Year in Review: Top Rated Shows of 2020 — ‘Jeopardy! GOAT,’ ‘NCIS,’ ‘The Masked Singer,’ NFL Football Dominate

The pandemic didn’t slow down the NFL, which once again dominated Variety’s ranker of the most-watched television telecasts of the year. No surprise, of course, Super Bowl LIV was easily the top program of 2020, with 102 million viewers on February 2.

Actually, seven of the ten telecasts of the year came from the NFL, and 28 out of the top 100 of the year. The other major sports leagues weren’t as lucky: Impacted by delayed seasons and playoffs due to COVID-19, only Game 6 of baseball’s World Series made it on the top 100 list, while the NBA Finals completely missed the ranker this year. And that’s despite teams from the nation’s second-largest market, Los Angeles, winning both of them.

Scripted series accounted for 39 of the top 100 slots, while competition series took up nine spots. The Season 4 post-Super Bowl premiere of “The Masked Singer” was easily the most-watched entertainment program of the year, with 27.4 million viewers. (It kept humming throughout the year, landing 16 slots in the top 100 telecasts among adults 18-49.)

The Oscars were next, averaging 24.3 million on February 9. The Grammy Awards and Golden Globes also made the list, but the Emmys did not. Among adults 18-49, the Grammys (5.66 rating) actually drew a higher rating than the Oscars (5.49) in 2020.

Audiences gravitated to ABC’s January stunt “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time,” as all four installments made it on the end-of year list. That was the most of any reality show.

“NCIS” landed the most episodes on the ranker, with 10, while uber producer Dick Wolf dominated with 20 slots, divided between “FBI,” “FBI: Most Wanted,” “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Med.”
And given how this was one of the most tumultuous years in recent history, news programs and coverage can be found all over this year’s ranker. CBS’ “60 Minutes” shows up five times, while 11 slots are devoted to debates or election coverage.

Two of last year’s most-watched series, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” retired in 2019, and no new scripted series have come along to fill the void in a major way. As a result, most of 2020’s most-watched telecasts come from sports, news, unscripted series and awards shows.

Remember half-hour comedies? Do viewers? Four episodes of CBS’ “Young Sheldon” were the only sitcoms to make this year’s list of top 100 telecasts with total viewers. Among adults 18-49, there were none.

NBC led this year’s total viewer telecast ranker with 37 programs (up from 15 last year), followed by CBS with 27 (vs. 57 last year, thanks to “Big Bang”), then Fox (12), ABC (10), Fox News Channel (7), ESPN (6) and CNN (1).

Here’s our ratings roundup of the year’s most-watched telecasts (in Live+7 ratings), according to broadcast and cable measurements, in both total viewers and adults 18-49.

RELATED: Year in Review: Most-Watched Television Networks — Ranking 2020’s Winners and Losers

[For historical record, here are previous year-end telecast rankers: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.]



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