With all the entertainment options these days (not to mention the ballooning budgets), most shows are lucky to last a decade before it’s time to wrap things up. Some are even canceled after one or two episodes. But then there are the few legendary shows that seem to stand the test of time. Here are 15 that are currently the longest-running shows in the US.
15. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Series debut: September 20, 1999
This cop-legal drama has been on so long that it saw its main character Olivia Benson (played by Mariska Hargitay) eventually gets promoted from detective to commander of the NYPD unit tasked with investigating sex crimes. For her efforts, Hargitay has won a Primetime Emmy Award as well as a Golden Globe for Best Actress. With 485 episodes under its belt, this spin off of the original Law & Order series is now the 4th longest-running scripted show in TV history.
14. South Park
Series debut: August 13, 1997
Before landing on TV, South Park began as an animated short featuring a battle between Christmas rivals Jesus and Santa Claus, making it one of the first videos to ever go viral. The satirical comedy about four boys from a small fictional town in Colorado is closing in on 300 episodes and shows no signs of stopping. In fact, in 2020 it remained the highest watched comedy show in all of cable TV.
13. Power Rangers
Series debut: August 28, 1993
This children’s action series might be corny, but its diversity and ability to reboot itself in order to remain relevant are formulas that have resulted in almost 30 years of success. It’s bounced around from network to network over the years, but a show about colorful masked characters punching robots in the throat will always find an audience as long as 6 year-olds continue to exist.
12. American’s Funniest Home Videos
Series debut: November 26, 1989
The ability to upload home videos for millions to see is something we take for granted these days in the era of YouTube, but back in the late 80s it was a truly revolutionary idea. If you recorded something you found funny — whether spontaneous or scripted — you were encouraged to mail in the videotape and potentially come out thousands of dollars richer. Remarkably, the Internet has not killed it off. Originally hosted by Bob Saget from 1989 to 2001, then Tom Bergeron from 2001-2005 and now Alfonso Ribeiro, the longest-running primetime show on ABC continues to thrive because it focuses on quality and knows exactly what its weekly audience of 5 million viewers wants.
11. The Simpsons
Series debut: December 17, 1989
When The Simpsons started, Bart Simpson was the show’s centerpiece. In fact, elementary schools all over the country were going nuts banning Bart Simpsons t-shirts because they felt he was *gasp!* encouraging kids to underachieve in school! The show was an absolute comedy juggernaut through the 90s, churning out brilliant writers including Conan O’Brien. Although everybody has spent the past 20 years debating whether the show has outlasted its welcome, it was recently revealed that it had been renewed for a 33rd and 34th season, taking it through at least the spring of 2023.
10. The Bold and the Beautiful
Series debut: March 23, 1987
There was once a time when soap operas dominated daytime network TV. But as society has changed — in particular, fewer stay-at-home mothers — so have entertainment habits. But somehow The Bold and the Beautiful persists. It began as a companion series to the long-established The Young and the Restless, with characters from both shows existing within the same fictional universe. In total, Bold has won 77 Daytime Emmy Awards and has aired more than 8,000 episodes.
Series debut: September 10, 1984
The original series ran from 1964 through 1975, and a second short-lived version called The All-New Jeopardy! aired for a few months from late 1978 through early 1979. But the current incarnation is the most legendary. It was hosted by Alex Trebek from its start until his death from pancreatic cancer in late 2020. It is currently being guest hosted by a rotation of notables ranging from television news personalities like Anderson Cooper, actors such as Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik, and even Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
8. Saturday Night Live
Series debut: October 11, 1975
When producer Lorne Michaels and his “Not Ready For Primetime Players” made their debut, their style of sketch comedy had never really been done before. It quickly developed a cult following, although NBC network executives needed to be persuaded to keep it going as the ratings weren’t originally as strong as they had preferred. Although the show tends to go through waves where it’s funny and then decidedly less so, it’s a safe bet that it will go on as long as the 76-year-old Michaels wants it to.
7. Wheel of Fortune
Series debut: January 6, 1975
Although this glorified version of Hangman has been hosted by the very capable Pat Sajak since 1981 (Vanna White became the permanent letter-turner a year later), it is easy to forget that when it first made its NBC debut, the original host was Chuck Woolery, later of Love Connection and “Covid is a lie, oops my son has it, okay I better delete my Twitter account” fame.
6. The Young and the Restless
Series debut: March 26, 1973
At the time that As the World Turns ended in 2010, it left as the longest-running soap opera in CBS history. The Young and the Restless is the network’s current king, although it would need to air for 5 more years if it wants to surpass World’s record 53 years. But either way, who would have guessed that a soap opera set in boring, old Wisconsin would have as much longevity as Y&R? Yet here we are.
5. The Price is Right
Series debut: September 4, 1972
This is another game show that technically began much earlier (the first version aired on NBC and ABC, lasted from 1956 to 1965 and was hosted by Bill Cullen). But when it was relaunched in 1972 on CBS with Bob Barker as host, that’s when it became a real daytime classic. Barker retired in 2007, with Drew Carey taking over.
4. Masterpiece Theatre
Series debut: January 10, 1971
This PBS show features theatre troupes acting out classic novels and although we are convinced that nobody has ever actually sat down and watched it, we wouldn’t be surprised if it lasts another 50 years. Why should a channel that doesn’t depend on advertising revenue — and therefore ratings — care?
3. Sesame Street
Series debut: November 10, 1969
If you didn’t grow up watching Sesame Street, it could be argued that you experienced a truly dark childhood. Children’s shows come and go, but with their blend of education and comedy, this one is staying where it is forever and ever.
2. Days of Our Lives
November 8, 1965
For the first ten years, this NBC soap opera was a half-hour show before subsequently expanding to a full hour. In total, more than 14,000 episodes have aired, and actress Susan Seaforth Hayes has the distinction of having been on the show for 7 decades, having started in 1968 and continuing today. Fun fact: This show was a favorite of Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.
1. General Hospital
April 1, 1963
The second longest-running program in television history (after Guiding Light, which ran for 58 years), General Hospital is the sole soap opera still airing on ABC. Although we’ve never watched a single episode, we assume it is more or less about the topic of hospitals and all the thrills and chills that come with having an illness?