During The Big Bang Theory’s time on air, it was one of the most popular shows in the United States. Debuting on CBS in 2007, The Big Bang Theory ran till 2019, spanning twelve seasons with over 250 episodes. In the show’s final season, a thirty-second commercial slot cost more than 285 million to advertise. During the show’s peak, the cast was earning $1 million an episode.
Even in the show’s final season, it remained at the top alongside its spin-off Young Sheldon. The Big Bang Theory had memorable seasons, new cast members joined – making the show better for once – and a blend of pop culture and science was exposed to a hungry new audience. Ranked with statistics from the Nielsen Company, this list follows the trail of engagement from audiences during the series’ run.
Season 1 (2007-2008)
8.4 Million Viewers
Though the pilot received mixed reviews, the episode harnessed 9.5 million curious viewers. The first season, praised for establishing the concept and characters, of the show let audiences know what they would be in for. A group of quirky guys that make up for their lack of social cues with uncanny intelligence. Performances of Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar become unforgettable from the moment you meet them in the hallway.
The first season was criticized for being hasty in the pacing. While the character development was exceptional, the Penny/Leonard relationship felt quick. Affected by the 07/08 writers strike, the first season was brought down to seventeen episodes. For creators, Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, this gave them time to rework some of the nuances.
Season 2 (2008-2009)
10 Million Viewers
When the second season aired, the show was gaining more fan attraction from word of mouth. The demographic of viewers spanned from children to adults and was catching its rhythm. Focusing on the antics the guys get into from being unconfident in most aspects of their life yet too smart for their own good. Sheldon’s character grew into a more loveable character during this season, making audiences adore him.
This season paced itself out, taking the relationship between Penny and Leonard and toning it down. Unlike the first season, the writing of the show felt more on the side of the geek archetype character that audiences didn’t appreciate. Instead, the guys were empowered, they didn’t need to over explain their jokes or talk down to the audience. The individual characters were elevating the playing field, put them in any situation and comedy was bound to happen.
Season 4 (2010-2011)
13.4 Million Viewers
This season had the additions of Sheldon’s girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) and Howard’s girlfriend Bernadette (Melissa Rauch). This gave the series new life as the additions of two female characters not only brought comedic gold from watching two goofballs date but also seeing Penny develop into a fuller, well-rounded character.
Up until this point, it was four guys against one girl and while they had their time, it was nice to see Penny come into her own as a character. Unlike Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Raj, she does not have a college degree or a fixed income. She is most similar to viewers, unsure of her life and still figuring things out. Implementing two other female characters really helped the show stay in the spotlight and continue to mature.
Season 3 (2009-2010)
14.4 Million Viewers
Coming to an inevitable sitcom plot, Leonard and Penny test the waters in this season by being a couple. Some of the best scenes of the season come from Sheldon’s mis-understandings of the relationship. The dynamic of Penny and Leonard being Sheldon’s parents develops here.
Hitting their stride, the show was becoming the phenomenon it turned into at this point. If you didn’t watch the series you surely would have heard about it from someone around you in 2010. The cast was becoming known and critically acclaimed, receiving nominations and wins at the Emmys.
Season 5 (2011-2012)
15.9 Million Viewers
The cast was cemented from this point on; the additions of Amy and Bernadette were concrete. Recurring guest stars made the show incredibly exciting, such as Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, and Wil Wheaton. Howard also began to come into his own as his storyline to go up to the International Space Station took precedent over his character.
This plot could be one contribution to the growing viewership, but at this point, the show was just reaching its sweet spot. With new characters, the stories they could tell would be endless. The only critique from this season is that Raj becomes a background player. With the addition of Amy and Bernadette, characters who we initially thought were set in their own way, began to grow. As for Raj, it felt like he was still stuck in season one mode – though this wouldn’t last forever.
