Primetime TV shows that stood the test of time

Written by:
September 20, 2019
Warner Bros. Television

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. 

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1 / 45
Robbins Productions

#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.

2 / 45
Paramount Network Television Productions

#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.  


3 / 45
CBS Paramount Network Television

#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.


4 / 45
Warner Bros. Television

#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.  


5 / 45
Warner Bros. Television

#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.


6 / 45
Theatre Guild

#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.


7 / 45
Fair Dinkum Productions

#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.


8 / 45
MCA Television

#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.


9 / 45
20th Century Fox Television

#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.”


10 / 45
Spelling Television

#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.


11 / 45
Embassy Television

#35. The Jeffersons

- Seasons: 11
- Episodes: 253
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Jan. 18, 1975
- Last air date: June 25, 1985

This spinoff of “All in the Family” focuses on George (Sherman Hemsley) and Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford), an African American couple who move from Queens to Manhattan after their dry cleaning business becomes especially successful. The Jeffersons’ relationships with their new neighbors become a central part of the plot.  


12 / 45
Henderson Productions

#34. Happy Days

- Seasons: 11
- Episodes: 255
- Network: ABC
- First air date: Jan. 15, 1974
- Last air date: Sept. 24, 1984

Set in Milwaukee, “Happy Days” follows teenager Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), mother Marion (Marion Ross), father Howard (Tom Bosley), sister Joanie (Erin Moran), and brother Chuck (Gavan O'Herlihy). The Cunninghams’ upstairs neighbor Fonzie (Henry Winkler), a suave ladies’ man, quickly became one of fans’ favorite characters.


13 / 45
Warner Bros. Television

#33. The Big Bang Theory

- Seasons: 12
- Episodes: 255
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Sept. 24, 2007
- Last air date: May 16, 2019

One of the most successful sitcoms in recent history, “The Big Bang Theory” regularly drew in an average of 19 million viewers per episode—and that number climbs to 26 million for the most popular episodes. Over 12 seasons, fans watched lovable nerds Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Sheldon (Jim Parsons), Howard (Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) navigate tricky social situations with the help of friends and lovers Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), and Amy (Mayim Bialik).


14 / 45
20th Century Fox Television

#32. M*A*S*H

- Seasons: 11
- Episodes: 256
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Sept. 17, 1972
- Last air date: Feb. 28, 1983

Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and the other officers, doctors, and nurses of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital add a little levity to the Korean War in this military comedy. As it turns out, laughter is actually pretty good medicine.


15 / 45
Embassy Television

#31. Married... with Children

- Seasons: 11
- Episodes: 258
- Network: Fox
- First air date: April 5, 1987
- Last air date: June 9, 1997

As much as viewers love seeing idyllic TV families, watching less-than-perfect characters bumble through everyday situations can be even more satisfying. That’s definitely the case with “Married… with Children,” which focuses on struggling shoe salesman Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill), his wife Peggy (Katey Sagal), their daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate), and their son Bud (David Faustino).


16 / 45
Grub Street Productions

#30. Frasier

- Seasons: 11
- Episodes: 264
- Network: NBC
- First air date: Sept. 16, 1993
- Last air date: May 13, 2004

In this “Cheers” spinoff, Kelsey Grammer plays Dr. Frasier Crane, a successful psychiatrist who moves home to Seattle for a fresh start. He lives with his salt-of-the-earth father Martin (John Mahoney) and reconnects with his younger brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce).


17 / 45
Paramount Television

#29. Cheers

- Seasons: 11
- Episodes: 275
- Network: NBC
- First air date: Sept. 30, 1982
- Last air date: May 20, 1993

The relationships between the employees and regulars at a Boston watering hole form the basis for this long-running sitcom. The theme song, "Where Everybody Knows Your Name," was also universally beloved.


18 / 45
CBS Television // Wikimedia Commons

#28. The Danny Thomas Show

- Seasons: 11
- Episodes: 344
- Network: ABC (1953–1957), CBS (1957–1964)
- First air date: Sept. 29, 1953
- Last air date: April 27, 1964

Also known as “Make Room for Daddy,” this show follows nightclub singer Danny Williams (Danny Thomas) as he attempts to balance his career with his family. Many of the family-friendly episodes end with a song by Danny or one of the children.


