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2023 in TV: The most popular shows of 2023 demonstrated the importance of appointment viewing for linear TV

The running theme of 2023's most popular shows was, well, running

TV in 2023
Image credit: CBS (FBI), ABC (Oscars), FOX (Next Level Chef)

When it came to the most-watched television in 2023, there was one thing that ruled all that came before it: Football. A stunning 19 of the 20 most-watched broadcasts in the U.S. last year were football games, with only the Academy Awards coming anywhere close to matching the all-encompassing appeal of sport. Even ignoring football, however, you might be surprised by what the biggest shows of 2023 actually were.

Before the end of the year, Team Popverse shared our favorite TV shows of 2023, which included everything from critically acclaimed dramas to reality shows, with musicals, teen romances, and horror in between. Precisely none of our favorites turned up on the most-watched lists, which either demonstrates our superior taste or the fact that we’re not watching enough sport in our spare time.

The Top 20 Most Watched Linear TV Shows in the U.S. 2023

Oscars 2023
Image credit: ABC

The top 20 most-watched shows in the US in 2023 were:

  • Super Bowl LVII: Kansas City vs. Philadelphia (Fox, 2/12/2023)
  • AFC Championship: Kansas City vs. Cincinnati (CBS, 1/29/2023)
  • NFC Playoff: San Francisco vs. Dallas (Fox, 1/22/2023)
  • NFC Playoff: Philadelphia vs. NY Giants (Fox, 1/21/2023)
  • NFL Playoff: Cincinnati vs. Baltimore (NBC, 1/15/2023)
  • NFL Thursday Night Special: Detroit vs. Kansas City (NBC, 9/7/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: Kansas City vs. NY Jets (NBC, 10/1/2023)
  • NFL Thursday Night Special: San Francisco vs. Seattle (NBC, 11/23/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: San Francisco vs. Dallas (NBC, 10/8/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: Green Bay vs. Kansas City (NBC, 12/3/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: Detroit vs. Green Bay (NBC, 1/8/2023)
  • NFL Playoff Game: LA Chargers vs. Jacksonville (NBC, 1/14/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: Philadelphia vs. Miami (NBC, 10/22/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: Dallas vs. NY Giants (NBC, 9/10/2023)
  • The Oscars (ABC, 3/12/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: Pittsburgh vs. Las Vegas (NBC, 9/24/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: Denver vs. Minneapolis (NBC, 11/19/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: Cincinnati vs. Buffalo (NBC, 11/5/2023)
  • NFL Sunday Night Football: Miami vs. New England (NBC, 9/17/2023)
  • NFL Wild Card Game: Dallas vs. Tampa Bay (ABC, 1/16/2023)

For those curious: Super Bowl LVII had 114,956,000 viewers — more than twice what the second-place show of the year had (53,478,000), and more than five times the most-watched non-sports event of the year. (The Oscars brought in 19,412,000 viewers.)

The Top 20 Most Watched Linear TV Shows in the U.S. 2023, Non-Sports Edition

NCIS
Image credit: CBS

You might be wondering what the most-watched non-sports broadcasts of the year were. Don’t worry; here’s what that top 20 looks like.

  • The Oscars (ABC, 3/12/2023)
  • Next Level Chef: S2E1 'A Next Level Welcome' (Fox, 2/12/2023)
  • Grammy Awards (CBS, 2/5/2023)
  • 60 Minutes: S55,E17 'Prince Harry; Hans Zimmer' (CBS, 1/8/2023)
  • 60 Minutes: S56,E1 'President Zelenskyy; Into the Streets; Prime Time in Colorado' (CBS, 9/17/2023)
  • Fire Country: S1, E12 'Two Pink Lines' (CBS, 1/29/2023)
  • The OT (Fox, 9/24/2023)
  • Yellowstone: S5E8 'A Knife and No Coin' (Paramount Network, 1/1/2023)
  • NCIS: S20E10 'Too Many Cooks' (CBS, 1/9/2023)
  • Accused: S1E1 'Scott’s Story; (Fox, 1/22/2023)
  • NCIS Hawai’i: S2E10 'Deep Fake' (CBS, 1/9/2023)
  • 60 Minutes: S56,E6 'The Five Eyes; A Prisoner of Iran; Pink; The Isle of Man' (CBS, 10/22/2023)
  • NCIS: S20E12 'Big Rig' (CBS, 1/23/2023)
  • FBI: S5E10 'Second Life' (CBS, 1/3/2023)
  • FBI: S5E12 'Breakdown' (CBS, 1/24/2023)
  • 60 Minutes: S56,E7 'VP Harris; A Quiet Invasion; The Air We Breathe; The State of the Blues' (CBS, 10/29/2023)
  • 60 Minutes: S56,E4 'The Godfather of AI; General Milley; Rich Paul; 3D Printing' (CBS, 10/8/2023)
  • NCIS: S20E16 'Butterfly Effect' (CBS, 3/13/2023)

To give you an idea of the range of ratings in the above list, the Oscars, as noted above, had 19,412,000 viewers; that last NCIS episode on the list had 10,157,000.

If there are morals to this story, it’s that CBS needs to be upping its ad rates — and that I think many of us may be surprised just how popular 60 Minutes still is. If you’re wondering why that Next Level Chef episode is so high on the list, it immediately followed the Super Bowl broadcast and had a lot more eyeballs as a result. The lesson is clear: if you want people to watch your show on broadcast or cable television, try to get it shown immediately after some sports.


A note on our methodology: the above is based on linear television ratings specifically, which means that streaming services and on-demand services are not included. If you’re wondering how Paramount+’s Yellowstone got on the second list in that case, I’ll point out that the episodes also air on Paramount Network.

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About the Author
Graeme McMillan avatar

Graeme McMillan

Staff Writer

Popverse staff writer Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.

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