Roseanne Was 2018’s Most-Watched TV Series, Averaging 20 Million Viewers

Super Bowl LII was the highest-rated telecast, with an audience of 104.1 million

Not only was Roseanne the No. 1 series, but its premiere was 2018's ninth most-watched telecast. ABC
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Roseanne’s brief, controversial return to the airwaves this spring ended in disaster, but not before making enough of a splash that the revived sitcom turned out to be 2018’s most-watched series in total viewers, according to new data from Nielsen.

However, sports dominated this year; seven of 2018’s 10 highest-rated telecasts were sports programming. (All of Nielsen’s year-end stats are in total viewers, live-plus-7.)

Looking at 2018 telecasts overall, Super Bowl LII (NBC) was on top, of course, with 104.1 million, followed by the postgame show, which averaged 74.0 million. Fox’s NFC Championship game between Minnesota and Philadelphia drew 42.4 million, while that network’s NFC divisional playoff game between New Orleans and Minnesota averaged 35.8 million.

NBC’s post-Super Bowl telecast of This Is Us was seen by 33.4 million, and the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on NBC averaged 29.3 million. ESPN’s College Football Playoff National Championship drew 27.4 million, and ABC’s The Oscars (27.4 million), Roseanne’s premiere (27.3 million) and the AFC divisional playoff game between Tennessee and New England (CBS, 26.9 million) rounded out the top 10.

Among regularly scheduled prime-time shows, Roseanne was No. 1 (ABC, 20.0 million), edging out Sunday Night Football (NBC, 19.6 million). The rest of the top 10: The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 18.3 million), NCIS (CBS, 16.7 million), This Is Us (NBC, 16.6 million), Young Sheldon (CBS, 15.7 million), Manifest (NBC, 14.6 million), The Good Doctor (ABC, 14.5 million), America’s Got Talent (NBC, 14.3 million) and Bull (CBS, 13.5 million).

During the spring, Roseanne’s return was TV’s biggest success story, but that all changed two weeks after the upfronts, when ABC abruptly canceled the show following star Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet. The network later created a Barr-free spinoff called The Conners.

Most of the year’s most-watched series also ended up among the top time-shifted shows, by difference in audience between live and live-plus-7. Roseanne was again on top with 10.7 million, followed by This Is Us (8.7 million), Manifest (8.6 million), The Big Bang Theory (8.4 million), The Good Doctor (8.2 million), NCIS (6.8 million), NBC’s New Amsterdam (6.6 million), Young Sheldon (6.3 million), Fox’s 911 (6.1 million). AMC’s The Walking Dead (6.0 million), the only cable entry on the list, rounded out the top 10.

But cable shows dominated the list of most time-shifted shows by percentage change in viewers between live and live-plus-7. AMC’s Better Call Saul (429.2 percent increase from live to live-plus-7) was out in front, followed by USA’s The Sinner (352.1 percent), Showtime’s eighth season of Shameless (320.5 percent), FX’s American Horror Story (312.9 percent), FX’s Mayans M.C. (305.3 percent), Paramount Network’s Yellowstone (280.4 percent), FX’s American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (280.4 percent). MTV’s Jersey Shore: Family Vacation (244.2 percent). TNT’s The Alienist (235.7 percent) and Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (222.0 percent).

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.