A long time ago, in a TV galaxy far, far away, sports - even football - struggled to outperform entertainment options that have broader audience appeal in prime time.
“Monday Night Football” peaked at No. 5 in the ratings rankings in the 1994-95 television season, for example.
It was not until 2011-12 that a sports show finished No. 1 – NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” That was only the beginning. For the 2015-16 TV season that ended Wednesday, “SNF” finished on top for a fifth year in a row.
And that counts only prime time. The late Sunday afternoon NFL window on CBS and Fox also is a ratings powerhouse.
As other TV ratings have fractured in an era of increased competition and rampant time-shifting, live football games remain viewership gold.
Of the 23 prime time telecasts during 2015-16 that drew at least 20 million viewers, 13 were “Sunday Night Football” games, four were NFL playoff games, one was a “Thursday Night Football” game, one was the BCS Championship Game and two were shows that immediately followed NFL playoff games.
The only two shows to average more than 20 million viewers and have no connection to football were the Academy Awards and Grammy Awards – two other live, mostly DVR-proof programs.
“Sunday Night Football” averaged 13.0 percent of homes and 22.5 million viewers, both tops among all prime-time shows. It also was No. 1 in the advertiser-friendly age 18-49 demographic for the sixth season in a row.
NBC said only one show has been ranked No. 1 in prime time more than five years in a row – “American Idol” in the six years that preceded the current run by “Sunday Night Football.”
Two other shows had five-year streaks – “The Cosby Show” from 1985-86 through 1989-90 and “All in the Family” from 1971-72 through 1975-76.
“Gunsmoke” won four years in a row from 1957-58 through 1960-61.