The most-watched primetime telecast in 2021 was football (Super Bowl LV: Tampa Bay vs. Kansas City, 92.877 million viewers). The second most-watched primetime telecast in 2021 was… football (AFC Championship game: Kansas City vs. Buffalo, 42.501 million). The third most-watched primetime telecast in 2021 was… yup, still football. So was the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. The first non-NFL game to appear on the year’s top rated telecasts was The Equalizer… because it premiered after the Super Bowl.
Football, like it does every year, hogged 2021’s list of the Most-Watched Primetime Telecasts of 2021 (Total Viewers), as compiled by Variety. Seventeen of the top 20 slots are dominated by NFL and college football games; the only outliers are the aforementioned The Equalizer premiere, Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry, and the Summer Olympics. You have to go all the way to #45 to find the first “normal” episode of scripted television: the season 18 episode of NCIS, “Winter Chill,” with 13.138 million viewers, followed by another episode of NCIS (“The First Day”) at #46.
Now in its 19th season, the popularity of the long-running CBS series remains a juggernaut. Even as Mark Harmon departed the show full-time this fall, the drama’s first 15 seasons remain a hit for Netflix, where they can be streamed… Seventeen episodes of the series made it on to the top telecasts of 2021 ranker. While most series come and go, NCIS appears to be forever.
17 of the top 100 things to air in 2021 are NCIS episodes! That’s staggering — and further proof that the biggest shows are the ones that no one talks about online, for which you can blame/thank your parents. Speaking of shows your dad probably loves, Yellowstone was the only cable show to make the top 100. And it did so twice.
The Walking Dead, which used to be all over this list, is nowhere to be found.