Is NCIS the Most Popular Show on TV?

Last month, CBS renewed NCIS for a 17th season. The crime drama, which premiered way back in 2003, is one of the longest-running TV shows in history and the second-longest-running drama currently airing, after Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Clearly, NCIS is a popular show — CBS execs wouldn’t keep it on the air if it wasn’t. But just how many people are watching Agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and his team from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service solve crimes? And is it the most popular show on TV?

NCIS is TV’s top drama  

Mark Harmon in NCIS
Mark Harmon as Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs in NCIS | Erik Voake/CBS via Getty Images

Nielsen recently released broadcast TV ratings for the 2018-19 season, and the numbers show that NCIS is still one of the most-watched shows on network TV.

The show was No. 3 in total viewers this season, with an average of 15.57 million viewers, Deadline reported. Sunday Night Football on NBC claimed the top spot, with 19.28 million viewers, while The Big Bang Theory was No. 2, with 17.31 million viewers.

NCIS reclaimed the top drama spot this season after coming in second to This Is Us in 2017-18. NBC’s tear-jerking family drama had 17.4 million viewers that season, compared to 16.7 million for NCIS.  

The other top dramas for the 2018-19 season include NBC’s This Is Us, with 13.8 million viewers, and fellow CBS shows Blue Bloods, with 12.64 million viewers, and FBI with 12.37 million. Manifest on NBC averaged 12.61 million viewers.

The top 10 programs on television this season are:

  1. Sunday Night Football (19.28 million)
  2. The Big Bang Theory (17.31 million)
  3. NCIS (15.57 million)
  4. Fox+NFLN Thursday Night Football (14.43 million)
  5. Young Sheldon (14.37 million)
  6. This Is Us (13.8 million)
  7. Sunday Night Pre-Kick (13.07 million)
  8. Blue Bloods (12.64 million)
  9. Manifest (12.61 million)
  10. AGT Champions (12.39 million)

But NCIS is less popular with a key demographic

Wilmer Valderrama and Emily Wickersham in NCIS
Wilmer Valderrama and Emily Wickersham in NCIS. | Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images

Millions of people are tuning in to watch NCIS, but it’s not the most popular show when you look at the key 18-49 demographic. Those younger viewers tend to be most appealing to advertisers, though that has changed somewhat as more youthful audiences have shifted to streaming.

When you look at the 18-49 demo, NCIS is No. 25 overall, with a 1.9 rating. Compare that to This Is Us, which has a 3.8 rating, The Good Doctor, which is at 2.4, and Empire at 2.0.

The audience for NCIS skews older. The median age of its viewers is 60. It’s most popular in cities like Louisville and Pittsburgh, according to the Washington Post.

But the fact that NCIS is not a huge hit with younger TV watchers doesn’t appear to be a problem for CBS. The original show is going strong and has also spawned two spinoffs, NCIS: New Orleans and NCIS Los Angeles. That’s a pretty impressive feat for a show that is itself a spinoff of another CBS program, JAG.

“ NCIS is the jewel in the family crown,” Leslie Moonves, then CBS’s chief executive, told the Washington Post in 2014. “We don’t see this losing popularity any time soon.”

Read more: ‘NCIS’ Season 16 Finale: Will Gibbs’ Big Reveal Lead to His Retirement?

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