20 Fascinating Nielsen Ratings Facts That Will Blow Out Your Brain Holes

Every week I write a box-office related list over on Pajiba, and while some are more interesting than others, there’s always something to talk about. Thanks to inflation and rising ticket prices, there always seems to be a new box-office record being broken, even as overall admissions continue their downward trend (which also contributes to many records of futility).

Similarly, it’s an interesting time to be following Nielsen ratings. Because of their increasingly reduced value, the explosion in the number of television shows to watch, and the shift away from network television to cable television, comparisons between today and even three or four years ago is apples to oranges. However, it does highlight a lot of interesting statistics about television viewing in 2013 compared to television viewing 5, 10 or even 20 years ago. Below, I’ve compared a lot of those apples to oranges to illustrate just how striking and sudden the shift has been.

1. The year it debuted, “Cheers” was dead last in the ratings: 77 out of 100 shows. Twelve years later, it ended with the 22nd highest rated show in the history of television. 84 million people watched the finale. That’s more than twice the viewers of the highest rated episode of “American Idol” of all time (36 million viewers).

2. In 1995, when Jurassic Park debuted on television, 68 million people watched it on NBC. That’s more viewers than any Oscar telecast has ever received. However, it’s not the most watched theatrical movie on television of the last 30 years. That title belongs to the 1987 broadcast of Eddie Murphy’s Trading Places.

3. The last The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was seen by 50 million people. Jay Leno’s last The Tonight Show before Conan O’Brien took over in 2009 was seen by 9 million people.

4. In the 18-49 demo, Conan O’Brien’s last “Tonight Show” episode scored better (4.8) than Leno’s last “Tonight Show” before being replaced by O’Brien (3.4). Right now, Leno’s ratings average around .9 in the 18-49 demo. Believe it or not, however, Last Call with Carson Daly — which comes on NBC after Late Night with Jimmy Fallon now has around the same number of viewers that Conan does on TBS (900,000).

5. The lowest rated average weekly ratings for the “Jay Leno Show” — NBC’s experiment with Leno at 10 p.m. five nights a week — was 4.8 million viewers. That was in 2010. Last week, NBC debuted Hannibal at 10 p.m. on Thursdays. It scored 4.3 million viewers and was considered a modest success.

6. In the 18-49 demo, this year’s season finale of The Walking Dead was seen by more people than NBC’s entire Thursday night comedy line-up COMBINED.

7. In 2005, when The Office debuted on NBC, it averaged 5.4 million viewers, good for the 102nd most popular show on television. For the 2012-2013 season, The Office averages 4.2 million viewers and is the highest rated sitcom on NBC.

8. Last Wednesday, thanks to a marathon on A&E, Duck Dynasty accounted for 14 of the top 26 shows on ALL of cable for the day. The second highest first-run episode of any show on cable that night was Psych, which was beaten by 11 reruns of Duck Dynasty.

9. Newsradio, which struggled in the ratings on NBC and finished its 5th year in 77th place overall among all network shows would be the highest rated scripted program on the entire NBC schedule today.

10. The Game of Thrones premiere scored a 2.4 among 18-49 year olds on HBO this past week; that’s a better rating than any scripted Fox program IN ALL OF 2013.

11. After ABC cancelled Cougar Town, it scored better ratings on TBS than the show that replaced it, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 did on ABC. Don’t Trust the B—- was cancelled; Cougar Town was renewed.

12. After 20 years on the air, the Law and Order series finale had slightly worse ratings than a typical episode of History’s Pawn Stars.

13. Among 18-49ers, reruns of Big Bang Theory on TBS average better ratings than the average number of viewers for first runs of NBC’s Thursday night sitcoms.

14. One and a half million more people watched Firefly in 2002 — which was cancelled after 14 episodes — than watch New Girl each week in 2013.

15. Modern Family is the second highest rated sitcom on television, and ABC’s highest rated sitcom. The last first run of Modern Family was seen by 10.59 million people. Sports Night, which was cancelled after two seasons, averaged 11.5 million viewers for ABC.

16. The 2006 ratings of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which was cancelled after one season, would make it the highest rated scripted program on NBC in 2013.

17. NBC’s Go On has lost 63 percent of its audience since the premiere.

18. The most seen episode of The Simpsons was 1990’s “Bart Gets an F.” It was seen by 33.3 million viewers. The last first-run episode of “The Simpsons” in 2013 was seen by 4.8 million viewers. Nevertheless, The Simpsons is still one of the higher rated network shows in the 18-49 demographic.

19. Based on overall viewers, Twin Peaks (cancelled after 2 seasons) and Freaks and Geeks (cancelled after 17 episodes) would be top 25 shows today. Freaks and Geeks would be a top 30 show. Arrested Development, even in its last season, received about a million more viewers per week than Community does today.

20. More people watched “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld the first time it was re-aired than the COMBINED number of viewers who watch THE ENTIRE weekly schedule on The CW today. That’s right: One rerun received more viewers in 1992 than an entire network receives in a week now.