The longest-running TV shows that are still on the air
12:14 PM, Sep 7, 2018
12:30 PM, Sep 10, 2018
Some TV shows don’t make it through the first season before being canceled (“Living Biblically,” anyone?) while others can span entire generations. There are plenty of shows still on today that first started when TV was only broadcast in black and white, including many network news broadcasts, talk shows and game shows.
But for a scripted program to last that long is something even more impressive.
We’ve rounded up some of the longest-running shows that are still producing new episodes on TV today. This list consists of primetime scripted and reality shows. It doesn’t include soap operas, game shows, talk shows, documentary programs, sports broadcasts or PBS’s various live performance shows like “Austin City Limits” and “Live from Lincoln Center.” The shows are ranked by how many seasons have aired as of publication.
‘Squidbillies’ (Adult Swim)
Seasons: 11 Premiere Date: Oct. 16, 2005
Of all the long-running shows on this list, I’ll forgive you most easily if “Squidbillies” is the one you haven’t heard of. This bizarre animated comedy follows the lives of a poor family of Georgia mud squids as they try to get by. The show was co-created by Dave Willis, who worked on Adult Swim’s classic “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” Since debuting in 2005, “Squidbillies” has aired 11 seasons, with a 12th reportedly on the way.
‘The Big Bang Theory’ (CBS)
Seasons: 11 Premiere Date: Sept. 24, 2007
When CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” comes to an end in 2019, it will have run for 12 seasons and been one of TV’s biggest hits of recent memory. The sitcom, which follows a pair of physicists and their waitress friend, has been consistently top-rated since its debut in 2007. In 2017, a spin-off called “Young Sheldon” kicked off on CBS to similarly high ratings. Only time will tell if it has the legs of its predecessor.
‘The X-Files’ (Fox)
Seasons: 11 Premiere Date: Sept. 10, 1993
For 25 years, “The X-Files” has been one of American TV viewers’ go-to destinations for eerie sci-fi stories. The show follows two FBI agents who investigate crimes that often involve a paranormal explanation that nobody else wants to believe. The series was a major hit for Fox from 1993 to 2002, when it first ended, before starting up again in 2016 for a continued run of two more seasons so far. The series spawned two spin-offs and a pair of theatrically released movies.
‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ (Nickelodeon)
Seasons: 11 Premiere Date: May 1, 1999
Kids of a certain age can’t think of their childhood without remembering the catchy theme song of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The sweet and wacky series follows the adventures of characters in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom and was created by a former marine biologist. Season 12 was reportedly in production in late 2017 but has yet to air.
‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ (FXX)
Seasons: 12 Premiere Date: Aug. 4, 2005
When this pitch-dark comedy about a group of deadbeat friends who run a Philadelphia bar debuted on FX 13 years ago, few people probably thought it would go on to be one of TV’s longest-running comedies ever.
Since 2013, “Sunny” has aired on FXX and is showing no signs of stopping. Danny DeVito was arguably the only cast member most people knew at the start of the series but all of his co-stars have since gone on to work on other major projects, including network shows and movies.
‘America’s Got Talent’ (NBC)
Seasons: 13 Premiere Date: June 21, 2006
Remember when Regis Philbin hosted “America’s Got Talent” and the judging panel included David Hasselhoff, Brandy and Piers Morgan? If not, that’s OK because it was more than 12 years ago! The talent competition series is one of dozens in creator Simon Cowell’s blockbuster “Got Talent” franchise across the planet. The judging panel and hosts have changed many times over the years, and have included everyone from Howard Stern to Sharon Osbourne and Jerry Springer.
‘Supernatural’ (The CW)
Seasons: 13 Premiere Date: Sept. 13, 2005
Did you know “Supernatural” is considered the longest-running sci-fi TV series in American history? The show has aired more than 280 episodes since 2005, back when its network, The CW, was still called The WB. “Supernatural” follows the Winchester brothers as they battle evil creatures. The show’s 14th season is set to premiere in October 2018.
‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ (The CW)
Seasons: 14 Premiere Date: Aug. 5, 1998
While some will argue it’s not technically a “scripted” series, this improv comedy show follows a planned format and features actors performing, so we’re going to count it. “Whose Line?” has been airing on American TV, across various networks, since 1998, when it debuted on ABC.
The show challenges comedians, often including Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles and Wayne Brady, to perform improvisational bits when prompted by a live studio audience. The series was based on a British show of the same name and has aired on The CW since 2013.
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ (ABC)
Seasons: 14 Premiere Date: March 27, 2005
As of 2018, only “ER” has been a longer-lasting medical drama in all of TV history than “Grey’s Anatomy,” but that will likely change in the next two years. The show follows the lives of doctors at a Seattle hospital, led by Ellen Pompeo’s Dr. Meredith Grey. Many cast members have come and gone over the years, including Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl and Patrick Dempsey, and names like “McSteamy” and “McDreamy” became permanent parts of pop culture thanks to the show. Pompeo makes a reported $575,000 per episode, which adds up to about $20 million per year.
