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What’s the Longest Running TV Show of All Time?

Stacks of vintage TVs covering a wall

Some TV shows feel like they’ve been on the air forever. Modern Family, which wraps up with its 11th season this year, has been around for so long that some of the actors have spent over half their lives on TV. Nolan Gould and Rico Rodriguez, who play Luke and Manny, were both ten when it started filming—now they’re 21. Even more extreme, Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who plays Lily, was four when she joined the cast eight years ago—she’s now 12.

But as much as it feels like Modern Family has been around for a while, it’s nowhere near close to the longest-running TV of all time. But what is? Let’s find out.

What’s a TV Show Anyway?

All these biggest/longest/rarest/anything-est questions have one thing in common: the answer depends mostly on how you define the question. To find out what the longest-running TV show is, you first have to decide what counts as a TV show. Is the nightly news a TV show? What about the annual broadcast of the inauguration of the Lord Mayor of London? It’s been on the air every year since 1946 (although it started in 1937, there were a couple of breaks because of World War 2).

Also, when we’re looking for the longest-running, are we looking for the longest-running show that’s currently on air—or that there’s ever been? And does it matter what country it’s been broadcast in? Is this strictly a list of American shows, or are international examples equally relevant?

I’ll let you decide your specific conditions and caveats, but here are some of the contenders.

Longest Running Show of Any Kind

The Lord Mayor’s Show, which I alluded to above, first televised in 1937, is the longest-running event on TV that’s still broadcast. However, since it’s a broadcast of an actual live event, I’m hesitant to call it a “TV show,” even by the loosest of definitions.

The longest-running could-possibly-be-defined-as-a-TV-with-a-straight-face I could find is… Meet the Press, a news and interview program on NBC. It’s been broadcast weekly since 1947, although the moderators and format have changed a few times since then.

Meet the Press debuted about six months ahead of another contender for the title: CBS Evening News. While Meet the Press has been around longer, as a weekly broadcast, it’s only had 4,000 or 5,000 episodes. In terms of raw numbers, Evening News smashes it with over 17,000 broadcasts.

Longest Running Sports Broadcast

I’m not sure I’d quite count sports broadcasts as actual TV shows, but, for the sake of completeness, the longest continually broadcast sports event is The Championships, Wimbledon—the oldest tennis tournament in the world. It’s been on the air every year since 1946, though it was first broadcast in 1937. Again, WW2 got in the way.

The Show With the Most Episodes

While the length of time on the air is one measure of long running-ness, another is the total number of episodes aired. The winner there, with an almost unbelievable 22,340 episodes, is Des Chiffres et des Lettres—a French game show. By my reckoning, it’d take you more than 500 days of continuous viewing to catch up on all the 33-minute episodes.

Longest Running Scripted Show

Okay, so really newscasts and sporting events and game shows are fine, but when I think of a TV show, I think of something with actors and a script.

The longest-running scripted show is the British soap opera, Coronation Street. First broadcast in 1960, it hit 10,000 episodes in February this year.

America’s longest-running scripted show is also a soap opera: General Hospital. More than 14,000 episodes have been broadcast since it debuted in 1963.

One absence you might have noticed so far is The Simpsons, which is regularly celebrated for its long run. It scrapes in as the “longest-running scripted prime time television series in the United States, as measured by the number of seasons.” That’s a bit of a stretch, but it is still distinct from soap operas, which usually are confined to daytime slots on lesser networks. It’s not the longest-running TV show by most measures, but to my mind, it’s the longest-running great show.

So, which show pips it for you? Let us know in the comments.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »