In the streaming era, it can be easy to forget that not every show is meant to be binge-watched in a few short weeks. While we all love an eight-episode miniseries that we can blow through in a weekend, there’s a lot to be said for shows that keep viewers coming back year after year, season after season. If you’re looking for the trendy series to catch up on as quickly as possible, look elsewhere — here are seven of the longest-running TV shows ever.
Animated Series: The Simpsons
No surprise here: after 31 seasons and 684 episodes, The Simpsons isn’t just the longest-running animated series of all time by a country mile (sorry, South Park). It also has more seasons to its name than any other American sitcom or scripted primetime series ever made. The exploits of Homer, Bart, Lisa, and every other eclectic character in Springfield have made the fictional town feel like a zany second home for millions of fans.
The Simpsons is an unparalleled feat. After premiering as an animated short on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, it became a series of its own two years after; 34 Emmy Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and countless catchphrases later, the show has become an ubiquitous cornerstone of pop culture. It’s the yardstick by which all other animated series will be measured for decades to come, and it’s unlikely that any will ever reach its level of acclaim.
Late-Night Talk Show: The Tonight Show
Since it debuted in 1954, The Tonight Show has clocked 66 years, six hosts, and more than 12,000 episodes, making it unrivaled among late-night talk shows. Currently, Jimmy Fallon, a Saturday Night Live alum, is the host. Fallon took over the show in 2014 from Jay Leno; but Johnny Carson’s 30-year tenure behind the desk is what made it indispensable (Steve Allen was the first host, and Jack Paar and Conan O'Brien have also had the honor). For all that, The Tonight Show is only the third-longest-running show on NBC — The Today Show premiered in 1952, and the next entry on this list debuted even earlier.
Sunday Morning News Program: Meet the Press
First broadcast in 1947, Meet the Press is the longest-running program in television history. The weekly political show began airing during the Truman administration, and more than 3,600 episodes have been broadcast in the 73 years it has been on the air. The show typically features an interview with the host or a panel, and when Gerald Ford was a guest on November 9, 1975, it marked the first time a sitting president appeared on a live network news show.
Network Crime Procedural: Law & Order
NCIS and the CSI franchises are nothing to sneeze at, but no police-procedural comes close to breaking Law & Order’s records. Featuring that instantly recognizable dun-dun transitional music and an earworm of a theme song, the original Law & Order premiered in 1990 and was a staple of primetime for 20 solid years. While its role in laying the groundwork for the franchise can't be overstated, there's little arguing that SVU: Special Victims Unit has gradually become the brand’s flagship (other spinoffs include Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, LA, True Crime, and the forthcoming Organized Crime and Hate Crimes). With 21 seasons and 478 episodes in the bag, SVU has already been renewed through its 24th season — all of them headlined by Mariska Hargitay as Detective (now Captain) Olivia Benson.
Soap Opera: Guiding Light
Binge-watching the longtime-favorite soap opera Guiding Light would take quite a while: Between 1952 and 2009, the show aired 15,762 television episodes. Before that, Guiding Light began as a radio show in 1937 — between the airwaves and the small screen, 18,262 “stories” were broadcast overall. Not only does that make for a lot of long-lost relatives, murder, and clone plot lines, that makes Guiding Light America's longest-running TV drama of any kind. Among soap operas, Days of Our Lives, which first premiered in 1965, still has nearly 2,000 episodes to go to catch up.
Game Show: It’s Academic
It isn't nearly as popular or prolific as the likes of Jeopardy!, but It's Academic holds the Guinness World Record for longest-running quiz program in TV history. That's thanks to the fact that the show, whose contestants are all high-schoolers, first premiered in 1961 — three years before a certain show now hosted by Alex Trebek. Via its sponsors, It's Academic has gifted more than $2 million in scholarship funds to participating schools and featured guest questions from sitting Supreme Court Justices, governors, and senators.
Variety Show: Saturday Night Live
No sketch-comedy or variety show has had a run comparable to that of Saturday Night Live. Since premiering in 1975, the show has featured 153 different cast members — originally called the “Not Ready for Prime-Time Players” — and produced 889 episodes over 45 seasons. For their hard work, the comedic minds behind SNL have won 71 Emmys, two Peabodys, and been inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Any list of the best TV shows of all time is likely to include Saturday Night Live, which has introduced audiences to the comedic genius of everyone from Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy to Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig. Movies like Wayne’s World and The Blues Brothers first debuted as sketches on the show, and the show’s cultural influence even includes a Ben & Jerry’s flavor named after a famous ‘90s sketch. Not bad for some weekend work.
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