‘The Bachelorette’ (ABC)
Seasons: 14 Premiere Date: Jan. 8, 2003
After ABC realized it had a hit with “The Bachelor,” it didn’t waste much time producing a spin-off. “The Bachelorette” debuted less than a year after “The Bachelor” and offered the runner-up of that series a chance to find her own husband from a pool of suitors. “The Bachelorette” hasn’t been as consistent a presence as its counterpart, airing 14 seasons overall, compared to 22 seasons for “The Bachelor.” Along the way, host Chris Harrison has been there for every episode of each.
‘American Dad!’ (TBS)
Seasons: 15 Premiere Date: Feb. 6, 2005
Depending on how you count the show’s first season, “American Dad!” has either aired 14 or 15 seasons so far. Either way, the show has had an impressive run that has spanned two networks in 13 years. Co-created by “Family Guy’s” Seth MacFarlane, the show follows the life of a CIA agent named Stan Smith, his family, their talking goldfish and live-in alien. If it sounds bizarre, that’s because it is.
From 2005 to 2014, “American Dad!” aired on Fox before being picked up by TBS, where it is slated to run at least through a 17th season.
Seasons: 15 Premiere Date: Sept. 23, 2003
This military-police procedural has been a major part of CBS’s primetime lineup since 2003. It initially wasn’t a ratings smash but eventually became the most-watched show across all of TV. In recent years, “NCIS” has seen some major cast changes but Mark Harmon has led the series from the start. Itself a spin-off of CBS’s “JAG,” “NCIS” has spawned two of its own spin-offs during its long run.
‘American Idol’ (ABC)
Seasons: 16 Premiere Date: June 11, 2002
Another long-running show that was brought back after being canceled is “American Idol.” The groundbreaking musical competition show was a smash hit and cultural icon for most of its 15 seasons on Fox before the network ended it in 2016. However, ABC picked up the rights to the series and aired its 16th season in 2018.
“Family Guy” would likely have at least 18 seasons in the can if Fox hadn’t canceled it in 2002 before bringing it back in 2005. The show was saved after its reruns proved to be a massive hit on Adult Swim and its DVDs sold millions of copies. The show’s following is massive and has made creator Seth MacFarlane one of the most recognizable — and controversial — TV writers of recent history. The show, which follows the adventures of a Rhode Island family, is set to kick off its 17th season in September 2018.
‘Hell’s Kitchen’ (Fox)
Seasons: 17 Premiere Date: May 30, 2005
Can you believe we’ve spent 17 seasons watching Gordon Ramsay scream obscenities at hopeful chefs who are frantically working to live their dream? Fox has kept Ramsay’s show, “Hell’s Kitchen,” a part of its primetime lineup since 2005. It was based on a show of the same title that originally aired in Ramsay’s native United Kingdom in 2004. The show has made Chef Ramsay an international star who’s hosted other shows including “The F Word,” “Hotel Hell” and “Kitchen Nightmares.”
‘WWE SmackDown’ (USA Network)
Seasons: 18 Premiere Date: April 29, 1999
In 1999, pro wrestling was having a heyday in terms of TV ratings and cultural reach, which led WWE to launch its second main, weekly series. “SmackDown” has aired on five different networks and on various nights of the week during its 19-year run but it currently airs live on USA Network every Tuesday night. In October 2018, the show will air its 1,000th episode, and then it is set to move to Fox in 2019.
‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ (NBC)
Seasons: 19 Premiere Date: Sept. 20, 1999
The original “Law & Order” was one of TV’s longest-running dramas ever, spanning 20 seasons from 1990 to 2010, but this spin-off is set to tie its predecessor’s run in 2019. “SVU” follows cops and lawyers who try to crack some of New York’s most brutal crimes. The show’s diverse cast has included everyone from Ice-T and BD Wong to Richard Belzer and, of course, Mariska Hargitay, whose character, Lt. Olivia Benson, has led the action from the start.
‘Big Brother’ (CBS)
Seasons: 20 Premiere Date: July 5, 2000
Who’d have guessed voyeurism would be such a hit? This reality competition follows contestants who live together in a house that is totally cut off from the outside world and is fitted with dozens of cameras that record their every move. The popular CBS show was based on a Dutch show that had the same name. Longtime news anchor Julie Chen has been the host since “Big Brother” first aired in 2000.
‘South Park’ (Comedy Central)
Seasons: 21 Premiere Date: Aug. 13, 1997
When “South Park” premiered in summer 1997, some people probably didn’t think much of its crude animation style and even cruder jokes — but it’s become a cultural phenomenon and one of the longest-running shows in cable history. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone do many of the show’s voices themselves, including the four childhood friends it follows, and they write many of the episodes just days before they air, making “South Park” capable of extremely timely commentary. The boys of South Park, Colorado, are slated to continue having adventures through season 23, at least.
‘The Bachelor’ (ABC)
Seasons: 22 Premiere Date: March 25, 2002
Another reality-competition series that has been going strong for nearly two dozen seasons is ABC’s “The Bachelor.” The show’s simple premise of having an eligible (and handsome) guy find his wife by essentially speed-dating 25 women over the course of a season has apparently hooked audiences. The show’s legacy has included several spin-offs on ABC, including “The Bachelorette.” While not all the relationships have lasted, “The Bachelor” certainly has.
