This Is Us (NBC)

1.5/12

2,010

7.

Chicago PD (NBC)

1.3/11

1,748

9-1-1 (Fox)

1.3/10

1,740

Survivor (CBS)

1.3/10

1,718

Chicago Fire (NBC)

1.3/10

1,675

11.

The Masked Singer (Fox)

1.2/10

1,606

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)

1.2/9

1,587

Law & Order: SVU (NBC)

1.2/9

1,538

Saturday Night Football (ABC)

1.2/10

1,531

15.

Chicago Med (NBC)

1.1/9

1,494

The Bachelor (ABC)

1.1/8

1,416

American Idol (ABC)

1.1/9

1,406

Dancing with the Stars (ABC)

1.1/7

1,374

19.

60 Minutes (CBS)

1.0/7

1,367

The Voice (Monday) (NBC)

1.0/7

1,367

The Amazing Race (CBS)

1.0/8

1,355

The Voice (Tuesday) (NBC)

1.0/8

1,347

9-1-1: Lone Star (Fox)

1.0/8

1,345

Next Level Chef (Fox)

1.0/7

1,332

FBI (CBS)

1.0/8

1,299

Law & Order: Organized Crime (NBC)

1.0/8

1,273

Young Sheldon (CBS)

1.0/8

1,268

American Idol (Monday) (ABC)

1.0/8

1,259

The Bachelorette (CBS)

1.0/8

1,258

Ghosts (CBS)

1.0/7

1,248

31.

La Brea (NBC)

0.9/7

1,212

Equalizer (CBS)

0.9/6

1,209

Station 19 (ABC)

0.9/7

1,208

NCIS (CBS)

0.9/6

1,205

FBI: Most Wanted (CBS)

0.9/7

1,145

36.

The Neighborhood (CBS)

0.8/6

1,106

Abbott Elementary (ABC)

0.8/6

1,086

The Good Doctor (ABC)

0.8/7

1,083

The Conners (ABC)

0.8/6

1,071

The Walking Dead (AMC)

0.8/6

1,058

NCIS Hawai’i (CBS)

0.8/6

1,048

FBI: International (CBS)

0.8/6

1,031

S.W.A.T. (CBS)

0.8/7

1,024

Blue Bloods (CBS)

0.8/7

1,023

CSI: Vegas (CBS)

0.8/6

1,016

The Goldbergs (ABC)

0.8/6

1,003

The Rookie (ABC)

0.8/6

992

NBA Saturday Primetime (ABC)

0.8/7

986

The Simpsons (Fox)

0.8/5

983

Shark Tank (ABC)

0.8/7

982

51.

Law & Order (NBC)

0.7/6

975

Family Guy (Fox)

0.7/5

966

New Amsterdam (NBC)

0.7/6

959

90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days (TLC)

0.7/5

959

NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)

0.7/5

954

The Cleaning Lady (Fox)

0.7/5

932

The Resident (Fox)

0.7/5

905

Bob Hearts Abishola (CBS)

0.7/5

901

Below Deck (Bravo)

0.7/5

900

20/20 (Friday) (ABC)

0.7/6

880

90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way (TLC)

0.7/4

873

Magnum P.I. (CBS)

0.7/6

866

Big Sky (ABC)

0.7/5

862

A Million Little Things (ABC)

0.7/6

859

The Challenge: Spies Lies, Allies (MTV)

0.7/5

854

90 Day Fiancé (TLC)

0.7/5

850

67.

America’s Funniest Home Videos (ABC)

0.6/5

839

WWE Friday Night Smackdown (Fox)

0.6/6

837

Bob’s Burgers (Fox)

0.6/4

812

B Positive (CBS)

0.6/4

808

AGT Extreme (NBC)

0.6/5

805

Sister Wives (TLC)

0.6/5

802

Real Housewives of New Jersey (Bravo)

0.6/5

791

Fox College Football – Pac12 Prime (Fox)

0.6/5

780

Bull (CBS)

0.6/5

777

Dateline Friday (NBC)

0.6/5

773

Monday Night Football: Manningcast (ESPN)

0.6/4

763

That’s My Jam (NBC)

0.6/4

759

Masterchef Junior (Fox)

0.6/5

757

Below Deck Sailing Yacht (Bravo)

0.6/5

757

Judge Steve Harvey (ABC)

0.6/5

756

United States of Al (CBS)

0.6/4

751

Call Me Kat (Fox)

0.6/4

745

Supermarket Sweep (ABC)

0.6/3

744

Real Housewives of Orange County (Bravo)

0.6/4

728

1000-Lb. Sisters (TLC)

0.6/4

728

The Wonder Years (ABC)

0.6/4

727

Better Call Saul (AMC)

0.6/4

719

89.

