It is hardly a surprise that the year’s most watched show was Fox’s American Idol, nor is it that CBS is the most watched broadcast network in terms of total viewers.
What is surprising, however, is that of the 20 programs that have the highest overall rating in terms of total viewership (what is known as P2+) for live and same-day ratings, CBS dominated with 13 shows.
That’s a staggering 65 percent of the 20 top-rated programs, including the only comedies to break the ratings ceiling (that would be Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and Mike & Molly) and the only new programs from the 2010-11 season. That would be Mike & Molly (again) and dramas Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods, which shockingly airs on Friday evenings, long regarded as the graveyard timeslot.
Interestingly, the estimated median age of the viewers for CBS’ top-rated programs is above the broadcasters’ key demographic, with not a single one of the 13 shows on the list cracking that key adults 18-49 demo. ( The Big Bang Theory comes closest with an estimated median age of 49.5.)
Similarly, the data turned up some other unexpected findings. Much buzzed-about shows such as Modern Family, Glee, Lost, The Good Wife, 24, The Office, and others failed to crack the top 20. Of those, Modern Family had the highest number of time-shifted viewers this fall with 5.465 million (with Glee close behind at 4.8 million), while The Office was the most time-shifted program of the year, with 38.8 percent of viewers watching within seven days. (Fox’s Fringe was the second most time-shifted this fall.)
A few caveats: In looking at the top 20 broadcast network shows, we grouped together same-week airings of reality-competition series like American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, and America’s Got Talent, as well as cycles of the same reality series airing in the same season (i.e., Survivor and The Amazing Race).
Additionally, in exploring the flip side of the equation, to discover which shows were hovering at the very bottom of the ratings battle, we eliminated the data from the CW—whose niche target audience is the more narrow adults 18-34—to get a more accurate portrait of how the same broadcasters at the top fared at the bottom of their game.
Gallery: Most and Least Popular TV Shows of 2010
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Jace Lacob is The Daily Beast's TV columnist. As a freelance writer, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, TV Week, and others. Jace is the founder of television criticism and analysis website Televisionary and can be found on Twitter. He is a member of the Television Critics Association.