Travis Petersen | November 4, 2021
The Most Popular TV Episodes & Shows During the Holiday Season
- Thanksgiving TV Stats
- Christmastime TV Stats
- New Year TV Stats
- Overall Holiday TV Episodes Interesting Findings
What role does holiday TV play in your annual traditions? Do you binge-watch Friends after you’ve eaten your weight in turkey? Does your family queue up The Office after you’ve opened presents? What about New Year’s Eve? Are you team action or team sci-fi as you wait for the ball to drop?
As lovers of (and, if we may say so ourselves, experts in) all things TV, the USDISH team wanted to know which holiday episodes of TV shows made the biggest mark when they first aired—and how well the shows behind them have held up with holiday TV habits today. Read on to see what we uncovered.
Thanksgiving TV Stats
Thanksgiving Episodes Interesting Findings
- Comedy and romance are hit genres for Thanksgiving content. Fourteen of the 15 most popular Thanksgiving TV show episodes were comedy, romance, or both. Only two were dramas, and only one (House) was a mystery.
- Apparently Thanksgiving is the perfect season for a little throwback TV. Just two of the six shows behind the top Thanksgiving holiday episodes aired in the 1990s, but they garnered 53% of the top Google searches last November.
- If you’re team Seinfeld, we hate to break it to you: Friends had 10 of the 15 most watched Thanksgiving holiday TV episode premieres since 1990 and was the most searched in twice as many states as Seinfeld last November.
- Friends was also the most searched holiday TV show overall in November 2020. The sitcom had an astronomical budget per episode—as high as $10 million—and it clearly continues to pay off for NBC.
- The average running time of all the Thanksgiving holiday episodes on our list is 24 minutes, which is about how long it takes to make Grandma’s green bean casserole that you never eat each year.
Christmastime TV Stats
Christmas Episodes Interesting Findings
- You may not think Christmas and medical dramas go hand in hand, but 33% of the Christmas holiday episodes in the top 15 were from House.
- 60% of the most popular Christmas TV show episodes’ premieres aired between 2000 and 2009.
- The Office snagged just two episodes in the top 15, but it blew away the competition in search volume during December 2020. How I Met Your Mother, despite landing three spots in the top 15, was the most searched show in just one state.
- With an average running time of 40 minutes, the ranking Christmas holiday TV specials and episodes run longer than the average Thanksgiving or New Year’s TV episode.
New Year TV Stats
New Year’s Eve Episodes Interesting Findings
- Popular New Year’s TV show episodes don’t lean quite as nostalgic as popular Thanksgiving or Christmas episodes. Eight of the 15 ranking New Year’s episodes premiered between 2010 and 2013.
- People evidently love to ring in the new year with laughs. Twelve out of the 15 New Year holiday episodes that made our list feature comedy as their primary genre.
- The average running time of all the episodes on our list is 23 minutes—the shortest average running time of all the holidays in our report.
- Friends got three of the top four spots for most watched New Year’s TV episode premieres and tied with The Office for the most searched shows nationwide in January.
- That ’70s Show isn’t popular in most states, but in Alaska, the show is the state’s most searched TV show year-round.
Overall Holiday TV Episodes Interesting Findings
- According to our findings, nostalgia is a big deal during the holidays.
- A solid 33% of the most watched holiday TV episodes were produced in the ’90s, while <1% were produced in 2015 or later.
- 9 of the 13 most searched TV shows during last year’s holiday season premiered over 15 years ago (we eliminated Parks and Recreation from these results since it didn’t rank first in any state). Ten of 13 premiered over 10 years ago.
- Of the only three ranking holiday TV shows that are still airing new episodes, two premiered over 15 years ago (Doctor Who in 2005 and The Simpsons in 1989). This Is Us is the only recently premiering show (2016) to join the ranks of time-tested holiday TV shows.
- Friends boasted the highest overall number of ranking holiday TV episodes since 1990, but it came second behind The Office in nationwide searches during the holiday months.
- The Office managed top interest by an enormous lead during the holiday season last year without even making the list of popular Thanksgiving TV. Friends, the runner-up, also didn’t make the cut for popular Christmas episodes.
