They should all be dead by now.
None of the following shows were expected to survive this long. But these TV hits have defied the odds and still trounce rivals despite having passed the usual age of retirement. Below are 10 prime time and late-night shows across several genres that chase the young hipsters off their lawns. Plus we reveal how long each show is expected to continue.
Let’s start with the newest title on the list and work our way up to the oldest (and no, they’re not all on CBS, but the first three are).
Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Age: 10 seasons, the longest-running live-action sitcom on TV.
Senior Power: Nielsen ranked No. 3 among adults 18-49.
Survival Secret: Silly sex jokes are funny. You might not think so, but 15 million viewers disagree. Men delivers a titillating bachelorhood fantasy; comedy comfort food. As one defender points out: “Anyone can put a show on with a bunch of risqué jokes, but there’s obviously something more to it — you have to like the characters or it doesn’t work.”
Life Expectancy: Men is probably the most endangered show on this list even though it’s the youngest. Is that because co-star Angus T. Jones called the show “filth” and might depart at the end of the season? Nope. If Charlie Sheen can be replaced, Jones can’t derail this train. But rising costs such as Ashton Kutcher’s salary demands and the network’s annual haggling with Men‘s studio could. Still, we suspect CBS will bring the show back for at least one more round.
Age: 12 years / 25 cycles. The longest-running broadcast primetime reality show (second if you count ABC’s clip show America’s Funniest Home Videos).
Senior Power: Ratings have slipped in recent years, but this aptly titled war horse often still wins its Wednesday slot with 11.5 million viewers.
Survival Secret: The game is inherently dramatic, brutal to win and a player’s fate can turn on the smallest mistake. Even lousy seasons force players to struggle desperately, both physically and mentally. It’s like watching a mafia drama where you’re wondering who will get whacked next, except the mobsters wear skimpy swimsuits in the tropics.
Life Expectancy: Emmy-winning host and producer Jeff Probst’s salary keeps climbing, but that’s not an insurmountable cost (and the show could continue without him, in theory). Expect Survivor to outlast the competition for another couple years, at minimum.
Runners-up: Fox’s American Idol (10 years / 11 cycles); ABC’s The Bachelor (10 years / 16 cycles).
Age: 13, the second longest-running drama series on TV.
Senior Power: Frequently tops its slot with 13 million viewers.
Survival Secret: CSI founded the hugely successful sleek high-tech crime procedural format that launched numerous spin-offs and knock-offs. Most dramas get too expensive and expire after about seven years, but CBS has offset rising costs by regularly shaking up the CSI cast. While ratings declined during Laurence Fishburne’s tenure, current star Ted Danson has helped the series endure a move to Wednesday nights. Plus, everybody wants to know who killed a hooker.
Life Expectancy: Fully expected to return next season. Beyond that, CSI‘s fate will rest on its performance and whether CBS can find new worthy replacements. (And if you’re wondering which show is the oldest drama on TV, that would be NBC’s modestly rated Law & Order: SVU).
Runner-up: The more popular-yet-younger NCIS (10 years).
South Park (Comedy Central)
Age: 16 seasons, one of the longest-running scripted shows on TV.
Senior Power: South Park ranks as cable’s top series among young men, averaging 3 million viewers.
Survival Secret: Smart, funny and crass is a combination that doesn’t get old — and neither do animated characters. Also, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone often race to write episodes less than a week before the telecast, so the show can take on topical issues.
Life Expectancy: The creators have deals through 2016, which will bring South Park to 20 seasons. Beyond that, it’s probably up to the guys whether they want to continue. Fans took last year’s melancholy “You’re Getting Old” episode as a hint that Parker and Stone are weary of the show, but they insisted during a follow-up interview, “We love South Park, that’s still our thing.”
WWE: Monday Night Raw (USA)
Age: 19 seasons.
Senior Power: When did pro wrestling peak as a trend? Like 15, 20, 30 years ago? Mixed-martial arts has been the hot fight contest drawing young male viewers for years. Yet every week, USA’s Monday Night Raw is a strong contender for cable’s top spot (averaging 4.7 million viewers). Last year, Raw celebrated its 1,000th episode.
Survival Secret: Wrestling has been a TV staple since the 1950s. Credit WWE for a masterful job of crafting smart story lines and not being afraid to shake up its format to keep things interesting.
