Know It All: What is the Longest Running American Television Show in History?

You watch it everyday but do you have any idea which programs have earned plaques in the Television Longevity Hall of Fame?

Everybody has that moment when they realize they don’t know about something that they should probably know about. Whether it’s history, language, science, or cultural phenomena, you’ve felt the stinging personal embarrassment of a moment wherein you realize there’s some common knowledge that isn’t so common. Don’t feel bad; nobody knows everything. Nobody, that is, except me and my sidekick, The Internet!

Somewhere in the world, a confused soul begs the question…

What is the longest running American television show in history?

Like so many common knowledge questions, this one is loaded and appropriately has an extremely multi-faceted answer. The information you seek depends on several factors: does “longest-running” refer simply to the number of years between the airdates of the first and final episodes? Or is it a question of the total number of episodes?

(Truthfully, the most empirical measurement would probably be to tally the cumulative amount of overall programming, in terms of days/hours/minutes but… that’s just ridiculous so, we won’t even go there.)

Further, what is the definition of “a television show”? Does that apply to any program at all? A daily show? Weekly? Talk show? News program? Soap opera? Recurring characters? Scripted sitcom/drama? Animated? Game show? Children’s program? Syndicated? How specific does one need to be, in categorizing?

Clearly, there are a lot of variables at play and so, the answer cannot be as succinct as one would hope. However, in the interest of time, I will cover only the major bases.

Total years in existence: NBC’s weekly Meet the Press has been on the air longer than any show in history, with nearly 62 years of programming (and counting); the first broadcast took place on November 6, 1947. Honorable mention goes to the CBS Evening News, which started nine months after Meet the Press, making it the second longest-running show of all-time, in terms of years, and the longest-running nightly newscast ever (16,000+ episodes).

Total episodes aired: NBC’s daily morning show Today has been on the air since 1952 and has amassed an astounding total of over 20,000 episodes, with no end in sight.

Soap opera: Like Today, the CBS daytime drama Guiding Light has been on the air since 1952, with a total episode figure around 15,000. The show is scheduled to go off the air in September 2009. (CBS’s As the World Turns sits in second place, with a track record that goes back to 1956. Thus, the answer to the question of “longest-running soap” could very well change by 2013.)

Late night variety/talk show: The Tonight Show was unveiled in 1954 and 8300+ episodes later, continues its run on NBC with its fifth host, Conan O’Brien.

Scripted comedy: The Simpsons debuted on Fox in late 1989. 20 seasons and 441 episodes later, it’s still going (Season 21 begins Fall 2009).

Scripted drama: The western serial Gunsmoke ran on CBS from 1955 to 1975, with 635 episodes on its resume. The original Law & Order will tie this mark as it enters its twentieth season this fall (in terms of total episodes at this point, however, Law & Order still sits over 200 episodes behind Gunsmoke).

Scripted comedy, live-action: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet entertained audiences for 435 episodes during its immensely successful fourteen-year run on ABC (1952-1966).

Now you know.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown is an artist and writer living in Virginia. He channels most of his enthusiasm into making things for his online art shop, Artness! by Justin Brown. You can keep up to date with him, his worldly adventures, and his dogs by following him on Instagram and on Facebook