Season 12 (2018-2019)
17.44 Million Viewers
As is the case with many sitcoms, the novelty begins to wear off. Still with a staggering number of viewers, Big Bang has always been in the upper echelon of viewers. Though during the show’s final season, ratings started to decrease. It was clear the show was starting to wind down and the plots of the episodes were feeling stale.
With the cast gaining attraction from other projects and lower ratings meant it was time to say goodbye to our favorite characters. Clearly, a stout fan base stuck around, but for many casual viewers, they were gone. The final episode averaged 18 million viewers, which made sure every character had a proper send off that was deserving of a watch.
Season 11 (2017-2018)
18.63 Million Viewers
At this point in the show, the series was averaging between 18 and 20 million viewers an episode. Episodes often consist of the relationships between each character. Leonard and Howard are both married; Amy and Sheldon don’t seem to be going anywhere.
Once again, the series has adapted and shifted when it needs to. The lives of the five main cast members change so drastically from each season that the situations they are presented with seem to always be known. The dating antics of the first few seasons are over, and watching the characters as they grow to be mentors and adults is not only hilarious but also relatable, as much of the fan base has followed them in the same trajectory of life.
Season 10 (2016-2017)
18.99 Million Viewers
The tenth season was a dynamic shift for roommates Leonard and Sheldon as the two commit to their relationships. Leonard gets married to Penny after 10 seasons of ups and downs. It felt like this point would come eventually and the fas that kept along didn’t miss out. The aftermath of Sheldon realizing what life is like now that mom and dad are married means changes for him.
The dynamic between Leonard, Penny, and Sheldon has arguably been a main crux to the entire show. Much of the emotional weight falls around Sheldon and how he handles and deals with situations. Watching the three in this season accounts for the high viewer count, as the back-and-forth not only brings comedy but a sweet sentiment as well.
Season 6 (2012-2013)
19 Million Viewers
Millions of viewers tuned in to see the effects of Howard in space. For the first five episodes of the season, Simon Heilberg was either not present or only on a quick video call. Besides a slow start, the series came in at number four for the highest-rated The Big Bang Theory season.
The Big Bang Theory has always been able to bring newcomers to the show. Whether it is because of the science background or the silly catchphrases, when introduced to the show you will get a divergence in characters from one season to the next. The ever-changing characters arouse curiosity and have helped to consistently bring fans back.
Season 8 (2014-2015)
19.3 Million Viewers
With the success of a hit show comes the dark engagements of Hollywood. Season 8 production was halted by the main cast’s contract negotiations. The deal went on to make them the highest paid cast of the day, amounting to $1 million per episode.
The cast members won the negotiations and season eight was underway. Without Jim Parsons, Johnny Gilecki and Kaley Cuoco, the show would not have survived. Later, negotiations between Bialik and Rauch would see that they are just as equally paid as their co-stars.
Season 9 (2015-2016)
20.37 Million Viewers
Over 20 million viewers is a feat for any series, but especially after nine years. Critics remained harsh towards the show, stating the jokes were becoming old, but clearly, fans couldn’t get enough. The season saw Sheldon’s Meemaw, played by June Squibb, as well as Laurie Metcalf returning as Sheldon’s mother.
The season is likely to have done so well based on the variety of characters offered to relate with. At this point, other series regulars began to get more screen time, like comic book store owner Stuart (Kevin Sussman). These series regulars added new dimensions of humor to the show as well as lore into the world of people which fans found so interesting.
Season 7 (2013-2014)
20.4 Million Viewers
The season not only had the largest number of viewers throughout the season, but also the highest average of viewers per episode. After the introduction of new characters and major plot lines, it felt like the series was going to continue to stay on a concourse of weaving. Instead, the seventh season was a very relaxed and familiar season, which made sense to the large number of viewers they got.
The series followed the cast in scenarios that felt familiar to seasons two, three, and four. This is where their shenanigans were the main conflict of humor and intrusive thoughts that lead to drastic situations. The series continues to perform on streaming services. A testament to the success of the show comes down to the characters that were too interesting not to spend over a decade with.