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Primetime TV shows that stood the test of time

  • Primetime TV shows that stood the test of time

    The arrival of autumn has long signaled the start of network and cable TV's most exciting season. Primetime, in particular, is when new episodes of the best of the best air, including both returning and brand new series. 

    Primetime on television is a block of time when networks can expect the highest levels of audience viewership, traditionally between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern time (particularly Monday through Friday)—once most people are home from work and settled in for the rest of the evening. Networks have historically scheduled their most popular or promising programming during primetime. It's a high-pressure slot; if a show can't attract a solid audience it will quickly be replaced (whether it's bumped to another time or canceled altogether). It is vital that shows perform well: The higher number of viewers a show gets, the more networks can charge for advertising.

    While online streaming services—Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and all the rest—have made it so a TV show no longer has to be aired during primetime (or even on TV at all) for it to succeed, a primetime slot on network TV is still immensely valuable.

    To find out which programs kept viewers hooked season after season, Stacker consulted Wikipedia’s list of the longest-running scripted primetime TV shows. The following 45 shows with 10 seasons or more were ranked from most to least seasons. In the event of a tie, Stacker used the number of episodes as a tiebreaker.

    Read on to discover which beloved '90s sitcom, adult animated program, crime procedural, and golden oldie made the list. You'll likely recognize some of these shows from syndicated reruns, and you might even find something new to add to your Netflix queue. 

    You may also likeThe 100 best TV shows of all time

  • #45. Smallville

    - Seasons: 10
    - Episodes: 218
    - Network: WB (2001–2006), CW (2006–2011)
    - First air date: Oct. 16, 2001
    - Last air date: May 13, 2011

    This show hones in on Clark Kent’s origin story in the tiny town of Smallville, Kan. Over 10 seasons, viewers follow local wonderboy Kent (Tom Welling) as he learns to harness his penchant for heroic acts and superhuman strength.

  • #44. JAG

    - Seasons: 10
    - Episodes: 226
    - Network: NBC (1995–1996), CBS (1997–2005)
    - First air date: Sept. 1, 1995
    - Last air date: April 29, 2005

    The crime procedural gets a military spin in “JAG,” which follows Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr. (David James Elliott) and Lieut. Col. Sarah MacKenzie (Catherine Bell). Together, they investigate crimes committed by Navy and Marine personnel for the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate General's office.  


  • #43. CSI: Miami

    - Seasons: 10
    - Episodes: 232
    - Network: CBS
    - First air date: Sept. 23, 2002
    - Last air date: April 8, 2012

    Although this spinoff of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” didn’t last as long as its predecessor, it still had a massive 10-season, 232-episode run. David Caruso plays enigmatic Lieut. Horatio Caine in this sun-drenched crime show.


  • #42. Friends

    - Seasons: 10
    - Episodes: 236
    - Network: NBC
    - First air date: Sept. 22, 1994
    - Last air date: May 6, 2004

    This beloved sitcom set in New York City chronicles the lives of six 20-something friends: Monica (Courteney Cox), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Chandler (Matthew Perry), Joey (Matt LeBlanc), and Ross (David Schwimmer). Romance, surprises, heartbreak, struggle, and all kinds of hilarious misadventures occur over the 10-season series.  


  • #41. Murphy Brown

    - Seasons: 11
    - Episodes: 247
    - Network: CBS
    - First air date: Nov. 14, 1988
    - Last air date: Dec. 20, 2018

    In this CBS sitcom, Candice Bergen plays a recovering alcoholic who returns to her career as a broadcast journalist after leaving the Betty Ford Clinic. After being on the air for 10 years, the show came to an end on May 18, 1998. However, "Murphy Brown" came back for a 13-episode revival of the series in 2018.


  • #40. The United States Steel Hour

    - Seasons: 10
    - Episodes: 253
    - Network: ABC (1953–1955), CBS (1955–1963)
    - First air date: Oct. 27, 1953
    - Last air date: June 12, 1963

    The United States Steel Corporation sponsored this anthology series that presented more than 200 live plays during its 10-season run. The series also won three Emmy Awards during its time on the air.


  • #39. Beverly Hills, 90210

    - Seasons: 10
    - Episodes: 293
    - Network: Fox
    - First air date: Oct. 4, 1990
    - Last air date: May 17, 2000

    “Beverly Hills, 90210” follows the lives of high school students growing up in the ritzy Los Angeles neighborhood. In addition to the usual teenage themes of first love and growing up, the show also covered issues of the day like the South African apartheid, the AIDS epidemic, and teen pregnancy.


  • #38. General Electric Theater

    - Seasons: 10
    - Episodes: 302
    - Network: NBC
    - First air date: Feb. 1, 1953
    - Last air date: June 3, 1962

    Like “The United States Steel Hour,” this anthology series also got its name from a corporate sponsor. Ronald Reagan hosted each episode, though the actors and subject matter changed every week.


  • #37. The X-Files

    - Seasons: 11
    - Episodes: 210
    - Network: Fox
    - First air date: Sept. 10, 1993
    - Last air date: March 21, 2018

    This science-fiction drama about agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully was so popular, it was revived in 2016 and 2018 after a 15-year hiatus. Though some fans are hoping for future seasons, Gillian Anderson said that the 2018 finale was her last work on “The X-Files.”


  • #36. 7th Heaven

    - Seasons: 11
    - Episodes: 243
    - Network: WB (1996–2006), CW (2006–2007)
    - First air date: Aug. 26, 1996
    - Last air date: May 13, 2007

    The whole family could tune into this drama about a reverend and his wife Annie (Catherine Hicks), their seven children, and their dog, Happy. Often, the show offered teachable moments about real-life issues, from drug use to dating to gangs.


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