When it comes to the ratings, the NFL is once again top dog. According to Variety‘s roundup of the top rated shows of 2020 (per Nielsen), Super Bowl LIV was far and away the most-watched program of the year, with 102 million live viewers in the U.S. However, when it comes to entertainment, Fox’s The Masked Singer reigned supreme, and it ultimately nabbed 16 slots in the top 100 telecasts among adults 18-49.
While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affected many major sports leagues and led to large viewership declines, the NFL maintained its hold on American audiences, with seven of the top 10 telecasts of the year coming from various games (both playoff games in early 2020, and regular season games in the fall). Only two entertainment properties cracked the top 10 most-watched list: the post-Super Bowl Masked Singer Season 3 premiere, with 27.4 million viewers, and the Oscars, with an average total audience of 24.3 million.
According to Variety, ABC’s Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time tournament also proved popular with audiences. All four episodes of the special event — the most of any reality show — cracked the Top 40, but it was Night 3, on January 9, that rated highest with an average of 17.4 million viewers.
Scripted series also fared well on Variety/Nielsen’s top rated shows of 2020 list. Perennial heavyweight NCIS topped its scripted rivals with 10 episodes on the list, all of which averaged 14 million viewers or more. Dick Wolf’s empire also scored with audiences: between FBI, FBI: Most Wanted, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med, the producer nabbed 20 total spots.
When they weren’t watching football, Jeopardy, or any of the Chicago spinoffs, American audiences were tuning in to news programming. CBS stalwart 60 Minutes appears five times on the list, with the most popular episodes airing around the November election. Election night coverage also proved popular among cable news viewers, the bulk of whom tuned in to either Fox News or CNN.
Here are the most-watched primetime telecasts of 2020. To see the full list, head to Variety.
- Super Bowl LIV: Chiefs vs. 49ers (Fox; 2/2/2020): 102 million viewers
- NFC Championship: 49ers vs. Packers (Fox; 1/19/2020): 43.6 million viewers
- NFL Playoffs: Packers vs. Seahawks (Fox; 1/12/2020): 38 million viewers
- AFC Wildcard Playoff: Titans vs. Patriots (CBS; 1/4/2020): 31.8 million viewers
- AFC Divisional Playoff: Titans vs. Ravens (CBS; 1/11/2020): 29.8 million viewers
- The Masked Singer Post-Super Bowl Season 3 Premiere (Fox; 2/2/2020): 27.4 million viewers
- College Football Championship: LSU vs. Clemson (ESPN; 1/13/2020): 25.8 million viewers
- The Oscars (ABC; 2/9/2020): 24.3 million viewers
- NFL Thursday Special: Chiefs vs. Texans (NBC; 9/10/2020): 20.9 million viewers
- NFL Sunday Night Football: Chiefs vs. Raiders (NBC; 11/22/2020): 19.8 million viewers
- Grammy Awards (CBS; 1/26/2020): 19.8 million viewers
- Golden Globe Awards (NBC; 1/5/2020): 19.2 million viewers
- NFL Sunday Night Football: Rams vs. Cowboys (NBC; 9/13/2020): 19.2 million viewers
- 50 Minutes (CBS; 10/25/2020): 18.6 million viewers
- Presidential Debate (Fox News; 9/29/2020): 18.1 million viewers
- NFL Sunday Night Football: Packers vs. Saints (NBC; 9/27/2020): 18 million viewers
- NFL Sunday Night Football: Seahawks vs. Patriots (NBC; 9/20/2020): 17.9 million viewers
- Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time, Night 3 (ABC; 1/9/2020): 17.4 million viewers
- NFL Sunday Night Football: Saints vs. Buccaneers (NBC; 11/8/2020): 17.1 million viewers
- NFL Sunday Night Football: Eagles vs. Cowboys (NBC; 11/1/2020): 17.1 million viewers
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