50 Longest Running Primetime TV Shows

November 30, 2017 by Evan Comen

Source: jacktheflipper / iStockphoto
Popular TV catchphrases such as “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!”, and “D’oh!” are likely recognizable to a majority of Americans — whether they’ve watched “Saturday Night Live,” “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and “The Simpsons” or not.

In its short history, television has come to dominate the American lifestyle and cultural landscape. Approximately 99% of households own at least one television set, and the average American watches more than four hours of TV every day. There are a handful of television programs that have spanned multiple generations, and have had an outsized influence on the American public.

To determine the longest running TV shows of all time, 24/7 Wall St. developed a list of primetime television shows using the Internet Movie Database and other sources. To be considered for this list, a show must have aired in the primetime slot at one point during its original broadcast run.

Click here to see the full list of the longest running TV shows of all time.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Source: Courtesy of CBS Television Distribution

50. The Amazing Race (2001-present)
> Series run: 16 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: Reality
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10

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Source: Courtesy of Viacom Media Networks

49. The Fairly OddParents (2001-present)
> Series run: 17 years
> Network: Nickelodeon
> Genre: Animated sitcom/children
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/10

Source: Courtesy of CNN

48. Capital Gang (1988-2005)
> Series run: 17 years
> Network: CNN
> Genre: Political talk show
> IMDb user rating: N/A/10

Source: Courtesy of CBS Television Distribution

47. Big Brother (2000-present)
> Series run: 17 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: Reality game show
> IMDb user rating: 5.4/10

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Source: Courtesy of CBS Television Distribution

46. Survivor (2000-present)
> Series run: 18 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: Reality competition
> IMDb user rating: 7.0/10

Source: Courtesy of CBS

45. What’s My Line? (1950-1967)
> Series run: 18 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: Game show
> IMDb user rating: 8.7/10

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Source: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

44. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999-present)
> Series run: 18 years
> Network: NBC
> Genre: Crime drama
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10

Source: Courtesy of CBS Television

43. Lassie (1954-1973)
> Series run: 19 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: Children/family
> IMDb user rating: 6.6/10

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Television

42. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-Present)
> Series run: 19 years
> Network: Nickelodeon
> Genre: Animated sitcom/children
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10

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Source: Courtesy of Shout! Factory

41. The Red Skelton Show (1951-1971)
> Series run: 19 years
> Network: NBC, CBS
> Genre: Variety show
> IMDb user rating: 8.3/10

Source: Courtesy of Viacom Media Networks

40. The Challenge (1998-present)
> Series run: 20 years
> Network: MTV
> Genre: Reality game show
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10

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Source: Courtesy of CBS Television Distribution

39. Gunsmoke (1955-1975)
> Series run: 20 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: Drama
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10

Source: Courtesy of NBCUniversal Television Distribution

38. Law & Order (1990-2010)
> Series run: 20 years
> Network: NBC
> Genre: Crime drama
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10

Source: Courtesy of CNN

37. Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields (1982-2002)
> Series run: 20 years
> Network: CNN
> Genre: Political discussion
> IMDb user rating: N/A/10

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Source: Courtesy of South Park Studios - Comedy Central

36. South Park (1997-present)
> Series run: 20 years
> Network: Comedy Central
> Genre: Animated sitcom
> IMDb user rating: 8.7/10

Source: Courtesy of Disney–ABC Television Group

35. The Original Amateur Hour (1948-1970)
> Series run: 21 years
> Network: DuMont, NBC, ABC, CBS
> Genre: Reality
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10

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Source: Courtesy of PBS

34. Antiques Roadshow (1997-present)
> Series run: 21 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Reality
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10

Source: Courtesy of PBS

33. The New Yankee Workshop (1988-2009)
> Series run: 22 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Woodworking
> IMDb user rating: 9.1/10

Source: Courtesy of Turner Classic Movies

32. Private Screenings (1996-present)
> Series run: 22 years
> Network: TCM
> Genre: Documentary
> IMDb user rating: 8.8/10

