Longest Running TV Shows Of All Time

Some TV shows have got what it takes to last longer than anyone had ever envisioned. Whilst some chose to go out on top like Seinfeld, others decide to go on well past their sell-by date. There are many things to take into consideration when declaring something as “longest-running.”

There’s nothing more devastating than the end of a hit programme, but some TV fans have had decades of content from their favourite shows.

Whether it’s sci-fi or soaps you love, there are a few that have been going for over 30 years.

Coronation Street, the quintessentially British soap opera, holds the official Guinness World Record for being the longest-running / oldest television soap opera in history. The show first premiered in 1960, Doctor Who has been traveling through time and space since 1963, albeit with a couple of almost decade-long breaks here and there.

What is the longest-running TV show in the world?

Guiding Light is the longest-running TV show in the world, with 72 years on the air. The American daytime soap was created in 1937, debuting on the radio – and was finally taken off CBS in 2009.

It followed Reverend John Ruthledge and his community, largely centred on Chicago.

After this, The Tonight Show is the longest running, with six comedian presenters and thousands of episodes since 1954.

Next up on the list of longest-running shows is Coronation Street. We first headed to Weatherfield in 1960, and the explosive storyline hasn’t stopped since.

Fans of General Hospital were thrilled recently as Amanda Setton returned to the show as the beloved Brook Lynn. The US medical drama has been running for 57 years, and shows no signs of stopping.

After Days Of Our Lives was featured in Friends, the soap was introduced to a whole new audience. Absurd accidents and unlikely relationships reign in this show, which is 55 years old this year.

But what are the longest continuous runs for scripted prime-time TV shows?

Frasier (1993 – 2004)

· Stream on Hulu

As beloved for its snooty characters as it is for its running gags is arguably the most successful spin-off of all time. This is only compounded by the fact that a revival is expected on Paramount+ by the end of 2022. However, it will unfortunately not include Martin Crane, who was played by the late John Mahoney.

Running on NBC for 11 seasons at a total of 264 episodes, Frasier was startlingly close to matching the run of its source series: none other than Cheers.

Cheers (1982 – 1993)

· Stream on Hulu

While it wasn’t a hit at first, Cheers is now one of the first titles to pop into mind when someone is asked to name a sitcom.

Featuring a massive cast of up-and-coming stars including Woody Harrelson, Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammer, and Shelley Long, Cheers always had a way of making viewers feel like they were cast members themselves, drinking at the bar where everyone knows their name.

M*A*S*H (1972 – 1983)

· Stream on Hulu

A far more successful spinoff of Robert Altman’s classic war comedy M*A*S*H, the iconic series ran on CBS for 11 seasons.

Like the film (but with less football), M*A*S*H followed Hawkeye and the remainder of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital as they tried to survive the Korean War. Interestingly enough, the series was longer than the real-life war by eight years. Even more impressive was its finale, which to this day is the most-watched finale of any television series (sitcom or otherwise).

Bob’s Burgers (2011 – Present)

· Stream on Hulu

The warm and welcoming tone of Bob’s Burgers and its slew of references is on track to produce yet another very long-running animated sitcom. Closer to The Simpsons than South Park, the adventures of the Belcher family always manage to hit the right irreverent note.

One way that it is similar to South Park, however, is Bob’s Burgers’ upcoming transition to the big screen. Given how the show’s quality hasn’t wavered, even after 12 seasons, it stands to reason the movie won’t lose the show any fans.

The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet (1952-1966)

· Stream on Flix Fling

Few probably remember or have heard of The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet, but it ran for 14 seasons, beginning on CBS in 1952. The show featured show creator Ozzie Nelson and his real-life family against the backdrop of their actual, real home in Los Angeles, which would have been unheard of by today’s standards.

Nelson adopted many of the challenges of raising his real-life family and turned them into stories for the show, which grew organically as his children began to rise into adulthood. The introduction of a major cultural change in the 1960s effectively put the brakes on the Nelson family’s nuclear family values.

