Longest Running TV Shows in History

There are many indicators to a TV series being a success of not. The number of awards, the amount of ratings they bring in etc. One indicator of success is longevity. Sure, most shows only have the creative juice or will to run for long periods of time but some shows do, and on occasion actually have enough in the tank to actually keep things going. Of course there are shows like Family Guy and Doctor Who which have been around for quite a while, but not without facing periods of cancellations in their tenure. So here are the longest running TV series’ of all-time.

The Simpsons (1989-present): Cartoonist Matt Groening was enlisted to create a series of cartoon shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. He quickly threw together a family of characters he named after his own family: Homer, Marge, Lisa, Maggie, and changed what would have been his name to Bart and gave them the name Simpson. While the Tracey Ullman show ended after 3 years, but The Simpsons was spun off as it’s own show under the guidance of Groening, Sam Simon, and James L. Brooks. The show was a hit from the start and completely changed the face of television forever. Over the past 33 seasons viewers have seen the Simpsons evolve and change, the focus went from troublemaking Bart to beer-drinking, low-intellect patriarch Homer. Not only did they put the Fox network on the map but created a revolution in adult-oriented animation. Even now this iconic family from Springfield show no sign of slowing down.

South Park (1997-present): Having a fateful meeting in college, Trey Parker and Matt Stone realized that creatively they gelled completely and embarked on low budget animation endeavors which caught the attention of executives at Comedy Central. What they created was a pilot about four young kids in South Park, Colorado; Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and the obnoxious Cartman who gets in anal alien probe in this debut episode. From these humble beginnings came a show which has become a staple of television courting both controversy and applause along the way. Despite being a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, ignorant racist, Cartman has become one of the most famous characters on TV.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999-present): Another show which will pop up on this list tackled the criminal justice system and this spin-off tackled crimes of the “especially heinous” variety. Largely built on the chemistry of stars Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay as detectives Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson, Law & Order: SVU has become the clear fan favorite of the long-running TV franchise. Like the parent series, the show looks at law enforcement at prosecution in New York City but with a focus on sex crimes. Beyond it’s home network, the show is a favorite in syndication which has only broadened its popularity among viewers.

Gunsmoke (1955-1975): This radio show turned TV series was far from the only western on the boob tube during its time, but it was the first to give audiences a gritty, adult-oriented foray into the Old West. Throughout the two decade run of the show actor James Arness played the effortlessly cool Marshal Matt Dillon in every single episode an accomplishment in longevity which stands unmatched to this day. They surrounded Dillon with a number of memorable characters in the town of Dodge City like the drinking serving madam Miss Kitty, the local sawbones Doc, and Dillon’s various partners in law enforcement like Chester and Festus. Even after the Rural Purge cut down other shows of it’s kind, Gunsmoke was able to continue though the network mandated a decrease in violence. Even after the series ended Arness would reprise the role he made famous in a series of TV movies.

Law & Order (1990-2010): Throughout the history of television, there have been police procedural and there had been legal dramas. But when producer Dick Wolf combined the two in the Big Apple it created one of the longest running and most beloved TV shows in history. For two decades, that iconic opening set the tone for a serious crime show. With its longevity there is of course a rotating cast with a number of characters becoming firm fan favorites like: DA Jack McCoy, Detective Ed Green, DA Adam Schiff, Lt. Anita Van Buren, and of course NYPD’s own smartass Detective Lennie Briscoe. After two decades, NBC finally pulled the plug on Law & Order, but Wolf knew the nature of the series meant there was plenty left in the tank and recently it was revived for a new run.

NCIS (2003-present): Veteran TV producer Donald P. Bellisario had a long-running hit on his hand already with JAG, concerning the legal system within the military. But from this show came a spin-off about criminal investigations in the military which surpassed the success of its parent series. Led by veteran actor Mark Harmon, the team of NCIS investigate investigate a new crime each week. With the formula this show follows, NCIS has become a favorite in syndication providing even more fuel to keep it running.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-present): Most shows that have been on for so long have characters who grow and evolve. The creative forces behind this long running FX show decided “Nah, our characters are going to stay the same entertaining, selfish people”. The result is the darkly hilarious critically acclaimed show that does not look like it is going anywhere anytime soon. At the struggling Paddy’s Pub, twin siblings Dee and Dennis along with their friends and father are always coming up with different schemes which unfold to hilarious results. Sunny has found a devoted cult audience for itself that has followed it for close to 20 years between two different networks.