‘Big Bang Theory': How Its Ratings Are Different Than Every Other Show’s

Late in Season 9, CBS sitcom still hauls in more than 20 million total viewers per episode

Last Updated: May 5, 2016 @ 10:48 AM

Everyone knows CBS’ sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” is popular. What’s stunning is just how long its popularity has lasted.

The series about lovable, math-obsessed nerds is by far the biggest comedy on television, as it has been each of its past six seasons. After 205 episodes, that is nothing short of astonishing.

“BBT” – which has its season finale next week – averaged 8.4 million total viewers its first season. By the next year, that had grown to a cool 10 million. This year, in its ninth season, the show is averaging more than twice that, pulling in a whopping 20.3 million viewers per episode. (These and other numbers conform to Nielsen’s “most current” metric, which counts seven-day delayed viewing where available.)

In the advertiser-coveted adults aged 18 to 49 demographic, “BBT” scored a 5.7 this season, nearly doubling the 3.3 rating from season 1.

That marks the fourth-straight year (fifth overall) “BBT” has been top comedy in the demo.

That puts “BBT” in the company of such classics as “Friends” (six seasons at No. 1 overall) and “Seinfeld” (four seasons).

How in the ever-expanding universe is such sustained success possible? We won’t tackle the popular debate over whether or not “Big Bang” is among the funniest comedies on TV here — the show’s enviable Emmy track record is on the side of hardcore fans — but its actual business impact remains undeniable.

Before we go any further, however, we should flag one potentially misleading part of “BBT’s” massive numbers right up front. While live tune-in was far more common years ago when “Big Bang” began, the adoption of DVRs and on-demand viewing was still in its infancy. So, while the Live + 7 Day statistic is still the most appropriate way to perform a comparison, it is by no means perfect.

Drilling a little deeper into the numbers, we can see that “Big Bang Theory’s” biggest season was 2013-2014, when it topped off at a 6.4 rating and a rounded 20.4 million total viewers. Those numbers, again, are for a sitcom well past the 100-episode mark.

Take a look at the series’ progression below, first in the key demo ratings, then in overall audience size.

TV Ratings, 18-49 demo
Season 1: 3.3
Season 2: 3.8
Season 3: 5.4
Season 4: 4.5
Season 5: 5.6
Season 6: 6.3
Season 7: 6.4
Season 8: 5.7
Season 9: 5.7 to-date, will likely decline by finale

Total Viewers
Season 1: 8.4 million
Season 2: 10 million
Season 3: 14.4 million
Season 4: 13.4 million
Season 5: 15.9 million
Season 6: 19 million
Season 7: 20.4 million
Season 8: 19.3 million
Season 9: 20.3 million to-date, will likely decline by finale