For the Record: Highest Rated TV Broadcasts in U.S. History

An estimated 114.4 million people watched New England’s win over Seattle, making it the fifth time in six years that a Super Bowl game has set a record for the most-watched event in U.S. television history.

The viewership from this year’s Super Bowl eclipses the 112.2 million who watched Seattle beat Denver in the 2014 game, according to the Nielsen company. The game also set standards for social media and online.

With the buildup involving the league’s two top teams and a controversy over the inflation of footballs in the Patriots’ conference championship, the game may have set another record even without the compelling finish. However, the finish — a circus catch to put the Seahawks on the doorstep of a last-minute win and a game-saving interception by the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler — kept viewers glued to the television. An estimated 120.3 million people were watching during the last 10 minutes that the game was being shown, according to Nielsen.

Although more households viewed this game than any other, it is not the highest-rated telecast in U.S. history.

Here is the list of the 31 highest Nielsen-rated televsion programs ever ….

1. M*A*S*H ‘ Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen’ (series finale)
Nielsen Rating (percent of households): 60.2
Share (percent of TVs in use at time): 77%
Households: 50.15 Million
Date: Feb. 28, 1983
Network: CBS

2. Dallas – ‘Who shot J.R.?’
Nielsen Rating: 53.3
Share: 76%
Households: 41.47 Million
Date: Nov. 21, 1980
Network: CBS

3. Roots Part VIII
Nielsen Rating: 51.1
Share: 71
Households: 36.38 Million
Date: Jan. 30, 1977
Network: ABC

4. Super Bowl XVI
Nielsen Rating: 49.1
Share: 73
Households: 40 Million
Date: Jan. 24, 1982
Network: CBS

5. Super Bowl XVII
Nielsen Rating: 48.6
Share: 69
Households: 40.48 Million
Date: Jan 30, 1983
Network: NBC

6. XVII Winter Olympics – Ladies Figure Skating
Nielsen Rating: 48.5
Share: 64
Households: 45.69 Million
Date: Feb. 23, 1994
Network: CBS

8. Oprah Winfrey Special – Michael Jackson Interview
Nielsen Rating: 47.9
Share: 67
Households: 36.5 Million
Date: Feb. 10, 1993
Network: ABC

7. Super Bowl XX
Nielsen Rating: 48.3
Share: 70
Households: 41.49 Million
Date: Jan. 26, 1986
Network: NBC

9. Gone With The Wind – Part 1
Nielsen Rating: 47.7
Share: 65
Households: 33.96 Million
Date: Nov. 7, 1976
Network: NBC

10. Super Bowl XLIX
Nielsen Rating: 47.5
Share: 71
Households: 114.4 Million
Date: Jan 30, 1983
Network: NBC

11. Gone With The Wind – Part 2
Nielsen Rating: 47.4
Share: 64
Households: 33.75 Million
Date: Nov. 8, 1976
Network: NBC

12. Super Bowl XII
Nielsen Rating: 47.2
Share: 67
Households: 34.41 Million
Date: Jan. 15, 1978
Network: CBS

13. Super Bowl XIII
Nielsen Rating: 47.1
Share: 74
Households: 35 Million
Date: Jan. 21, 1979
Network: NBC

14. Super Bowl XLVI
Nielsen Rating: 47.0
Share: 71
Households: N/A
Date: Feb. 5, 2012
Network: NBC

15. Bob Hope Christmas Special
Nielsen Rating: 46.6
Share: 64
Households: 27.26 Million
Date: Jan. 15, 1970
Network: NBC

16. Super Bowl XLIV
Nielsen Rating: 46.4
Share: 68
Households: 53.6 Million
Date: Feb. 7, 2010
Network: CBS

17. Super Bowl XVIII
Nielsen Rating: 46.4
Share: 71
Households: 38.88 Million
Date: Jan. 22, 1984
Network: CBS

18. Super Bowl XIX
Nielsen Rating: 46.4
Share: 63
Households: 39.39 Million
Date: Jan. 20, 1985
Network: ABC

19. Super Bowl XIV
Nielsen Rating: 46.3
Share: 67
Households: 35.33 Million
Date: Jan. 20, 1980
Network: CBS

20. Super Bowl XLV
Nielsen Rating: 46.0
Share: 69
Households: N/A
Date: Feb. 6, 2011
Network: FOX

21. Super Bowl XXX
Nielsen Rating: 46.0
Share: 68
Households: 44.15 million
Date: Jan 28, 1996
Network: NBC

22. ABC Sunday Night Movie – ‘The Day After’
Nielsen Rating: 46.0
Share: 62
Households: 38.55 million
Date: Nov. 20, 1983
Network: ABC

23. Roots Part VI
Nielsen Rating: 45.9
Share: 66
Households: 32.68 million
Date: Jan. 28, 1977
Network: ABC

24. The Fugitive – ‘The Judgement: Part 2’ (series finale)
Nielsen Rating: 45.9
Share: 72
Households: 25.7 million
Date: Aug. 29, 1967
Network: ABC

25. Super Bowl XXI
Nielsen Rating: 45.8
Share: 66
Households: 40 million
Date: Jan. 25, 1987
Network: CBS

26. Roots Part V
Nielsen Rating: 45.7
Share: 71
Households: 32.54 million
Date: Jan. 27, 1977
Network: ABC

27. Super Bowl XXVIII
Nielsen Rating: 45.5
Share: 66
Households: 42.86 million
Date: Jan. 30, 1994
Network: NBC

28. Cheers – ‘One for the Road’ (series finale)
Nielsen Rating: 45.5
Share: 64
Households: 42.36 million
Date: May 20, 1993
Network: NBC

29. The Ed Sullivan Show: The Beatles’ first appearance
Nielsen Rating: 45.3
Share: 60
Households: 23.24 million
Date: Feb. 9, 1964
Network: CBS

30. Super Bowl XXVII
Nielsen Rating: 45.1
Share: 66
Households: 41.99 million
Date: Jan. 31, 1993
Network: NBC

31. Bob Hope Christmas Show
Nielsen Rating: 45.0
Share: 61
Households: 27.05 million
Date: Jan. 14, 1971
Network: NBC

Source: TV by the Numbers, Nielsen Media, AP

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