19 / 45

#27. Kraft Television Theatre

- Seasons: 11
- Episodes: 525
- Network: NBC
- First air date: May 7, 1947
- Last air date: Oct. 1, 1958

This commercially sponsored anthology series also presented live television dramas and launched the careers of countless playwrights and actors. Kraft used the opportunity to promote its new product, MacLaren's Imperial Cheese, and within the week, the cheese had sold out everywhere in New York City.


20 / 45
20th Century Fox Television

#26. Bones

- Seasons: 12
- Episodes: 246
- Network: FOX
- First air date: Sept. 13, 2005
- Last air date: March 28, 2017

Unlike many other crime procedurals, “Bones” has more of a scientific bent. The series centers on forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and FBI special agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) as they solve murders together.


21 / 45
20th Century Fox Television

#25. NYPD Blue

- Seasons: 12
- Episodes: 261
- Network: ABC
- First air date: Sept. 21, 1993
- Last air date: March 1, 2005

Yet another police procedural drama makes the list at #25. As the name implies, “NYPD Blue” follows members of the 15th Precinct detective squad as they solve crimes and work through their personal struggles.


22 / 45
Warner Bros. Television

#24. Two and a Half Men

- Seasons: 12
- Episodes: 262
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Sept. 22, 2003
- Last air date: Feb. 19, 2015

After Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) gets divorced, he and his young son Jake (Angus T. Jones) move in with Alan’s hedonistic bachelor brother Charlie (Charlie Sheen). The comedy series follows Charlie’s string of one-night stands, Alan’s misadventures with dating as a divorcee, Jake’s growing up, and the relationship between all three Harper men and the domineering mother(Holland Taylor). After Sheen's departure in 2011, Ashton Kutcher joined the cast. 


23 / 45
Universal Television

#23. Murder, She Wrote

- Seasons: 12
- Episodes: 264
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Sept. 1, 1984
- Last air date: May 19, 1996

Angela Lansbury plays mystery writer and former high school teacher Jessica Fletcher in this series. Fletcher seems to encounter crime and murder everywhere she turns in the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine, and uses her natural aptitude for solving puzzles to sleuth out clues.  


24 / 45
CBS Television Network

#22. Hawaii Five-O

- Seasons: 12
- Episodes: 279
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Sept. 26, 1968
- Last air date: April 26, 1980

Crime happens everywhere—even on the sunny shores of Honolulu, where “Hawaii Five-O” is set. Island detectives Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord), Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong), Kono Kalakaua (Zulu), and Danny Williams (James MacArthur) of “Book ‘Em, Danno” fame combat organized crime, uncover secret agents, and arrest countless other criminals over the 12-season series.


25 / 45
CBS Television Network

#21. My Three Sons

- Seasons: 12
- Episodes: 380
- Network: ABC (1960–1965), CBS (1965–1972)
- First air date: Sept. 29, 1960
- Last air date: April 13, 1972

This family sitcom from the 1960s follows widower Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray) as he attempts to raise three boys: Mike (Tim Considine), Robbie (Don Grady), and Chip (Stanley Livingston). Housekeeper “Uncle Charley” (William Demarest) lends a hand, as does Steve’s father-in-law, Bub (William Frawley).


26 / 45
3 Arts Entertainment

#20. King of the Hill

- Seasons: 13
- Episodes: 259
- Network: Fox
- First air date: Jan. 12, 1997
- Last air date: Sept. 13, 2009

One of a handful of animated series on this list, “King of the Hill” was thought up by “Beavis and Butt-Head” creator Mike Judge, who also voices main character Hank Hill. Hank’s home life with wife Peggy (Kathy Najimy), son Bobby (Pamela Adlon), and live-in niece Luann (Brittany Murphy) is the focus of the show.  


