TV ratings company Nielsen's list of top TV shows for 2011 held few surprises this year, with American Idol as the most-watched series and three broadcasts comprising Fox's Super Bowl coverage, which made history as the most-watched episode of television ever, as the top individual episodes.
The flaw in such rankings, of course, is that the TV industry doesn't usually make money on overall viewership; they sell access to collections of viewers grouped by age and gender, with young men the most valued commodity.
So even though the big shows also have lots of young viewers, there are other shows that might be nearly as successful financially with much smaller audiences.
The stats also show how sports and certain kinds of reality TV competitions have become virtually the only programs that regularly draw a large, wide-ranging crowd of viewers. The rest of the time, we're too buried in our own particular televised passions to gather in big groups at the same time.
TOP 10 PRIMETIME TV SHOWS
1. American Idol — Wednesday (FOX)
2. American Idol — Thursday (FOX)
3. NBC Sunday Night Football (NBC)
4. Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
5. Dancing with the Stars — Results (ABC)
6. Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick (NBC)
7. NCIS (CBS)
8. NFL Regular Season (ESPN)
9. The OT (FOX)
10. NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)
TOP 10 SINGLE TELECASTS
1. Super Bowl XLV (FOX, Feb. 6)
2. Super Bowl XLV Kickoff (FOX, Feb. 6)
3. Super Bowl Post Game (FOX, Feb. 6)
4. AFC Championship (CBS, Jan. 23)
5. NFC Championship (FOX, Jan. 23)
6. AFC Divisional Playoff (CBS, Jan. 16)
7. AFC Championship Pre-Kick (CBS, Jan. 23)
8. NFC Wild Card Game (Fox, Jan. 9)
9. Academy Awards (ABC, Feb. 27)
10. Super Bowl Pre-Game (Fox, Feb. 6)
Source: Nielsen Co.