Home Economics (ABC)

0.5/4

712

WWE Monday Night Raw (USA)

0.5/4

708

The Thing About Pam (NBC)

0.5/5

706

The Blacklist (NBC)

0.5/4

705

The Curse of Oak Island (History)

0.5/4

705

Black-ish (ABC)

0.5/4

701

Real Housewives of Salt Lake City (Bravo)

0.5/3

691

Celebrity Wheel of Fortune (ABC)

0.5/3

688

Jersey Shore: Family Vacation (MTV)

0.5/4

685

Tough as Nails (CBS)

0.5/4

682

Young Rock (NBC)

0.5/4

670

Alter Ego (Fox)

0.5/4

666

South Park (Comedy Central)

0.5/4

660

NBA Basketball (TNT)

0.5/5

642

Married at First Sight (Lifetime)

0.5/4

641

NBA Basketball (ESPN)

0.5/5

638

I Can See Your Voice (Fox)

0.5/4

637

Snowfall (FX)

0.5/4

635

WWE Entertainment (Syfy)

0.5/4

626

Undercover Boss (CBS)

0.5/4

618

Our Kind of People (Fox)

0.5/3

616

Top Chef (Bravo)

0.5/4

612

Vanderpump Rules (Bravo)

0.5/3

612

American Auto (NBC)

0.5/4

606

The Great North (Fox)

0.5/3

596

College Football Prime (ESPN)

0.5/5

595

Ordinary Joe (NBC)

0.5/3

594

Queens (ABC)

0.5/4

589

Source: Nielsen. 09-20-2021 – 05-8-2022. Preliminary Live+7 Days, Prime, Original telecasts only, THREE EPISODES OR MORE. Top 100 shown based on A18-49. Excludes: Sports commentary; specials (special sports events also excluded, such as playoffs, finals, NFL draft); Spanish-language programming; childrens’ networks; movies and broadcast programs airing predominantly in Summer 2021 (e.g., AGT, Big Brother, Love Island).

TOP 100 SHOWS OF 2021-22, TOTAL VIEWERS

America’s most-watched series of the 2020-2021 season are …

Rank

Title (Network)

VIEWERS (000)

1.

NFL Sunday Night Football (NBC)

18,139

2.

NFL Thursday Night Football (Fox/NFL Network)

15,397

3.

Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

11,312

4.

NFL Monday Night Football (ESPN)

11,233

5.

NCIS (CBS)

11,010

6.

FBI (CBS)

10,354

7.

Chicago Fire (NBC)

9,917

8.

Blue Bloods (CBS)

9,782

9.

Equalizer (CBS)

9,452

10.

60 Minutes (CBS)

9,380

11.

Chicago PD (NBC)

9,256

12.

Young Sheldon (CBS)

9,222

13.

Chicago Med (NBC)

9,203

14.

FBI: Most Wanted (CBS)

8,846

15.

NFL Thursday Night Football (NFL Network)

8,783

16.

Ghosts (CBS)

8,409

17.

NCIS: Hawai’i (CBS)

8,341

18.

FBI: International (CBS)

8,312

19.

The Voice-Tuesday (NBC)

8,278

20.

9-1-1 (Fox)

8,146

21.

The Voice- Monday (NBC)

8,123

22.

This Is Us (NBC)

8,004

23.

9-1-1: Lone Star (Fox)

7,460

24.

Bull (CBS)

7,451

25.

La Brea (NBC)

7,433

26.

Survivor (CBS)

7,417

27.

NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)

7,348

28.

Magnum P.I. (CBS)

7,338

29.

American Idol (ABC)

7,262

30.

The Good Doctor (ABC)

7,141

31.

American Idol-Monday (ABC)

6,992

32.

Law & Order: SVU (NBC)

6,838

33.

CSI: Vegas (CBS)

6,799

34.

The Neighborhood (CBS)

6,759

35.

Bob Hearts Abishola (CBS)

6,698

36.

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)

6,506

37.

S.W.A.T. (CBS)

6,491

38.

The Rookie (ABC)

6,432

39.

Dancing with the Stars (ABC)

6,303

40.

Station 19 (ABC)

6,220

41.

New Amsterdam (NBC)

6,173

42.

Law & Order (NBC)

6,078

43.

The Masked Singer (Fox)

5,876

44.

United States of Al (CBS)

5,858

45.

Seal Team (CBS)

5,830

46.

Big Sky (ABC)

5,741

47.

B Positive (CBS)

5,688

48.

Law & Order: Organized Crime (NBC)

5,550

49.