27 / 45
Warner Bros. Television

#19. Supernatural

- Seasons: 14
- Episodes: 287
- Network: WB (2005–2006), CW (2006–)
- First air date: Sept. 13, 2005
- Last air date: Present

Brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) were motivated to hunt all things supernatural after their mother was killed by an evil spirit during their childhood. After their father dies on a crusade to find their mother’s murderer, the boys become even more determined to continue their quest.


28 / 45
Touchstone Television

#18. Criminal Minds

- Seasons: 14
- Episodes: 299
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Sept. 22, 2005
- Last air date: Present

The creepiest of all crime procedurals, “Criminal Minds” follows the members of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit as they investigate and catch some of the most devious rapists, murderers, and other criminals. Though characters have come and gone over 14 seasons, the BAU’s mission remains the same.


29 / 45

#17. Grey's Anatomy

- Seasons: 15
- Episodes: 317
- Network: ABC
- First air date: March 27, 2005
- Last air date: Present

The first season of this successful Shonda Rhimes drama hones in on surgical interns and medical staff, including main character Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). Grisly accidents, medical miracles, sordid love triangles, and plenty of twists and turns have made the series irresistible to viewers for 15 seasons and counting.


30 / 45

#16. Knots Landing

- Seasons: 14
- Episodes: 344
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Dec. 27, 1979
- Last air date: May 13, 1993

This evening soap opera focuses on five families living in the fictional coastal California town of Knots Landing. A spinoff of “Dallas,” “Knots Landing” became just as successful as the original show.


31 / 45
Lorimar Productions

#15. Dallas

- Seasons: 14
- Episodes: 357
- Network: CBS
- First air date: April 2, 1978
- Last air date: May 3, 1991

Texas oil baron J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) will do whatever he needs to get what he wants—both in business and pleasure. This soap opera chronicled the lives of Ewing and other wealthy Texas families, from shady business deals to personal drama.  


32 / 45
Arthur Cantor // Wikimedia Commons

#14. Armstrong Circle Theatre

- Seasons: 14
- Episodes: 370
- Network: NBC (1950–1957), CBS (1957–1963)
- First air date: June 6, 1950
- Last air date: June 5, 1963

This anthology series alternated weekly with “The United States Steel Hour,” focusing on documentary dramas based on true stories rather than works of fiction. Manufacturing company Armstrong World Industries sponsored the series.


33 / 45

#13. Bonanza

- Seasons: 14
- Episodes: 431
- Network: NBC
- First air date: Sept. 12, 1959
- Last air date: Jan. 16, 1973

“Bonanza” gives viewers a taste of the Wild West through the adventures of the Cartwright family on their thousand-square mile ranch in Virginia City, Nev. Three-time widow Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) is the patriarch, and his relationships with his three sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), Eric (Dan Blocker), and Little Joe (Michael Landon) form the backbone of the series.


34 / 45
Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

#12. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

- Seasons: 14
- Episodes: 435
- Network: ABC
- First air date: Oct. 3, 1952
- Last air date: April 23, 1966

This long-running sitcom stood out from the back by casting the real-life Nelson family to play themselves. Viewers watched as parents Ozzie and Harriet, and their two sons David and Eric dealt with issues pulled from their real lives, including the dates and eventual marriages of the boys.  


35 / 45
20th Century Fox Television

#11. American Dad!

- Seasons: 15
- Episodes: 247
- Network: Fox (2005–2014), TBS (2014–)
- First air date: Feb. 6, 2005
- Last air date: Present

The star of this animated series is Stan Smith (Seth MacFarlane), a CIA agent who is constantly on the lookout for terrorists who might want to harm his beloved country. The Smith household includes Stan’s wife Francine (Wendy Schaal), daughter Hayley (Rachael MacFarlane), son Steve (Scott Grimes), talking goldfish Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), and sarcastic space alien Roger (Seth MacFarlane).

36 / 45

#10. The Jack Benny Program

- Seasons: 15
- Episodes: 260
- Network: CBS (1950–1964), NBC (1964–1965)
- First air date: Oct. 28, 1950
- Last air date: April 16, 1965

After a successful career in radio, comedian Jack Benny made the leap to TV with his eponymous program in 1950. The show employed the same situational comedy that worked so well on the radio and used a varied cast of characters. Interestingly, Benny himself always remained 39 years old on the show—even though it aired for 15 seasons.