‘America’s Next Top Model’ (VH1)
Seasons: 24 Premiere Date: May 20, 2003
Not many shows outlast the network they debuted on, but that’s exactly what “America’s Next Top Model” did when UPN merged with The WB to become The CW in 2006. The show was the brainchild of supermodel Tyra Banks, who created, produced and hosted it during most of its run. The series is a reality competition that gives hopeful models a chance to break into the fashion industry. The show aired on UPN and The CW from 2003 to 2015 before ending and being reborn on VH1, where it has aired since 2016.
‘Dancing with the Stars’ (ABC)
Seasons: 26 Premiere Date: June 1, 2005
ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” has been dazzling audiences for more than 13 years but has managed to cram 26 seasons into that span. Since the beginning, host Tom Bergeron and judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman have been there to lead viewers through more than 400 episodes of celebrity ballroom dancing.
Over the years, winners of the show have included Brooke Burke, Shawn Johnson, Jennifer Grey and Adam Rippon. In fall 2018, ABC will debut a spin-off which features kids doing ballroom dance.
‘WWE Raw’ (USA Network)
Seasons: 26 Premiere Date: Jan. 11, 1993
We aren’t including sports shows in this list but, let’s face it, “Raw” is the definition of scripted programming — and that’s coming from a lifelong viewer of the show.
WWE’s flagship TV program has been a staple of Monday nights since 1993 and, perhaps more impressive than any other show on this list, it never misses a week all year. The series currently airs three hours of professional wrestling action every week on USA Network, where it has been for all but five years of its run. More than 1,300 episodes have aired and it’s showing no sign of slowing down.
‘The Simpsons’ (Fox)
Seasons: 29 Premiere Date: Dec. 17, 1989
Every fall TV season for nearly 30 years, Fox has included “The Simpsons” in its primetime lineup. The animated sitcom, which follows a working-class family in the fictional town of Springfield, is nearly as old as the network itself, which started in 1986. “The Simpsons” has won just about every award under the sun and has been dubbed the greatest TV show of all time by many critics.
‘The Amazing Race’ (CBS)
Seasons: 30 Premiere Date: Sept. 5, 2001
It’s been nearly 20 years since “The Amazing Race” debuted, but the show is still a mainstay of the CBS lineup twice each year. In its 30 seasons, the show’s contestants have traveled to dozens of countries in an epic race around the world. In terms of critical acclaim, “The Amazing Race” might be the height of reality TV, as the show has won more Emmy Awards for outstanding reality-competition program than any other.
‘The Challenge’ (MTV)
Seasons: 32 Premiere Date: Jun 1, 1998
For much of this MTV reality show’s run, it was called “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” and it was a competition between people who’d appeared on the network’s two groundbreaking shows, “Real World” and “Road Rules.” It has changed a lot over the years and now includes people who appeared on other reality shows joining the competition. Since 2010, the show has just been called “The Challenge” and it has been hosted by BMX rider T.J. Lavin since 2005. At this point, the show has actually outlasted both shows it was spun-off from.
Seasons: 36 Premiere Date: May 31, 2000
OK, so it might be cheating to air two seasons per year but the bottom line is that “Survivor” has been a staple of CBS’s primetime lineup for more than 18 years — and it shows no signs of stopping.
The competition show features a group of contestants living together in an isolated outdoor location until a sole survivor is awarded $1 million. It wasn’t the first reality competition TV show, but it played a big part in kicking off the era when reality shows dominated ratings starting in the early 2000s. Jeff Probst has been the host of all 540 episodes so far and also acts as executive producer.
‘Saturday Night Live’ (NBC)
Seasons: 43 Premiere Date: Oct. 11, 1975
Arguably no show in history has been able to stay as vital, in terms of pop-culture impact, for as long as “SNL.” In the 43 seasons that have aired on NBC since 1975, comedy titans like John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy and Tina Fey have each made their names on the show’s stage.
Did you know that various countries around the world have their own versions of “SNL,” including South Korea, Japan and Poland?
Seasons: 46 Premiere Date: Jan. 10, 1971
Also known as “Masterpiece Theatre,” this landmark PBS anthology series has been on the air for nearly 50 years, as of 2018. “Masterpiece” airs every week, making it the longest-running weekly series on primetime TV.
The show has had various hosts over that span, including Gillian Anderson and Laura Linney, but has typically presented feature-length adaptations of beloved books. The “Masterpiece” banner includes under it popular PBS shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Sherlock.”
‘Hallmark Hall of Fame’ (Hallmark Channel)
Seasons: 65 Premiere Date: Dec. 24, 1951
This show has aired more than 250 episodes on various networks over the years but currently stands as the longest-running primetime show in TV history. It’s an anthology series, meaning its episodes are more like individual movies following different characters each time. “Hallmark Hall of Fame” airs at various times throughout the year and has been a staple of the Hallmark Channel’s lineup since 2014. In 1951, its first episode aired on NBC, where it ran until 1978. Over the years, plenty of your favorite actors have likely appeared in installments of this made-for-TV movie series.
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