If television shows can win awards for how long they’ve been on air, viewers should then earn awards for watching the whole time. It is actually amazing how many shows have been on for multiple decades. Sesame Street and General Hospital have been entertaining us on TV for half a century! Can you believe how good Big Bird still looks after all of these years? General Hospital is close to surpassing their 14,000 episode mark and about to be the longest-running drama of all time.
Just some good ol’ logistics: this list consists only of shows that are currently still on the air and shows that are based in the United States. No news (sports, entertainment, international/domestic) programming is included in the list. Daytime and nighttime talk shows are also not included, as they often change hosts and formatting entirely. However, credit is due to Meet the Press and CBS Evening News for both being on for almost 70 years now!
18. General Hospital
General Hospital is the longest-running American soap opera. The show began all the way back in the ‘60s, and like all soap operas, has had a revolving cast of characters. However, GH fans can always count on some form of drama to occur revolving around the lives of those living in Port Charles. The show first began by focusing beginning only on the hospital staff but later branched out. The show has changed formatting a bit, beginning as a 30-minute show, then testing out a 45-minute run, and has been 60 minutes since 1978. On soap operas, people always manage to come back from the dead.
17. Days of Our Lives
Shortly after General Hospital, Days of Our Lives popped up as some heavy competition. Days of Our Lives follows the hospital format as well, but the show began with a focus on a family of doctors. The show’s main focus was on two families, the Hortons and the Bradys. Since the show’s inception, like other soaps, many other families have been introduced. In 2017, the show hit over 13,000 episodes aired.
16. Sesame Street
“Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?” Did you know that Elmo wasn’t part of the original cast? The beloved red puppet wasn’t introduced onto the show until 1972, and even then he was just a nameless puppet. He didn’t become the Elmo we know and love until 1984. It’s amazing how he’s managed to stay young for so long! The show began as an educational children’s program, and even though formatting has changed, it remains the same at its core. The show has always touched on cultural issues and taught children using humor and compassion.
15. The Price is Right
Now, this show is an exception to the rule that kept daytime and nighttime programming off the air. It first began in the ‘50s but was scrapped after just one season. In 1972, the show came to be what we still love today. Bob Barker is the show’s longest-running host, beginning his role when the show re-aired in 1972 and retiring in 2007. The show’s format is fairly simple, while many elements have changed over time, but essentially, contestants are working against each other to guess the price of the items on display. The goal is to guess as close to the item’s cost (or on the dollar) but not go over that amount to win.
14. The Young and the Restless
The Young and the Restless was created to compete with other popular soap operas on the air. When it began, it focused on the wealthy Brooks family and the working class Fosters. A series of recasts and departures in the early ‘80s happened and all of the original characters, except Jill Foster and Katherine Chancellor, were written out. Other families like the Newmans and Winters were later written onto the show. Y & R has the longest-running feud in American soap opera history, between Jill and Katherine.
13. Saturday Night Live
SNL has an ever-changing cast of characters. That is part of the show’s charm. Every few years (and now, it is every year) new actors join the show to bring in new, fresh humor. The sketch comedy was created by Lorne Michaels in the ‘70s, and he stuck with the show for the most part (though he did leave briefly in the ‘80s). While the sketches are constantly changing due to the changing cast, one thing has maintained throughout the show’s entirety and that is the Weekend Update segment, which has been on the show since 1975.
12. Wheel of Fortune
Wheel of Fortune has been on for so long, you probably don’t remember a time when Pat Sajak wasn’t the host. Pat replaced host Chuck Woolery in 1981 and he’s kept the job ever since. The game show, where contestants spin a wheel to determine their prize and then solve puzzles is known for Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Vanna joined the show just a year after Pat in 1982 and they’ve been a perfect pair ever since! How many times do we think Pat’s said “you’ve won a brand new car” on this show?
Much like Pat Sajak being synonymous with wheel, host Alex Trebek is what Jeopardy! is best known for. Like many game shows, Jeopardy! had a short-lived run in the late ‘70s, but it wasn’t the show we know and love today. When the show became syndicated and began again in 1984, Alex was front and center as the host and he’s been asking contestants trivia questions ever since. The show requires a very broad sense of general knowledge about science, history, geography, art, and even pop culture!