Criminal Minds (2005 – 2020)

· Stream on Hulu

Another crime thriller/drama series that caught on in a big way is CBS’ Criminal Minds, which has 15 seasons under its belt. The show recently wrapped for good with the series finale “And In The End,” which means there’s a lot of content to run in syndication.

Expect Criminal Minds to maintain its spot as one of the most-watched programs on television, with re-runs galore to enjoy. The show has also produced several spin-offs including Suspect Behavior and Beyond Borders, not to mention a Korean adaptation!

The Jack Benny Program (1950 – 1965)

· Stream on Prime Video

The original Jack Benny Program was a radio series that scored a major hit with listeners at a time when TV hadn’t even caught on. Benny’s comedy was unique in how it portrayed real African American actors who were smart, intelligent, and of high class, at a time when most shows were pushing racial stereotypes.

By the time Benny transitioned from radio to television, audiences were ready for it, and the Jack Benny Program ran 15 seasons before calling it a day in 1965. It ended on a high note with an estimated 18 million viewers, but Benny was ready to drop out of television for good, citing poor experiences behind the scenes.

C.S.I: Crime Scene Investigation (2000 – 2015)

· Stream on Hulu

“Who are you? Who Who? Who Who?” That’s the question The Who screamed at viewers when C.S.I debuted in 2000 and the show was a smash hit, heralding spin-offs and computer games thanks to grizzly mysteries and cool leading characters.

Sadly, as Miami Vice and The Fonz from Happy Days have historically proven, cool becomes dated after a while, and the one-liners and raised eyebrows almost forced the show to become a parody of itself before ending its run in 2015.

E.R (1994 – 2009)

· Stream on Hulu

This is the show that threw George Clooney into superstar status before Batman & Robin almost immediately threw him out again.

E.R proved itself as far more than the Dr. Doug Ross show when it continued for another 10 years after the handsome medicine man departed back in 1999. Still, it’s the template that most hospital dramas follow.

American Dad! (2005 – Present)

· Stream on Hulu

The success of one show doesn’t always migrate to a spinoff series, but somehow Seth MacFarlane managed to pull it off with American Dad! The show started in 2005 and has been renewed for seasons 20 and 2021, which is impressive considering that MacFarlane’s other spinoff The Cleveland Show got the axe after just 4 seasons.

While American Dad! is geared towards a specific audience in comparison to Family Guy’s circular firing squad-style of comedy, it’s enough to have kept it going this long. That’s a major feather in MacFarlane’s cap.

Lassie (1954 – 1973)

America welcomed Lassie to its hearts back in 1943, and she continued her adventures on TV between 1953 and 1974, even doing a Dorothy Gale by making the transition from black and white to color.

Along with Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart, Lassie is one of only three dogs to have a star on the Hollywood walk of fame! 

Greys Anatomy (2005 – Present)

· Stream on Netflix

Currently enjoying its 18th season, Grey’s Anatomy still continues its successful run to this day, and so far sits at 38 Emmy nominations over that time. In an interview with the New York Times, creator Shonda Rhimes quoted that she wanted to make a show that saw “smart women competing against each other.”

That formula obviously proved to be a winning one which continues to make Grey’s Anatomy Americas no.1 current running hospital drama.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (2005 – Present)

· Stream on Hulu

FXX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is so quotable not every line gets its due.The show debuted its R-rated Seinfeld mentality in 2005 and is now officially the longest-running live-action sitcom of all time.

The show has gotten deceptively deep over the years, with effective commentaries on modern social and cultural events. It’s well known that the gang grew by one incredible member in its second season: Frank Reynolds, played by Danny DeVito, who began the show on its road to long-term success.

NCIS (2003 – Present)

· Stream on Netflix

NCIS was a spin-off from the show JAG and is one of several shows that beats its predecessor in terms of ratings and show run time.