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Source: Courtesy of CBS

31. Late Show with David Letterman (1993-2015)
> Series run: 22 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: Talk/variety
> IMDb user rating: 6.9/10

Source: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

30. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992-2014)
> Series run: 22 years
> Network: NBC
> Genre: Talk/variety
> IMDb user rating: 5.3/10

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Source: Courtesy of FilmRise

29. Unsolved Mysteries (1987-present)
> Series run: 23 years
> Network: NBC, CBS, Lifetime, Spike
> Genre: Documentary
> IMDb user rating: 8.4/10

Source: Courtesy of CBS

28. The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-1971)
> Series run: 23 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: Variety show
> IMDb user rating: 7.8/10

Source: Courtesy of CNN

27. Crossfire (1982-2005)
> Series run: 23 years
> Network: CNN
> Genre: Talk/news program
> IMDb user rating: 3.5/10

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Source: Courtesy of CBS Television Distribution

26. Nick News with Linda Ellerbee (1992-2015)
> Series run: 24 years
> Network: Nickelodeon
> Genre: Children’s news program
> IMDb user rating: 4.8/10

Source: Courtesy of 20th Television

25. America’s Most Wanted (1988-2012)
> Series run: 25 years
> Network: Fox, Lifetime
> Genre: Reality
> IMDb user rating: 7.3/10

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Source: Courtesy of Viacom Media Networks

24. The Real World (1992-present)
> Series run: 26 years
> Network: MTV
> Genre: Reality
> IMDb user rating: 5.0/10

Source: Courtesy of NBC

23. Dateline NBC (1992-present)
> Series run: 26 years
> Network: NBC
> Genre: News magazine
> IMDb user rating: 6.7/10

Source: Courtesy of E! Entertainment Television

22. E! News (1991-present)
> Series run: 26 years
> Network: E!
> Genre: Entertainment news
> IMDb user rating: 4.6/10

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Source: Courtesy of 20th Television

21. The Simpsons (1989-present)
> Series run: 28 years
> Network: Fox
> Genre: Animated sitcom
> IMDb user rating: 8.8/10

Source: Courtesy of Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University

20. Firing Line (1966-1999)
> Series run: 28 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Public affairs
> IMDb user rating: 8.5/10

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Source: Courtesy of Disney–ABC Domestic Television

19. America’s Funniest Home Videos (1989-present)
> Series run: 28 years
> Network: ABC
> Genre: Reality/comedy
> IMDb user rating: 6.2/10

Source: Courtesy of Viacom Media Networks

18. Cops (1989-present)
> Series run: 28 years
> Network: Fox, Spike
> Genre: Reality
> IMDb user rating: 7.1/10

Source: Courtesy of PBS

17. American Experience (1988-present)
> Series run: 29 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Documentary
> IMDb user rating: 8.4/10

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Source: Courtesy of Univision

16. Sábado Gigante (1986-2015)
> Series run: 29 years
> Network: Univisión
> Genre: Spanish-language variety
> IMDb user rating: 6.3/10

Source: Courtesy of PBS

15. POV (1988-present)
> Series run: 29 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Documentary
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10

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Source: Courtesy of Fox Business Network

14. Moneyline/Lou Dobbs Tonight (1980-2009)
> Series run: 29 years
> Network: CNN
> Genre: News/talk show
> IMDb user rating: 5.1/10

Source: Courtesy of CBS

13. 48 Hours (1988-present)
> Series run: 30 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: Documentary/news magazine
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10

Source: Courtesy of NBC

12. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962-1992)
> Series run: 30 years
> Network: NBC
> Genre: Talk/variety
> IMDb user rating: 8.4/10

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Source: Courtesy of A&E Networks

11. Biography (1987-2006)
> Series run: 31 years
> Network: A&E
> Genre: Documentary
> IMDb user rating: 7.9/10

Source: Courtesy of National Geographic Society

10. National Geographic Explorer (1985-present)
> Series run: 33 years
> Network: Nickelodeon, TBS, CNBC, MSNBC, National Geographic
> Genre: Documentary
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10

