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Hollywood Insider Longest Running Primetime Shows

Photo: Primetime Shows

In the era of Peak TV, there are many shows that do not stay on the air for more than a couple of years; a show going over five seasons now is an even bigger milestone than it used to be. However, there are some shows that not only hit the five-season milestone but exceed that number and break records and some of those shows are even still airing now and do not seem to be stopping any time soon! These are four of those shows across the Big Four broadcast networks. 

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Longest-Running Primetime Shows:


CBS’s ‘NCIS’ started its run in 2003 as a spinoff from the legal drama ‘JAG’. It follows members of the Naval Crime Investigative Service Major Case Response Team based in Washington, D.C. solving Naval crime in the DMV area (D.C., Maryland, Virginia). Since 2008, ‘NCIS’ has consistently been in the top five most-watched shows in the United States according to Nielson ratings and was the most-watched show across the Big Four networks by the end of its 10th season. The show also has some spinoffs of its own: ‘NCIS: Los Angeles’ which is in its 12th season, ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ which was recently announced to be ending at the end of their current season (season seven), and a third spinoff in the works at CBS called ‘NCIS: Hawaii’

‘NCIS’ is currently in its 18th season and will have aired 408 episodes by the close of the current season. There is a rumor that the show might come to an end after the current season since lead actor Mark Harmon’s contract is up after season 18. However, it has been reported that Harmon would sign a new contract to appear in a part-time capacity on the show instead of being in every episode like he has the past 18 years. Either way, America’s most-watched series and one of the most-watched shows globally will go down in history as the seventh longest-running scripted U.S. primetime television series ever. 

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‘Grey’s Anatomy’

ABC’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ began in 2005 as a show about an intern, Meredith Grey, and her interning class at a hospital in Seattle. It has consistently been the third most-watched drama across the Big Four networks, has some of the highest ratings among the 18 to 49 demographic in Nielsen ratings, is one of the top 10 highest revenue-earning shows on television, and has been one of ABC’s highest-rated dramas for many years. This show has also had two spinoffs: ‘Private Practice’ followed a private medical practice in Los Angeles for six seasons and ‘Station 19’ tracks a fire station in Seattle and is currently in its fourth season. 

Upon ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ renewal for its 16th season in 2019, it became the longest-running American primetime medical drama, surpassing ‘E.R.’, and continues to extend its record in its 17th season. There is speculation as to whether the show will be ending soon and when asked about it during an interview with ‘CBS This Morning’ she said, “To end a show this iconic… how do we do it? I just wanna make sure we do this character and this show and the fans… I wanna make sure we do it right.” It is a positive sign that the current showrunner, Krista Vernoff, has just signed an overall deal with ABC which means ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ is more likely to get a season 18. Whether a renewal happens or not, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ still gets to hold the title of ABC’s longest-running scripted primetime series and the eighth longest-running scripted primetime show of all time.

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‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’

NBC’s ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ was the first spinoff in the ‘Law & Order’ franchise, having started airing in 1999. It focuses on Captain Olivia Benson and her team’s investigations into the crimes under the Special Victims Unit, which are cases where the victim usually survives (such as sexual assaults) and tends to follow stories “ripped from the headlines.” As of its current 22nd season, it has aired more episodes than its flagship show and helped launch seven additional spin-offs: ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’, ‘Law & Order: Trial By Jury’, ‘Law & Order: UK’, ‘Law & Order: Los Angeles’, ‘Law & Order: True Crime’, ‘Law & Order: Organized Crime’, and ‘Law & Order: Hate Crimes’

‘Law & Order: SVU’ holds the record for the longest-running primetime U.S. live-action series and has no plans to stop any time soon. On February 24, 2020, NBC renewed the show for three more seasons, putting its total number of seasons at a whopping 24. The show is the second longest-running primetime scripted series in television history, only being bested by one other series.

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‘The Simpsons’

What other show would take the top spot other than ‘The Simpsons’? This Fox show premiered in 1989 as an animated offshoot of ‘The Tracey Ullman Show’ and centered on the Simpson family made up of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. Since it premiered, the show has aired exactly 700 episodes and parodied much of American culture and featured many prominent figures in the entertainment industry as voice actors during its 32-year run, and been a basis and inspiration for some of the most successful shows to grace television. It has been so successful that in 2007 the show was made into the feature film ‘The Simpsons Movie’ and has a sequel in the works. 

Having already had 32 seasons and with a renewal order through 2024 means ‘The Simpsons’ will run for at least 34 years. However, its future after that is uncertain, with executive producer Al Jean saying, “We’re going to definitely do 757. I wouldn’t say that’s the end but I don’t know how much further we can go.” At this point, though it does not matter when Jean decides to end ‘The Simpsons’ because it will still hold the title of the longest-running American animated series, the longest-running American sitcom, and the longest-running American scripted primetime show in television history. 

By Caroline Schneider

Click here to read Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Black Lives Matter, in which he tackles more than just police reform, press freedom and more – click here.

An excerpt from the love letter: Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard. Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”

Ways to support Black Lives Matter Movement to end systemic racism

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  • Caroline Schneider

    Caroline Schneider has  always had a fascination with television and film. She revels in analyzing and writing about her favorite television shows and movies while looking for the greater meaning within Cinema. Finding the elements that really make people think about deeper messages and trends - which is exactly what Hollywood Insider continues to do. 

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