What the 4 Most-Watched TV Show Finales Have in Common

Will ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ set new records?

Certain shows – the ones that stand the test of time and transition into cultural phenomenons – draw in audiences of all different demographics and manage to acquire viewership unrivaled by most other television productions. With The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones both approaching series finales, now felt like a good time to draw comparisons between some of the TV shows that once closed out to over 50 million viewers each.

‘Friends’ Cast | Photo by Warner Bros. Television

According to Business Insider, the most-watched scripted TV series finales of all time were Friends, Seinfeld, Cheers, and coming in at number one: M*A*S*H.

65.9 million viewers reportedly watched the last episode of Friends. 76.3 million viewers tuned in to view the end of Seinfeld. 84.4 million viewers watched Cheers come to an end, and, most impressively, a whopping 105.9 million viewers watched the finale of M*A*S*H. However, with all due to respect, how many scripted television shows were on air back when M*A*S*H started in 1972?

So, what do all of these shows have in common? If you step back and look at the big picture – ignoring vastly different plotlines and approaches – the shared attribute becomes rather apparent.

They are all sitcoms!

M*A*S*H ended with the close of the Korean War, Friends focused on Rachel getting off the plane, Seinfeld placed its stars in prison, and Cheers revolved around the return of Diane.

Each show put forth vastly different narrative arcs and character profiles, but they all delivered heartfelt messages with a comedic flair. American sitcoms are light and easily accessible.

While three of these shows were episodic in nature; meaning, you didn’t have to watch all the episodes in order to grasp the premise or enjoy the show, Cheers is the only exception.

While major stories are carried through the entire show – like the relationship between Ross and Rachel – in Friends, as well as in Seinfeld and M*A*S*H, they are not categorized as procedurals; whereas, Cheers is often credited as the first sitcom to popularize a serialized storyline. So, what does this say for The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones?

The future looks brighter for ‘The Big Bang Theory’ than ‘Game of Thrones’

Game of Thrones, though boasting a devoted fan following, has one major strike against it when it comes to the likelihood of breaking viewership records: it’s on HBO, and while many people have access CBS, a much smaller majority of the public pays for HBO.

Game of Thrones is also a procedural show, and, as you can see, serialized shows are less likely to close out to as many viewers, as three of the four shows above were episodic.

Game of Thrones is also the furthest thing from a sitcom. On the other hand, The Big Bang Theory is on a major network, is a sitcom, and it is episodic. In terms of breaking records, The Big Bang Theory may have a strong chance; however, seeing Game of Thrones beat out Friends, Cheers, M*A*S*H or Seinfeld would be one pretty impressive accomplishment. GoT would be the first HBO show to ever make the list.