The 10 Most-Watched TV Series Finales Ever

More than 40 years later, ‘M*A*S*H’ still rules.

More than 40 years later, ‘M*A*S*H’ remains on top.
More than 40 years later, ‘M*A*S*H’ remains on top. / Keystone/GettyImages

Over the past several years, television audiences have said goodbye to some of the most acclaimed television series of all time, from Mad Men to Breaking Bad. And while their finales have made a lot of headlines—sometimes for being divisive—no series yet has managed to match the ratings bonanza that came with the final episode of M*A*S*H.

More than 40 years after the series went off the air, M*A*S*H’s final episode still holds the record for the most watched television finale of all time. How long will it remain there? Only time will tell—but it certainly has already proven its staying power. In the meantime, these are the 10 most watched television series finales of all time. 

1. M*A*S*H // 1983

Viewers: 105.9 million

In 1983, 105.9 million viewers watched the Alan Alda-directed “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” episode of M*A*S*H, which was not only the most-watched series finale ever, but the most-watched television event ever—until 2010, when the Super Bowl topped it with 106 million viewers. (In the years since, the Super Bowl has continued to be a ratings behemoth, regularly outdoing itself with each passing year.)

2. Cheers // 1993

Viewers: 80.4 million


After 11 seasons, Cheers decided it was closing time. The final episode, “One for the Road” (which aired in two parts) featured the return of Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers—and a whopping 80.4 million viewers.

3. The Fugitive // 1967

Viewers: 78 million

Andrew Davis’s 1993 film version of The Fugitive may have won an Oscar (for Tommy Lee Jones, as Best Supporting Actor), but its original TV version has some major accolades as well. Across the country, 78 million people tuned in to watch part two of the finale and see what would happen to Richard Kimble.

4. Seinfeld // 1998

Viewers: 76.3 million

Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards - Actor, Jason Alexander - Actor
A scene from 'Seinfeld.' / David Hume Kennerly/GettyImages

One could safely estimate that at least half of the 76.3 million viewers who tuned in for Seinfeld’s finale were sorely disappointed with what they saw. One critic deemed it a big “So long, suckers!” farewell to the audience who had made the show about nothing such a big hit.

5. Friends // 2004

Viewers: 52.5 million

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Would Rachel and Ross live happily ever after? Could Chandler and Monica make it work in the suburbs? And where has Phoebe’s Smelly Cat been? 52.5 million viewers turned into find out who would get their happily ever after when Friends came to a conclusion.

6. Magnum, P.I. // 1988

Viewers: 50.7 million

Is Higgins really Robin Masters? What really happened to Lily? Will Rick get married? At least 50.7 million other Magnum, P.I. fans wanted to know the answers to those questions, too.

7. The Cosby Show // 1992

Viewers: 44.4 million

Theo graduated from NYU in front of 44.4 million viewers and Denise returned via phone to reveal her pregnancy. But the real shocker was when Cliff finally got the doorbell to work properly after he had been trying to fix it all season.

8. All in the Family // 1979

Viewers: 40.2 million

40.2 million viewers watched as the typically cranky Archie Bunker professed his love for his ailing Edith in the series finale of All in the Family. However, it was not the last viewers saw of Carroll O’Connor’s beloved curmudgeon; a spinoff, Archie Bunker’s Place, ran from 1979 to 1983.

9. Family Ties // 1989

Viewers: 36.3 million

Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox / George Rose/GettyImages

36.3 million viewers tuned in to see if Alex would take his dream job in New York and leave the Keaton family on Family Ties, the beloved '80s sitcom that turned Michael J. Fox into a teen idol.

10. Home Improvement // 1999

Viewers: 35.5 million

With 35.5 million viewers, Tim Taylor and Home Improvement edged out Cheers spinoff Frasier (No. 11), Dallas (No. 12), and Everybody Loves Raymond (No. 15) to crack the top 10.

A version of this story ran in 2010; it has been updated for 2024.

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