While sports dominated television in 2023, several fan-favorite series like Yellowstone, NCIS, and Young Sheldon continued to draw in audiences, according to Variety, which reviewed data from Nielsen to come up with its list of 100 most-watched telecasts of last year.
Despite a tumultuous year that saw dual Hollywood strikes bring productions to a halt, Variety’s list of top 100 programs shows an increase in the popularity of scripted television. Out of 100 slots, scripted programs took 35, following dozens of sports programs such as NFL and NBA games.
NFL games, in particular, dominated all but one of the top 21 spots, with Super Bowl LVII nabbing 115 million viewers, more than double the next program, the AFC Championship game. The only non-NFL program in that top list was The Oscars, at 15.
Among the scripted shows, two long-running CBS series, NCIS and Blue Bloods, each ranked high on Variety’s list. The series had four episodes rank, as did FBI, Chicago Fire, and Young Sheldon. 60 Minutes episodes filled seven slots, possibly given a boost from NFL fans sticking around after the games. New series Night Court on NBC, Fox’s Accused, and CBS’s Fire Country debuted on the list, which shows reboots and revivals still strike a chord with audiences.
CBS leads the pack with the most programs on Nielsen’s list. The network had 39 shows listed, ten more than in 2022. NBC ranked second with 24 titles, down two from the previous year, while ABC had 15. Prime Video, which made the list due to NFL streaming deals simulcasting games, came in fourth place with 11, Fox had 7, and ESPN had two.
Linear television has steadily declined in viewership as more people cut the cord to cable TV and move to streaming services. While sports events are a major draw that keeps people tethered to cable TV, streaming platforms like Prime Video’s NBA League Pass and ESPN+ offer fans an alternative way to watch games and reduce subscriber churn.
Despite scripted TV’s durability, sports takes the cake for the first 21 spots on Variety’s list, followed by Next Level Chef in 22nd place with 16.89 million views. Slots 23 through 35 are another chunk of sports content before the Grammy Awards in 36th place with 13.38 million views.
Overall, 56 slots on the most-watched primetime telecasts list went to sports. The NFL ranked 45 games, with the number one spot taken by Super Bowl LVII, with 115 million viewers tuning in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles. The NBA Finals ranked in 6 spots, and the NCAA Basketball March Madness secured three spots. Fox’s The OT, an NFL post-game show, and college football ranked in one slot each.