Twenty years ago this week in TV’s Top 10, Seinfeld killed, Mad About You got happy again, and Sipowicz spiraled on NYPD Blue. Here are the shows that dominated the Nielsen ratings — the first five hailing from NBC’s Must-See Thursday lineup — from May 13 to May 19, 1996.
NBC, 34.25 million viewers
Earlier in season 2, wet Clooney rescued a kid from a storm drain. Impossible to top. So the hospital drama’s finale administered a shake-up, a breakup, a bombshell cliffhanger, and Carter (Noah Wyle) skipping graduation to comfort a patient.
NBC, 33.24 million viewers
Season 7’s wicked closer has “shocking finale death” licked: Susan (Heidi Swedberg), fiancée of George (Jason Alexander), died from ingesting toxic glue on their cheap invitation envelopes. Almost as cold? His stunned, relieved reaction.
3. Caroline in the City
NBC, 29.27 million viewers
The cartoonist comedy ended season 1 in a love-triangle triage, and with Caroline (Lea Thompson) calling off her wedding. Ack!
NBC, 28.98 million viewers
Speaking of non-weddings, in the season 2 finale, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) is the maid of honor at her ex-fiancé’s ceremony. Also: Monica (Courteney Cox) breaks up with Richard (Tom Selleck) for non-mustache-related reasons.
5. The Single Guy
NBC, 24.49 million viewers
The nachos break between Friends and Seinfeld finished season 1 with a fear-of-commitment plot. NBC got cold feet too, axing it the following year.
6. Home Improvement
ABC, 22.87 million viewers
Once upon a Tool Time, Tim Allen’s family-com was ABC’s biggest show. And one time, Tim bought an annoying home- security system that caught Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan) trying to cheat on a test. (22.9 million)
7. Mad About You
NBC, 22.86 million viewers
In the season 4 finale, Paul (Paul Reiser) and Jamie (Helen Hunt) opt to end their marriage, then change their minds, then solve their baby-making drought with one lucky lay. Will it all work out? Yep, for a season or two too many.
ABC, 20.97 million viewers
Darlene (Sarah Gilbert) and David (Johnny Galecki) hold their wedding reception at the hospital where Dan (John Goodman) is recuperating, and Lecy Goranson makes her last appearance as Becky, before Becky with the better hair (Sarah Chalke) returns.
9. NYPD Blue
ABC, 19.79 million viewers
The classic “Closing Time” depicted Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) at his heartrending nadir: Grieving his son’s death, he goes on a bender before poignantly accepting help from his partner Simone (Jimmy Smits).
ABC, 18.37 million viewers
Coach was a rerun, which somehow feels right. Craig T. Nelson’s football comedy would hang it up the following May, and 18 years later, a reboot was announced and then scrapped, which also feels about right.