The shows you think had the best year in 2016, at least in terms of ratings? Well, you were right. They did.

Much has been written about “The Walking Dead’s” decline in Season 7, and its dropoff after a huge season premiere was real and significant. But it was still far and away the No. 1 show among adults 18-49 in 2016, and among the Top 5 in total viewers.

Broadcast TV shows dominate both the 18-49 and viewer lists below. Cable and streaming shows are dominant in terms of awards and cultural cachet, but the shows watch the most are overwhelmingly on network TV. (Cable shows fare a little better in the 18-49 rankings, with three of the Top 10 spots; only “The Walking Dead” lands in the Top 20 in viewers.)

“The Big Bang Theory” was the most-watched series of the year at just under 20 million viewers. Other CBS shows (“NCIS,” “Bull” and “NCIS: New Orleans”) make up four of the Top 5.

Here are the 20 highest-rated and most-watched shows (excluding live sports) for the calendar year 2016 — which means parts of two TV seasons for most shows. All the averages below (with a couple of exceptions, noted with asterisks) include live viewing plus seven days of DVR and on-demand playback, and are for original telecasts only.

Adults 18-49

Rank Show Network # of episodes 18-49 rating 18-49 viewers (millions)
1 The Walking Dead AMC 16 8.8 11.27
2 The Big Bang Theory* CBS 24 5.5 6.99
3 Empire FOX 17 5.3 6.79
Game of Thrones HBO 10 5.3 6.73
5 The X-Files FOX 6 4.8 6.09
6 This Is Us NBC 10 4.6 5.86
7 Modern Family ABC 22 4.2 5.33
8 Grey’s Anatomy ABC 24 3.7 4.68
9 American Horror Story: Roanoke FX 10 3.4 4.37
Designated Survivor ABC 10 3.4 4.27
11 America’s Got Talent – Tuesday NBC 14 3.2 4.07
12 Fear the Walking Dead AMC 15 3.1 3.94
The Voice – Monday NBC 26 3.1 3.93
The People v. O.J. Simpson FX 10 3.1 3.93
American Idol – Wednesday FOX 9 3.1 3.87
16 The Voice – Tuesday NBC 22 3.0 3.82
The Bachelor ABC 10 3.0 3.83
Scandal ABC 12 3.0 3.83
NCIS CBS 23 3.0 3.80
20 Criminal Minds CBS 20 2.9 3.68

*The average for “The Big Bang Theory” includes Live +3 ratings for the Dec. 15 episode.

Total viewers

Rank Show Network # of episodes Viewers (millions)
1 The Big Bang Theory* CBS 24 19.94
2 NCIS CBS 23 19.65
3 The Walking Dead AMC 16 17.89
4 Bull CBS 9 16.69
5 NCIS: New Orleans CBS 22 15.17
6 This Is Us NBC 10 14.63
7 Blue Bloods CBS 22 14.43
8 America’s Got Talent – Tuesday NBC 14 14.20
9 The X-Files FOX 6 13.60
10 Empire FOX 17 13.48
11 Designated Survivor ABC 10 13.46
America’s Got Talent – Wednesday NBC 8 13.46
13 Dancing With the Stars ABC 21 13.07
14 Little Big Shots NBC 8 13.05
15 The Voice – Tuesday NBC 21 12.77
16 NCIS: Los Angeles* CBS 23 12.77
17 The Voice – Monday NBC 25 12.76
18 Criminal Minds CBS 20 12.35
19 Hawaii Five-0* CBS 25 11.97
20 Madam Secretary* CBS 22 11.93

 *Averages for “The Big Bang Theory,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Hawaii Five-0” and “Madam Secretary” include Live +3 ratings for episodes that aired the week of Dec. 12.

Source: The Nielsen Company

Posted by:Rick Porter

Rick Porter has been covering TV since the days when networks sent screeners on VHS, one of which was a teaser for the first season of "American Idol." He's left-handed, makes a very solid grilled cheese and has been editor of TV by the Numbers since October 2015. He lives in Austin.

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