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Source: Courtesy of PBS

9. Wall Street Week (1970-2005)
> Series run: 35 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: News
> IMDb user rating: 8.6/10

Source: Courtesy of PBS

8. Frontline (1983-present)
> Series run: 35 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Public affairs
> IMDb user rating: 8.6/10

Source: Courtesy of PBS

7. Nature (1982-present)
> Series run: 35 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Documentary
> IMDb user rating: 8.8/10

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

6. This Old House (1979-present)
> Series run: 39 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Home improvement
> IMDb user rating: 7.8/10

Source: Courtesy of ABC news

5. 20/20 (1978-present)
> Series run: 40 years
> Network: ABC
> Genre: News magazine
> IMDb user rating: 6.6/10

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Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

4. Saturday Night Live (1975-present)
> Series run: 42 years
> Network: NBC
> Genre: Variety show
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10

Source: PeopleImages / Getty Images

3. The Victory Garden (1975-present)
> Series run: 43 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Gardening
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/10

Source: Courtesy of WGBH-TV

2. Nova (1974-present)
> Series run: 44 years
> Network: PBS
> Genre: Science
> IMDb user rating: 8.8/10

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Source: Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison, U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons

1. 60 Minutes (1968-present)
> Series run: 49 years
> Network: CBS
> Genre: News magazine
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10

Most of the longest-running shows are fairly inexpensive to produce. Networks often favor the bottom line over critical praise, and a number of shows with high ratings and loyal audiences have been cancelled due to their high production budgets.

While the production budget of an average network TV show is $3.5 million per episode, long-running shows such as “South Park” cost an estimated $1.5 million per episode to produce. Some Nickelodeon cartoons cost less than $1 million per episode. Many of the shows with the longest lifespans are unscripted reality programs, which are far less expensive to produce than scripted television shows.

Other long-running television shows revolve around a charismatic host and a tried-and-true show format. Johnny Carson and Jay Leno were some of the most successful late-night talk show hosts in history, each hosting “The Tonight Show” for more than two decades. David Letterman hosted “The Late Show” for 22 years.

Many of the shows on this list practically invented new television genres. “60 Minutes,” for example, was the first news program to focus largely on investigative reporting. When “Saturday Night Live” first aired in 1975, it was one of the first shows to feature high-concept comedy sketches, political satire, and musical performances with a varying cast and a different host every week. The format has since been repeated in fewer successful iterations.

Many of the shows with the longest series runs are on the Big Three major broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Originally founded as radio broadcasting companies, ABC, CBS, and NBC each began commercial television operations in the 1940s, where they dominated and remained largely unchallenged for several decades. PBS was founded in 1970 and remains the largest nonprofit, government-funded broadcasting network. Of the 50 longest running shows of all time, 15 were first aired before the 1980s, when competitor Fox was founded and a number basic cable networks such as Nickelodeon and WTBS — a precursor to TBS — began to garner large shares of the television-viewing audience.

Of the 50 longest running television shows, 11 were originally broadcast on PBS, 10 on CBS, eight on NBC, two on ABC, and three on Fox. “The Original Amateur Hour,” the precursor to shows such as “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent,” originally aired on Dumont, an early television broadcast network that lasted from 1946 to 1956. Many of the more recent programs among the 50 longest running TV shows, such as “South Park,” “The Challenge,” and “The Fairly OddParents,” air on basic cable networks Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon, respectively.

To determine the longest-running TV shows of all time, 24/7 Wall St. developed a list of primetime television shows using the Internet Movie Database and other sources. To be considered, a show must have aired in the primetime slot at one point during its original broadcast run. Anthology series, music television, and sports programs were not included. The length of a series run only consists of the time a show was actually on the air, not any time spent in cancellation or between networks. As a result, the length of a series run may be different than the range of years that a show has been in existence.