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Friday, April 12, 2019

Game of Thrones Finale Set for Record Ratings

Written by Jon Williams

This Sunday begins the long-awaited and highly anticipated eighth season of the hit HBO show Game of Thrones. The abbreviated final season will consist of just six episodes (although four of those will run around 80 minutes, 20 more than the typical episode) and will culminate in the series finale on May 19. Over the course of the show’s seven seasons to date, its ratings have continued to climb, making it one of the most-watched cable series. With nearly two years of hype building up since the Season 7 finale that aired on August 27, 2017, plus the anticipation of who—if anyone—will survive to take the Iron Throne, the eighth season’s viewership numbers are sure to set new records, and the series finale will likely go down as one of the most watched of all time.

On network television, of course, those numbers are untouchable. The series finale of M*A*S*H on February 28, 1983, drew upwards of 105 million viewers, making it the most-watched television episode ever. The only other broadcasts that garner that type of viewership are the American Super Bowl each year. The closest any show has come since was ten years later, with the series finale of the hit sitcom Cheers, which came in at 84 million on May 20, 1993. Before M*A*S*H, the record was held by the wrap-up of The Fugitive on August 29, 1967, watched by 78 million people. Rounding out the top five most-watched series finales are two more sitcoms: Seinfeld (May 14, 1998) with 76 million and Friends (May 16, 2004) with 52 million. In the realm of science fiction and fantasy, the record is held by Star Trek: The Next Generation, which came to an end on May 23, 1994, with an audience of 31 million.

Network broadcasts, though, have always had the advantage of being available to anyone with a television set, without the necessity of additional equipment or subscription fees. That’s why ratings for shows airing on cable networks are measured in a category of their own. For cable series, the top two most-watched series finales belong to HBO, the same network that airs Game of Thrones. First up is the mob drama The Sopranos, whose controversial blackout ending aired June 10, 2007, to 11.9 viewers. Coming in second, and holding the top spot until The Sopranos came along, is Sex and the City, which bowed to an audience of 10.6 million on February 22, 2004. Those numbers are especially impressive considering HBO is a premium network which has traditionally required an additional subscription fee on top of a cable package. Then in third place is the acclaimed AMC drama Breaking Bad, which, like Game of Thrones, started off to relatively modest ratings and then steadily built over time. That show finished up on September 29, 2013, with 10.3 million viewers.

So how will the Game of Thrones finale fare? Obviously it won’t approach the numbers of network shows like M*A*S*H or even Friends, but it has an excellent chance of setting a new record for cable shows. Season 7 averaged upwards of 10 million viewers, and the season finale drew over 12 million. With anticipation at an all-time high, the numbers for Season 8 should leave those behind easily. And with two more novels to come in George R.R. Martin’s novel series and a spinoff series in production from HBO, the fever is sure to last for years to come.

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