37 / 45

#9. ER

- Seasons: 15
- Episodes: 331
- Network: NBC
- First air date: Sept. 19, 1994
- Last air date: April 2, 2009

Creator Michael Crichton turned Chicago’s County General Hospital into the setting of countless dramas on this long-running TV show. Big-name actors like George Clooney and Julianna Margulies starred in “ER.”  


38 / 45
CBS Productions

#8. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

- Seasons: 15
- Episodes: 335
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Oct. 6, 2000
- Last air date: Feb. 15, 2015

The original “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” set in Las Vegas, aired for 15 years and went through a few main characters. Originally, the series hinged on forensic entomologist Gil Grissom (William Petersen), but Grissom eventually retires and D.B. Russell (Ted Danson) becomes the main character.  


39 / 45
Belisarius Productions

#7. NCIS

- Seasons: 15
- Episodes: 354
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Sept. 23, 2003
- Last air date: Present

Though similar to other police procedural shows, “NCIS” is about investigators in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who investigate crimes involving the Navy or Marine Corps. This 15-season-strong show stars Mark Harmon as Leroy Jethro Gibbs, David McCallum as Donald Mallard, Pauley Perrette as Abby Sciuto, Sean Murray as Timothy McGee, and Michael Weatherly as Anthony DiNozzo.


40 / 45
20th Century Fox

#6. Family Guy

- Seasons: 17
- Episodes: 309
- Network: Fox
- First air date: Jan. 31, 1999
- Last air date: Present

Animator and comedian Seth MacFarlane’s first long-running animated series is “Family Guy,” a series about a dysfunctional family in an off-the-wall Rhode Island town. MacFarlane voices both patriarch Peter Griffin and family dog Brian, while Alex Borstein plays wife Lois, Mila Kunis takes the role of daughter Meg, and Seth Green voices son Chris.


41 / 45
Lassie Television

#5. Lassie

- Seasons: 17
- Episodes: 591
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Sept. 12, 1954
- Last air date: March 21, 1971

Viewers apparently find heroic dogs irresistible, since “Lassie” ran for a whopping 17 seasons. Though Lassie has several different owners over the course of the series, she always comes to the aid of those around her, doing everything from fighting forest fires to rescuing little boys.



42 / 45
Wolf Films

#4. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

- Seasons: 20
- Episodes: 434
- Network: NBC
- First air date: Sept. 20, 1999
- Last air date: Present

With 20 seasons and counting, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” has some seriously enduring popular appeal. The series follows Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and her team of NYPD detectives as they investigate some of the most heinous crimes in the city.


43 / 45
NBC Universal Television

#3. Law & Order

- Seasons: 20
- Episodes: 456
- Network: NBC
- First air date: Sept. 13, 1990
- Last air date: May 24, 2010

The character of Olivia Benson originated on the original “Law & Order,” which follows both the investigation of a crime and its prosecution in court. The subject matter for episodes is routinely ripped from the headlines; crimes discussed on the show include ones similar to former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s entanglement in a prostitution ring, and the Casey Anthony murder trial.


44 / 45

#2. Gunsmoke

- Seasons: 20
- Episodes: 635
- Network: CBS
- First air date: Sept. 10, 1955
- Last air date: March 31, 1975

“Gunsmoke” combines the rough-and-tumble attitude of a Western with the drama of a crime procedural for a show that’s just as addictive in reruns as it was when it first aired. Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) keeps the peace in Dodge City, where he frequently has to deal with bar brawls, cattle rustling, land fraud, and other illegal activities.  


45 / 45
20th Century Fox Television

#1. The Simpsons

- Seasons: 30
- Episodes: 639
- Network: Fox
- First air date: Dec. 17, 1989
- Last air date: Present

The longest-running primetime TV show is “The Simpsons,” which has aired a whopping 662 episodes to-date. The satirical animated series about the antics of the Simpson family—father Homer (Dan Castellaneta), mother Marge (Julie Kavner), son Bart (Nancy Cartwright), daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith), and baby Maggie (Nancy Cartwright)—is still going strong.

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