10. The Simpsons
The Simpsons is the longest-running animated show on TV. If you’ve ever watched the program, you know it has the typical “dumb, lazy husband married to a loving and too-good-for-him wife” trope we see again and again on TV and in movies. The Simpsons has paved the way for many animated shows that came after it. If you were to watch the pilot episode, you’d be surprised to hear how different the voices sounded and to find out that Maggie wore a white baby sleep sack, not blue! A lot has changed over the years, but as they close in on their 30th season, we know the jokes will always be the same.
“Scooby-Dooby-Doo, where are you? We got some work to do now.” Whoever thought of the idea of a dog solving mysteries with some human pals is truly a genius. The original Scooby-Doo show aired in 1969, yet the franchise still lives today! There have been countless reiterations of the cartoon over the years, the most current being Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! Not only have been there been many different series of Scooby-Doo, there have been plenty of direct-to-VHS and direct-to-DVD animated films. And we can’t forget the two live-action movies starring the beloved Mystery Gang!
8. Power Rangers
Did you know that Power Rangers was still on TV? Unlike the majority of the other shows on this list, these seasons aren’t all strung together with the same cast. In fact, that is part of the Power Rangers franchise charm. The rangers on these shows are ever-changing, as are the actual series, yet the show keeps going on. The show is broken up into eras, starting with the Saban Era, which includes the first ten seasons, starting with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993-1996), as well as Power Rangers Wild Force (2002). There was the Disney Era, which included Power Rangers Ninja Storm (2003) to Power Rangers RPM (2009).
7. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
SVU only needs one more season to tie with its predecessor, the original Law & Order. With Sgt. Olivia Benson at the helm, that seems easy. The show has followed Benson from her days as a detective in the Special Victims Unit in NYC, working with her partner Elliot Stabler. While Stabler might have left the show (we’re still heartbroken), Benson’s character has moved up the ranks. The show is known for creating episodes the replicate real cases that have gone to trial and are publicized in the media, though names and some details are altered.
6. Family Guy
The fact that Family Guy has made it to season 16 is pretty amazing. The show was canceled after the second season, but FOX changed their minds and decided to do 13 episodes for season three. The crude cartoon made a name for itself by way of the Griffin family and all of the crazy antics they get up to. Burps, farts, and puking are pretty commonplace on an episode of Family Guy. This show is probably the only program that can rag on Mila Kunis (who plays Meg) and she doesn’t mind at all since she’s getting paid!
Who knew a show focused on a Naval investigative squad would be so successful? Perhaps people enjoy the dynamics between the characters, like Ducky and Gibbs. This show has seen some recent departures, as Michael Weatherly left his post as Tony DiNozzo to go star on his own show. However, while changes have recently happened, the show’s format has ultimately not changed. Why fix something that clearly isn’t broken?
4. Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy just celebrated their 300th episode. Over the course of 14 seasons, poor Meredith Grey has seen it all. Only a few of her friends have managed to survive until this current season. In this Seattle hospital, doctors don’t just transfer out after drama, many of them have traumatic deaths that rock viewers to their very core. The show is still chugging along with crazy surgeries and patients week after week.
3. American Dad
A follow-up to Family Guy, creator Seth MacFarlane whipped up this show. The humor is very much the same as Family Guy, yet different enough to give viewers a reason to keep watching. The show follows the Smith family and their lives while living in Langley Falls, Virginia. The show’s dynamic is built around Stan Smith, a CIA agent, and his ditzy wife Francine, their two kids, and Roger, the alien that lives in their attic. Much like every other cartoon, what happens in one episode never seems to carry over into the next.
2. Criminal Minds
This show’s format has pretty much stayed the same since the first season. There have been a few cast shakeups over the years, most recently Shemar Moore and Thomas Gibson leaving the show. However, a number of core cast members remain and fans are loyal to these FBI behavioral analysts. Each episode focuses on the BAU team flying in their private jet to tackle a case. More recently, different characters have gotten to run point on the case due to all the casting shakeups.
Out of all the shows on this list, Supernatural is very unique. It has primarily revolved around the two main characters, Sam and Dean Winchester. The show is about Winchester brothers and the “family business,” which is hunting and killing monsters. Over the course of 13 seasons, there have been numerous supporting characters and even a few series regulars, but only two actors have been in over 250 episodes. The next actor to clock in anywhere close is over 150 episodes less than the two main actors. Can you think of any other show that has a similar setup? Even after so many seasons, the series boasts some of the highest ratings for the CW so it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere any time soon.