The longest running TV shows in history

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: May 9, 2023 (Last updated: last month)

Television is one of the most competitive industries in the world, and it’s very difficult for new shows to become successful. 

The majority of TV shows come and go after a season or two as they meet their almost inevitable cancellation. In fact, The Hollywood Reporter conducted research that showed a 58.2 percent failure rate for Netflix’s new scripted shows. The reasons why Netflix cancels shows can range from audience metrics to a business strategy.

However, there are those that have stood the test of time and have stayed on air for over 50 years. In this guide, we will run through the top 10 longest running TV shows of all time and why each of these shows was able to find constant success.

What is the longest running TV show?

10. Emmerdale: 51 years (1972 to present)

British soap operas are known for their longevity and ability to stay on air over a long period of time. Emmerdale is a soap opera that dates back to 1972 and has over 9,000 episodes.

It was originally called Emmerdale Farm until 1989 and its primary focus was the Sudgen family. They were a family of farmers that lived in an imaginary village in Yorkshire.

The storylines in soap operas tend to last months and sometimes years. Each storyline is usually catered to suit a certain target audience, which allows them to get a more loyal and long term fan base. They are also cheaper to make than a lot of other TV dramas, so there is less risk of keeping them on air for so long.

9. Sesame Street: 54 years (1969 to present)

Considered by many to be the most beloved children’s show of all time, Sesame Street has been on air for 54 years. During this time, it has had over 4,500 episodes.

The main purpose of this TV show is to educate children, with topics that teach relevant life skills and social issues in a fun and child-friendly way.

The show has a host of iconic characters such as Elmo, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster and many more. With such recognisable personas and smart educational tools, it’s not surprising that this show has stayed on air for so long.

8. Sazae-San: 54 years (1969 to present)

This Japanese children’s anime holds the Guiness World Record for the longest-running anime show in the world. Sazae-San is based on a manga series of the same name and follows Sazae Fugunta and her family.

The show sees the family navigate life in post-World War I Japan. They do this while adding a sense of humour to the situation. It is still going strong today and is especially popular in its country of origin. It is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

7. As the World Turns: 54 years (1956 to 2010)

After 54 years on air and over 14,000 episodes, As the World Turns was eventually taken off air in 2010. The initial core family was the Hugheses. They were all medical or legal professionals, which became a regularity in the soap operas that followed.

Despite its long success, the show was often scrutinised for being too slow and conservative. They would also often avoid any sensitive storylines. The show had a strong fan base for over 50 years and even had one of the longest running TV characters of all time, Helen Wagner.

6. Guiding Light: 57 years (1952 to 2009)

The soap opera that conceived As the World Turns, Guiding Light was a TV show for 57 years. There is an argument that Guiding Light is technically the longest running show of all time. However, Guiding Light was a radio show from 1937 and did not hit TV screens until 1952. Therefore, as a TV show, it only ran for 57 years instead of 72, which is still an incredible number of years.

The show had many different cast members throughout the years, with constant changes to its core characters. It was eventually taken off the air by CBS in 2009 after a record-setting run that would eventually be broken.

5. Days of Our Lives: 58 years (1965 to present)

Days of Our Lives has been an ongoing hit in the US for 58 years and counting. They were able to maintain popularity through classic soap opera recipes and their constant mention in the extremely popular sitcom, Friends. In fact, Friends star Jennifer Aniston’s father, John Aniston, was an actor on the real Days of Our Lives.

In the beginning, the series focused on the misfortunes and victories of the affluent Horton family. However, since then, there has been a long list of characters that have come and gone throughout the 14,000 episodes. 

4. General Hospital: 60 years (1963 to present)

General Hospital has been on the air for 60 years and has had over 15,000 episodes. It holds the record for the most Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series, with 13 wins in total.

The general plot follows the staff and patients of a busy hospital in the large upstate city of Port Charles, New York. This is a formula that has been followed by a large number of soap operas and sitcoms since, as it clearly works.

3. Coronation Street: 63 years (1960 to present)

Coronation Street is the longest running drama in television history and the third longest running TV show of all time. This British soap opera has been on the air for a staggering 63 years with over 10,000 episodes. 

The ever-popular soap opera follows the residents of Coronation Street, which is a working-class neighbourhood in Greater Manchester. The series is known for its engaging and dramatic storylines that are paired with lighthearted humour. It has dealt with a number of social issues, such as poverty, domestic abuse, sexual assault and more.

2. Eurovision Song Contest: 67 years (1956 to present)

Although many people would argue that it doesn’t belong on the list due to it airing only once a year, Eurovision is technically the second longest running TV show in history with 67 years on air.

The premise of the show sees one contestant from each European country sing original songs to compete for a grand prize. The winner also gets hosting privileges for their country in next year’s competition. The mix of contestants and singing styles makes for a unique watch. Each country voting for their favourite acts and dishing out points to other countries adds to the drama.

1. The Tonight Show: 69 years (1954 to present)

This American late-night talk show has been running for 69 years, as of this writing. The Tonight Show was originally hosted by Steve Allen and has had a plethora of hosts since. This includes names such as Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon.

Over 12,000 episodes of this talk show have aired since its debut. It has kept going strong, despite a drop in ratings during the Jimmy Fallon era. It looks set to reach its 70th anniversary of being on air, and it’s going to take a long time for any TV show to have a chance of overtaking it.

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