Life Expectancy: Raw won’t tap out anytime soon. The WWE’s current deal with USA is through 2014. The negotiations are never easy (the franchise shifted to Spike TV for a time), but you can bet Raw will continue body-slamming rivals somewhere on the dial.
The Real World (MTV)
Age: 20 years / 27 cycles. The longest-running docu-soap on TV.
Senior Power: The Real World established a format so compelling that it’s survived two decades on a network that thrives on changing programming like its young audience changes outfits. What’s Jersey Shore and the upcoming Buckwild — or Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, for that matter — but variations on The Real World? Ratings dropped this year and the show’s numbers aren’t huge anymore (averaging around 2 million), yet the reality veteran has still been considered a success in recent years.
Survival Secret: So simple: Gather horny outgoing young people and watch them fight and hook up. Ta-da. A new cast each cycle keeps things fresh. Though often dismissed as tawdry, The Real World deserves credit for showing debates about social issues and embracing diversity from its very first season (how many other shows had an openly gay cast member in 1992?).
Life Expectancy: For awhile there, MTV couldn’t get enough Real World. The network ran it twice a year and, in 2009, literally ordered four seasons at once — like it was buying the show in bulk from Costco. That was before Shore changed the game with its culture-specific format. MTV ran Real World once this year and is currently committed to one more edition, which will air in the spring. Sources say renewal talks are currently progressing and the series will likely get another pickup.
The Simpsons (Fox)
Age: 24 seasons.
Senior Power: Getting softer in recent years, The Simpsons still enjoys a time-slot victory on Sundays now and then, and ranks as a weekly Top 25 show in the adult demo.
Survival Secret: Has there ever been a larger or more diverse cast of distinctive funny characters than the population of Springfield? Unlike some of The Simpsons‘ younger animated rivals, every joke on the show feels like it could only have come from the character who said it.
Life Expectancy: The Simpsons is a huge part of Fox’s brand and legacy. Yet after decades of easy renewals, we saw the first major sign that The Simpsons is mortal during the show’s protracted contract renewals last year. If that pickup was hard, the next could be harder. Renewed through the end of 2013 as part of a two-year deal, most expect The Simpsons to receive at least one final round.
Runner-up: Family Guy — bigger ratings, nearly half Simpsons‘ age (13 seasons)
Shark Week (Discovery Channel)
Age: 25 years. We’re cheating. Shark Week is an event, not a show. But Discovery’s lineup of shark-themed summer programming has been called the longest-running entertainment event on cable.
Senior Power: Discovery had record-setting Shark Weeks in recent years and the programming stunt sometimes tops the cable charts on opening night. Knock-offs have been attempted — like Nat Geo’s Big Cat Week, Discovery’s own Alaska Week — proving how uniquely successful the original is.
Survival Secret: Here’s what’s amazing about this event: There’s no cast. No regular programming or format. No specific location or set. Shark Week is just an idea. And that idea is this: SHARKS! Somehow, that’s enough.
Life Expectancy: Sharks live up to 30 years. Insiders say Shark Week might live longer.
Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Age: 38 seasons.
Senior Power: The highest-rated late-night series on TV. SNL has withstood numerous rivals trying to copy its format over the years and has beaten all of them.
Survival Secret: The Internet excels at delivering short-form video and could have nuked SNL, fueling rivals like College Humor and Funny or Die, along with good ‘ol YouTube. Instead, the web has given SNL shorts a viral boost that extends the life and relevance of each episode.
Life Expectancy: Renewing SNL is probably NBC’s easiest annual decision.
You know we’re going back to CBS for the last one, right?
60 Minutes (CBS)
Age: 45 seasons, the longest-running prime time broadcast series.
Senior Power: Averaging 14 million viewers, the news magazine has finished among the week’s Top 10 most-watched programs six times this season, and its 18-49 ratings are strong too.
Survival Secret: Some news organizations mix reporting and partisanship, or seek splashy new ways to deliver bite-sized info. 60 Minutes garners big ratings decade after decade with a simple format that’s as unusual today as it was when the show launched: Lengthy well-researched segments on compelling news topics by reporters who are unafraid to assign blame for a problem if such a conclusion is supported by the facts.
Life Expectancy: CBS owns the program, which routinely refreshes its lineup with new reporting talent. Ratings are strong (and what other series could thrive at 7 p.m. on a Sunday?). Expect 60 Minutes to outlive most of its audience.
Runners-up: The more tabloid-driven 20/20 on ABC (34 seasons) and Dateline (20 seasons) on NBC.
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