The 10 Most-Watched TV Series Finales Ever

Everyone was enthralled by Ross and Rachel's romantic drama—but how would you feel about Monica and Joey's?
Everyone was enthralled by Ross and Rachel's romantic drama—but how would you feel about Monica and Joey's?
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Over the past several years, television audiences have said goodbye to some of the most acclaimed television series of all time, from The Sopranos to 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.

Nearly 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. In the meantime, these are the most watched television series finales of all time. 

1. M*A*S*H // 1983

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.

2. Cheers // 1993

NBC

After 11 seasons, the beloved comedy Cheers decided it was closing time. The final episode, "One for the Road" (which actually aired in two parts, featured the return of Shelley Long's Diana Chambers—and a whopping 80.4 million viewers.

3. The Fugitive // 1967

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

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

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 ge their happily ever after when Friends came to a conclusion.

6. Magnum, P.I. // 1988

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

7. The Cosby Show // 1992

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

40.2 million viewers watched as Archie professed his love for an ailing Edith.

9. Family Ties // 1989

36.3 million viewers tuned in to see if Alex would take his dream job in New York and leave the Keaton family.

10. Home Improvement // 1999

With 35.5 million viewers, Tim Taylor edged out Frasier (#11), Dallas (#12), and Everybody Loves Raymond (#15) to crack the top 10.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

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Beyond Queen Elizabeth: 10 Fantastic Shows to Stream After The Crown

Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles in season 4 of The Crown.
Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles in season 4 of The Crown.
Alex Bailey/Netflix

So you’ve already torn through the latest season of The Crown, which arrived on Netflix in mid-November. You’ve watched and evaluated the performances of the new cast members, including Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher. You’ve done your Google searches on the events depicted in season 4, including the disappearance of Thatcher's son Mark. You’ve played back every scene featuring a corgi. What are you going to do now?

If you’re looking for something else that’s historical, royal, or just vaguely British, give one of these shows a try. They’re all available on a major streaming service and they all feature the same whispered bombshells and meaningful glances that make The Crown such a quietly devastating—and highly addicting—drama.

1. Victoria

Like The Crown, Victoria opens with a young queen ascending the throne after a death in the family. Only in this case, the queen is 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria, who would rule Great Britain and Ireland for an astonishing 63 years. This costume drama hasn’t even covered a third of that reign, but it’s packed with plenty of royal scandal, real-world politics, and dramatic gowns into its three seasons. There’s no official word on when fans can expect the next batch of episodes, but writer Daisy Goodwin has promised “an absolute humdinger” of a fourth season.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

2. The Tudors

Henry VIII famously had a problem with commitment. He married six women, more than one of whom he had executed, making his life prime material for a soapy drama. Showtime delivered just that with The Tudors, which aired its final episode in 2010. The show covered each of Henry’s marriages and various international affairs in between, casting now famous British actors in some of their earliest roles. Henry Cavill appears in all four seasons as the king’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, and Natalie Dormer (a.k.a. Margaery Tyrell) dominates the first two seasons as Henry’s doomed second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Outlander

Take all of the historical intrigue of The Crown, add in some time travel and a lot more sex scenes, and you have Outlander. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling book series, this Starz original centers on Claire Randall, a nurse living in post-WWII Britain who is sent back in time to 1740s Scotland. Her travels don’t end there. Over the course of the show, Claire schmoozes with the French royal court in Paris and gets shipwrecked off the coast of the American colonies. She also falls in love with a Highlander named Jamie, even as she attempts to reunite with her husband Frank (played by Tobias Menzies, The Crown's current Prince Philip) in the present day.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. Call The Midwife

Drawing on the diaries of a midwife who worked in the East End of London in the 1950s, this BBC show follows young women in medical training as they travel in and out of the homes of expectant Brits. By focusing on a working class neighborhood, Call the Midwife paints a picture of the London outside Queen Elizabeth’s palace walls, exploring in particular the stories of mothers in a post-baby boom, pre-contraceptive pill world.

Where to watch it: Netflix

5. Upstairs Downstairs

The first Upstairs, Downstairs aired in the 1970s—and when it ended, the tony Bellamy family had just been devastated by the stock market crash of 1929. The reboot (note the lack of comma in the title) picks up in 1936, with one of the original series' housekeepers serving a new family. Just like the original, it shows the very different lives of the “upstairs” aristocrats and their “downstairs” domestic staff, while nodding at current events that would’ve affected them both. A special treat for fans of The Crown: Claire Foy, who played Queen Elizabeth in The Crown's first two seasons, playing the frequently misbehaved Lady Persephone Towyn.

Where to watch it: BritBox

6. Versailles

Ever wondered what it was like to party in the Hall of Mirrors? Versailles takes you inside the grand French palace of the same name, fictionalizing the lives of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) and his court in the mid-1600s. Versailles isn’t quite as critically adored as The Crown and its cohorts—many reviewers have written it off as a slighter historical series—but it’s got all the requisite melodrama and the jaw-dropping sets we’ve come to expect from these costume epics.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Poldark

When war breaks out between the Brits and American colonists, Ross Poldark leaves his hometown of Cornwall to fight for King George III. After eight years of battles, the redcoats lose, sending Poldark back across the ocean, where he finds that everything has changed: His father is dead, his estate is in ruins, and the love of his life is engaged to his cousin. This is where Poldark, the BBC adaptation of Winston Graham’s eponymous novels, picks up. While Ross Poldark is a fictional character, the show incorporates lots of real history, from the aftermath of the Revolutionary War to the subsequent revolution in France. Amazon Prime has all five seasons of the series, which ended its run in 2019.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

8. The Borgias

Rodrigo, Cesare, and Lucrezia Borgia were extremely influential nobles in 15th and 16th century Italy. In 1492, Rodrigo claimed the papacy and, with it, control of the Roman Catholic Church. That basically meant he and his children ruled the country: as long as Rodrigo was Pope Alexander VI, the Borgias could get anything they wanted. Showtime dramatized their power plays, betrayals, and rumored incest over three seasons of The Borgias, with Jeremy Irons in the lead role as Rodrigo.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Downton Abbey

If you missed out on the Downton Abbey craze in 2010, now is the perfect time to catch up. The entire series—which concerns the upper-crust Crawley family and their many servants—is available on Amazon Prime, and the 2019 movie is available on HBO Max (or for rent on Prime Video). Though the story is primarily set in the 1910s and 1920s, Maggie Smith’s withering insults are timeless.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

10. Coronation Street

If you want to understand the royals, you have to watch their favorite shows—and Coronation Street has long been rumored to be Queen Elizabeth’s preferred soap. (Prince Charles is also a fan; he appeared on the show’s live 2000 special.) Airing on ITV since 1960, Coronation Street follows several working-class families in the fictional town of Weatherfield.

Where to watch it: Hulu, Tubi

This story has been updated for 2020.