The Amazing Race (CBS)

5,500

50.

The Cleaning Lady (Fox)

5,168

51.

America’s Funniest Home Videos (ABC)

5,120

52.

The Resident (Fox)

4,969

53.

Saturday Night Football (ABC)

4,913

54.

The Conners (ABC)

4,821

55.

The Blacklist (NBC)

4,809

56.

Shark Tank (ABC)

4,564

57.

The Bachelor (ABC)

4,530

58.

The Thing About Pam (NBC)

4,455

59.

Judge Steve Harvey (ABC)

4,257

60.

20/20 (ABC)

4,255

61.

Celebrity Wheel of Fortune (ABC)

4,240

62.

How We Roll (CBS)

4,236

63.

Dateline Friday (NBC)

4,168

64.

A Million Little Things (ABC)

4,098

65.

Undercover Boss (CBS)

4,085

66.

AGT Extreme (NBC)

4,003

67.

The Goldbergs (ABC)

3,974

68.

Next Level Chef (Fox)

3,861

69.

Abbott Elementary (ABC)

3,836

70.

The Bachelorette (ABC)

3,827

71.

Good Sam (CBS)

3,666

72.

Curse of Oak Island (History)

3,611

73.

Tough as Nails (CBS)

3,567

74.

Endgame (NBC)

3,550

75.

48 Hours (CBS)

3,539

76.

Ordinary Joe (NBC)

3,327

77.

Beyond the Edge (CBS)

3,079

78.

NBA Saturday Primetime (ABC)

3,030

79.

That’s My Jam (NBC)

3,011

80.

The Chase (ABC)

2,998

81.

The Wonder Years (ABC)

2,966

82.

Call Me Kat (Fox)

2,942

83.

Home Economics (ABC)

2,894

84.

Masterchef Junior (Fox)

2,887

85.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

2,841

86.

The Wall (NBC)

2,795

87.

Supermarket Sweep (ABC)

2,782

88.

Black-ish (ABC)

2,729

89.

American Auto (NBC)

2,723

90.

90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way (TLC)

2,659

91.

Young Rock (NBC)

3,625

92.

Alter Ego (Fox)

2,633

93.

I Can See Your Voice (Fox)

2,632

94.

Sister Wives (TLC)

2,625

95.

Rock the Block (HGTV)

2,606

96.

90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days (TLC)

2,582

97.

To Tell the Truth (ABC)

2,528

98.

WWE Friday Night Smackdown (Fox)

2,454

99.

Better Call Saul (AMC)

2,416

100.

Mr. Mayor (NBC)

2,358

Source: Nielsen. 09-20-2021 – 05-9-2022. Preliminary Live+7 Days, Prime, Original telecasts only, THREE EPISODES OR MORE. Top 100 shown based on A18-49. Excludes: Sports commentary; specials (special sports events also excluded, such as playoffs, finals, NFL draft); Spanish-language programming; childrens’ networks; movies and broadcast programs airing predominantly in Summer 2021 (e.g., AGT, Big Brother, Love Island).

THE MOST-WATCHED NETWORKS OF 2021-22 (BY TOTAL VIEWERS)

  1. CBS (6,222,000; flat)

  2. NBC (5,988,000; up 14%)

  3. Fox (4,473,000; up 7%)

  4. ABC (4,171,000; down 10%)

  5. Fox News (2,474,000; down 16%)

  6. ESPN (2,146,000; up 20%)

  7. Univision (1,489,000; up 11%)

  8. TNT (1,183,000; up 19%)

  9. Hallmark (1,166,000; down 11%)

  10. MSNBC (1,162,000; down 46%)

  11. HGTV (1,139,000; down 12%)

  12. TBS (1,087,000; down 1%)

  13. Ion (1,024,000; down 4%)

  14. TLC (1,022,000; down 2%)

  15. Telemundo (991,000; down 4%)

  16. Discovery (869,000; down 11%)

  17. History (860,000; down 13%)

  18. Food Network (844,000; down 6%)

  19. INSP (822,000; up 15%)

  20. USA Network (774,000; down 9%)

THE TOP-RATED NETWORKS OF 2021-22 (BY ADULTS 18-49)

1. NBC (1,458,000; up 10%)
2. Fox (1,346,000; down 3%)
3. CBS (1,033,000; down 18%)
4. ABC (936,000; down 21%)
5. ESPN (814,000; up 18%)
6. Univision (599,000; up 17%)
7. TNT (498,000; up 18%)
8. TBS (381,000; down 6%)
9. Telemundo (379,000; down 5%)
10. TLC (291,000; down 13%)

Read the full special report
Read the full special report

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