The TV America is Watching

Posted on: 10/23/14 5:45 AM | by Jonathan McKee

what-tv-families-watchI like to glimpse at the Nielsen charts every once in a while to see what Americans are watching on TV. And recently… it’s been football, Big Bang Theory, The Walking Dead, even more football, and The Voice.

For those of you who don’t care how the numbers work… here’s the most popular shows “families” are watching, listed by me, derived from three lists (if you’re curious how I’ve come up with these numbers, keep reading below).

Sunday Night Football                    23.7 Million Total Viewers
All other football                               football captures 5 of the top 6 spots    
The Big Bang Theory                      15.3 Million Total Viewers
The Walking Dead                          15.1 Million Total Viewers
The Voice                                          13.2 Million Total Viewers
Scorpion                                            11.5 Million Total Viewers
Scandal                                             9.9 Million Total Viewers
How to Get Away with Murder        9.7 Million Total Viewers

(and Simpsons, Modern Family, Family Guy and a few others are high with 18-49s, but not really competing overall, and American Horror Story is high for cable, but not overall)

Are these show always at the top? Yep. The same cluster is always near the top. For example, the previous week The Walking Dead premier actually beat out Sunday night football (more on that in this post of our blog, The Gospel According to the Walking Dead). But the same grouping was at the top.

So how come when you look at the charts in the paper you’ll see NCIS and Dancing with the Stars up there too? Good question.

A couple things you want to remember when you’re looking at the charts. First, the ratings most marketers target is those 18-49-year olds. That’s while you’ll see a chart for just that age group. That gives you a perspective of what most American families are watching, compared to the “total viewers” which includes many of the aging population (where NCIS always rises to the top of the list, because let’s face it, grandpa loves his NCIS!!!). And that’s another component to consider—the aging population watches waaaaaaaaay more TV than younger viewers. So grandpa and all his friends’ numbers skew the “total viewers” charts. Then there is cable, which is watched by everyone, but far less grandmas are watching The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, so you can be pretty sure those numbers reflect younger viewers.

So when I look at the charts on a site like, I look at three charts and compare the data. I look at this BROADCAST 18-49 chart to see what most families are watching during primetime on Broadcast.


Then I scroll down on that same page at the second chart listed, BROADCAST TV for all ages, looking at how many millions of total viewers (all ages) watched those same shows. I did that in this chart below (I added the red, noting which shows were on the top chart, and where). That chart reveals that football, Big Bang and The Voice ruled the top 8 spots.


Then I compare those numbers with TOP CABLE SHOWS chart, which only shows total viewers. You can’t ignore the power of cable today. Many of the top awarded shows are cable. Today when I compare those numbers to the above chart, I’ll quickly see that The Walking Dead was in the running with The Big Bang, and actually beating out The Voice for total viewers.


When you compare all this data, you get my list above.

It will be interesting to see if the newer programming sticks around. Scorpion is an interesting new drama, where a bunch of hyper intelligent nerds work for the government to “save the day” each week. Not a bad show for families.

How to Get Away with Murder on the other hand, pushes the line in every possible way. In it’s first few weeks, this ABC drama lacks any likable characters, with murder, backbiting, and strong sexual content (showing or eluding to oral sex- both genders already, gay sex, anal sex, good ol’ fashioned sex… name it). Definitely one of the most irresponsible shows on the list. Although if you’ve ever tried a dose of some of these other highly popular shows like Family Guy or American Horror Story, I think you’d probably come to the same conclusion.

The question is… what are our kids learning from all this programming?


2 Replies to “The TV America is Watching”

  1. Good insight and thought provoking. To answer your question of what are our kids learning… is a disregard of morals. Without morals to mold and restrain behavior, anything goes! I think we see that attitude in our society more and more. Without a purpose in life, we see young Americans committing unthinkable behavior, even joining terrorist organizations so they could find something they could believe in – even committing terror crimes. We are letting our children down when we don’t challenge them to life for Christ without compromise and learn how to serve others. We have so much compared to the rest of the world, that we need to teach America’s youth the purpose of living for and serving others. There is more to life than living for personal pleasure. That’s why I love how you challenge youth to think. Please keep up the good work.

  2. I gave How To Get Away With Murder a shot, because I was intrigued by the title and the previews… I do not watch that show anymore. There truly isn’t any likeable character on the show. There is no “good guy” to root for, everyone is just a terrible human being… I don’t get what anyone sees in it…

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