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The most-popular reality TV shows of 2016

The most-popular reality TV shows of 2016
The America's Got Talent 11 finale, with judge Howie Mandel, winner Grace VanderWaal, runners-up The Clairvoyants, and host Nick Cannon. (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)

How did reality TV do last year in an era of peak TV? Overall, 68 of the top 200 shows on television were reality TV shows, and that number rises to 70 if you include two talk shows. America’s Got Talent was the most-popular reality show, coming in as the 8th most-popular show among total viewers, and 12th among viewers 18 to 49.

To look at this, I analyzed the top 200 of the 1,267 new shows that aired last year, using provided to TV critics at TCA by FX Networks research. It ranked all television shows last year based on their live + 7 ratings—i.e. how many people watched within seven days of a live broadcast.

So what does this data reveal?

  • 68 of the top 200 shows were reality TV shows. That’s about one-third: 34 percent.
  • 36 of those 68 aired on broadcast networks. That’s just over half: 53 percent.
  • The most-popular non-broadcast series was Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta, followed by Teen Mom and Love and Hip Hop.
  • Survivor is more popular than Big Brother. Survivor ranked #28 among all viewers and #28 among viewers 18 to 49. Big Brother, however, does well in the demo (its episodes ranked #35, 37, and 45) but nowhere near as well with overall viewers (#69, 73, and 75).
  • The least-popular show on all of prime-time television was Cody Stampede Rodeo, a show I’ve never heard of that airs on a network I’ve never heard of: RFD.

To make you feel better about not watching every TV show that you wanted to watch last year:

  • Looking just at broadcast and cable, there were a total of 1,267 primetime TV shows in 2016.
  • Previously, FX announced that 455 scripted original shows aired in 2016, and 93 of those were part of online-only services, such as Netflix and Amazon. So, there were 362 scripted shows on broadcast and cable, meaning the vast majority of shows that aired in prime-time were unscripted/reality.

The 68 most-popular reality shows of 2016

These are the most-popular reality TV shows across broadcast and cable television last year, ranked according to viewers ages 18 to 49.

A few disclaimers:

  • The shows below ranked according to their viewers ages 18 to 49, the demographic used most commonly to set ad rates. However, cable networks, especially, may target more specific demographics—women ages 25 to 54, for example, or in the case of MTV, people ages 12 to 34, and shows might rank very differently in different demos.
  • Several shows are on the list in multiple places, because they air new episodes in more than one timeslot. For example, Big Brother is on the list three times.
  • I did not include The Talking Dead or Bachelor Live in my calculations.
  • This list excludes scripted shows, of course, hence the gaps in numbers.

12. America’s Got Talent (Tuesday)
14. The Voice
15. American Idol
16. The Bachelor
21. America’s Got Talent (Wednesday)
22. American Idol (Thursday)
24. The Bachelorette
27. Survivor
35. Big Brother (Wednesday)
37. Big Brother (Thursday)
41. Little Big Shots
45. Big Brother (Sunday)
56. Dancing with the Stars
57. American Ninja Warrior
62. Bachelor in Paradise
64. Bachelor in Paradise (Tuesday)
66. Masterchef (Wednesday)
69. Better Late Than Never
71. Masterchef Junior
76. Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta
77. Shark Tank
79. Teen Mom season 5
81. Love and Hip Hop season 6
85. Masterchef
87. Teen Mom 2
90. Real Housewives of Atlanta
91. Love and Hip Hop season 7
96. Gold Rush
98. Hell’s Kitchen
103. Amazing Race
104. Celebrity Family Feud
109. Love and Hip Hop: Hollywood
116. The Biggest Loser
122: Running Wild with Bear Grylls
125. The $100,000 Pyramid
127. Black Ink Crew
129. Teen Mom season 6
132. The Real Housewives of Orange County
135. Keeping up with the Kardashians
138. Street Outlaws
142. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
145. Undercover Boss
148. Match Game
150. The Curse of Oak Island
154. Vanderpump Rules
155. Spartan: Team Challenge
156. Fixer Upper
161. Alaskan Bush People
162. Black Ink Crew: Chicago
165. The Great American Baking Show
168. To Tell the Truth
171. Stevie J. and Joseline
172. Hollywood Game Night
175. Chrisley Knows Best
176. Rob & Chyna
179. Deadliest Catch
180. Naked and Afraid
181. Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath
183. 60 Days In
184. Black Ink Crew: Chicago
186. The Real Housewives of New Jersey
188. Hotel Hell
189. Battlebots
190. Below Deck
193. Naked and Afraid XL
194. Lip Sync Battle
196. So You Think You Can Dance
198. The Real Housewives of New York City

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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