The NCIS team is a special unit composed of a variety of interesting characters to counter naval and marine felonies. The show owes its success thanks to comedic elements, ensemble acting, and character-driven plots.

Gunsmoke (1955 – 1975)

· Stream on DIRECTV

Gunsmoke, or as it’s known by its other name “that old cowboy show that isn’t Bonanza” started way back as a radio series in 1952 before transitioning to TV in 1955.

Originally titled “Gun Law” the show started off quite gritty, especially for its day, handling themes like violence and drug addiction, before becoming more humorous in tone as it went on. Even still, the show remained well-liked throughout its run, with great episodes throughout each of Gunsmoke‘s seasons.

Law & Order (1990 – 2010)

· Stream on Peacock Premium

Law & Order pretty much started the cop show style that continues to this day, grounding it in the realism of many departments rather than the single gun-ho hero that proceeded it (e.g. something along the lines of T.J Hooker).

Spinning off companion shows in many countries to create an extended universe Stan Lee would be proud of, there are over 1000 hours of justice to be viewed from this show alone.

Family Guy (1999 – Present)

· Stream on Hulu

Peter Griffin and his family have been on TV screens for 20 years and despite being canceled twice it has managed to crawl its way back onto screens thanks to its passionate fan base and DVD sales.

Although the show has been very formulaic with uninspired plot lines for quite a while now, the stories were never really Family Guy’s strong point, it was always about the joke and parody rate which is why it continues to this day!

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999 – Present)

· Stream on Hulu

The spin-off from Law & Order started 9 years after the original and has recently surpassed its longevity in terms of episode numbers. SVU is now the longest-running live-action TV drama of all time.

In fact, it’s arguably more popular than ever, considering its spin-off, Law & Order: Organized Crime, is a success. A big part of this success: the return of Elliot Stabler.

South Park (1997 – Present)

· Stream on HBO Max

The secret to South Park’s success is the ability to change and develop as the years go by. Starting off as the view of a non-innocent world from innocent eyes, thanks to the advancement in technology an episode is now written, recorded and animated within a week before its air date.

This has helped to make the show one of the most up-to-date in contemporary political and pop-culture satire. This means consistently evolving with the times and its a strategy that’s allowed South Park to become one of the longest-running TV shows ever.

The Simpsons (1989 – Present)

Stream on Disney+

What is the longest-running TV show? Most could answer the question without looking it up. It’s very easy to condemn The Simpsons for its decline in quality over the years, but the fact is that silly cartoon sketch from The Tracey Ullman Show has become an American staple.

Generations have grown up with The Simpsons and classic lines still find their way into lexicon and internet memes 33 years later. If Bart aged at the same time as the show, he would now be 40.

Others worth a mention:

Sesame Street – Jim Henson’s puppet programme has delighted children for generations. Elmo, Cookie Monster and Big Bird hit our screens 51 years ago, and has taught young people about their place in the world ever since

Emmerdale – The countryside cousin of Corrie, Emmerdale has seen it all: farmyard disasters, ‘cinematic’ reveals, and the unlikeliest of character returns. Originally ‘Emmerdale Farm’, it dates back to 1972.

The Young and The Restless – This show continues to rumble on, after 47 years on the air. Y&R, as it’s known among fans, regularly features storylines familiar to the genre: with sexuality, rare health conditions, and family feuds forming the plot.

One Life To Live – launching in 1968 and following the relationships of the Lord Family until 2012, this show was created by All My Children producer Agnes Nixon. It was widely considered to be one of the first US shows to focus on socioeconomic and diversity, garnering a huge fanbase.

Saturday Night Live – the show that launched the careers of Bill Murray, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, this comedy programme has been on the small screen since 1975. In the age of social media, its musical guests and hosting slots seem to get more attention than the stars – like Daniel Craig’s eternally shared ‘Ladies and gentlemen, The Weeknd.’

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