- Americans appear to watch fewer Christmas TV episodes than Thanksgiving or New Year’s episodes during the holiday season. The most watched Christmas episode premiere in the last 30 years, “It’s a Wonderful Lie” (House S4 E10), had 10 million fewer views than the top Thanksgiving and New Year’s episodes in the same period.
- 43 of the 45 most watched episode premieres had an IMDb rating of 8.0 or higher. The highest rating of 9.4 went to “The One with the Rumor” (Friends S8 E9), while the lowest rating of 7.6 went to two episodes, “The Seminar” (The Office S7 E14) and “The Doorway, Part 1” (Mad Men S6 E1).
To find the most popular Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s TV episodes since 1990, we first used IMDb data to find holiday TV episodes that meet the following criteria:
- Contain the keywords “Thanksgiving,” “Christmas,” or “New Year’s Eve” in the episode description
- Have over 1,500 IMDb votes
- Achieve an IMDb rating of 7.5 or above
- Be produced between 1990 and 2021
After narrowing down our list, we (1) compiled the viewership count for each episode’s premiere using the viewership archive on TV Listings and (2) ranked the premieres from most to least views.To find out the relative popularity of these shows during the most recent holiday TV season, we analyzed Google Trends data on these shows for each state during Nov. 2020, Dec. 2020, and Jan. 2021.
|State||TV Shows Popular on Thanksgiving||TV Shows Popular on Christmas||TV Shows Popular on New Year's Eve|
|Alabama||This is Us||The Simpsons||Friends|
|Alaska||House||Doctor Who||The X-Files|
|Arizona||Friends||The Office||The Office|
|California||Friends||The Simpsons||The Office|
|Colorado||Seinfeld||The Simpsons||The Big Bang Theory|
|District Of Columbia||House||The Simpsons||Mad Men|
|Florida||This is Us||The Simpsons||Friends|
|Hawaii||This is Us||House||Friends|
|Idaho||Seinfeld||The Simpsons||How I Met Your Mother|
|Illinois||Seinfeld||The Simpsons||The Office|
|Indiana||The Big Bang Theory||The Office||The Office|
|Iowa||The Big Bang Theory||The Office||Friends|
|Kentucky||Friends||The Simpsons||The Big Bang Theory|
|Louisiana||This is Us||The Simpsons||Friends|
|Maine||Seinfeld||The Simpsons||The Office|
|Maryland||This is Us||The Office||Friends|
|Massachusetts||This is Us||The Office||The Office|
|Michigan||This is Us||The Office||The Office|
|Minnesota||This is Us||The Office||The Office|
|Mississippi||The Big Bang Theory||The Simpsons||Friends|
|Missouri||The Big Bang Theory||The Office||The Office|
|Montana||Friends||The Office||The Big Bang Theory|
|Nebraska||The Big Bang Theory||The Office||The Office|
|New Hampshire||Seinfeld||House||Doctor Who|
|New Jersey||Friends||The Office||Modern Family|
|New Mexico||The Big Bang Theory||The Simpsons||The Office|
|New York||How I Met Your Mother||The Office||The Office|
|North Carolina||Friends||The Office||The Office|
|North Dakota||This is Us||The X-Files||Friends|
|Ohio||Friends||The Office||The Office|
|Pennsylvania||Seinfeld||The Office||The Office|
|Rhode Island||Friends||The Simpsons||That '70s Show|
|South Carolina||This is Us||The Office||The Big Bang Theory|
|South Dakota||This is Us||This Is Us||The Big Bang Theory|
|Tennessee||This is Us||The Office||The Big Bang Theory|
|Texas||Friends||How I Met Your Mother||Friends|
|Utah||Friends||The Office||The Office|
|Vermont||This is Us||The Office||Doctor Who|
|Virginia||This is Us||The Office||Friends|
|Washington||Friends||The Office||Modern Family|
|West Virginia||Seinfeld||House||The Big Bang Theory|
|Wisconsin||Friends||The Office||The Office|
|Wyoming||This is Us||Modern Family||Modern Family|
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