LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A list of the most-watched TV episodes of the decade reads like an exercise in nostalgia. Only one telecast aired after 2006. With the increasingly fractured TV universe, we probably won’t see a list quite like this again. Excluding duplicate titles, here are the Top 10 TV series episodes since 2000:
* Airdate: May 6, 2004
* Viewers: 52.5 million
Titled “The Last One,” the “Friends” series finale closed a modern-day Golden Age of comedy TV -- and marked the end of NBC’s “Must-See TV” era. At the time, the final “Friends” was the most-watched entertainment telecast in six years, and it has never been surpassed. A finale that stayed true to the series, the “Friends” closer was well liked by fans and concluded with slow pan across Monica and Chandler’s empty apartment.
* Airdate: August 23, 2000
* Viewers: 51.7 million
“Survivor” was a new series that premiered in the dead of summer, yet that didn’t stop its August finale from nearly toppling “Friends” as the most-watched telecast of the decade. During its riveting two-hour closer, audiences expected tough whitewater rafting guide Kelly Wiglesworth to triumph over scheming corporate trainer Richard Hatch for the show’s $1 million prize -- and then were stunned to discover that in this new TV genre called “reality,” sometimes the villain wins.
* Airdate: February 17, 2003
* Viewers: 40 million
Fox put a deceptive twist on the reality TV genre with “Joe Millionaire.” Why tell contestants the truth when fooling them is so much more fun? With women vying for the attention of fake millionaire Evan Marriott, millions watched the season finale to see which bachelorette he would choose and, more important, how she would react when she learned the truth about his identity. Marriott’s relationship with winner Zora Andrich didn’t last and, once the show’s twist played out, neither did “Joe Millionaire.”
* Airdate: February 17, 2000
* Viewers: 39.4 million
A car crash the previous week left Lucy Knight and John Carter gravely injured after they were attacked by a schizophrenic patient. A massive audience tuned in for this episode, “All in the Family,” to see who would survive. Considered one of the most tragic episodes of the series.
* Airdate: January 16, 2007
* Viewers: 38.1 million
The “American Idol” sixth-season premiere marked the pinnacle of the show’s popularity, back when each season brought in a higher number than the one before. The Minneapolis episode opened a season that Jordin Sparks would go on to win, and introduced millions to the name Sanjaya.
6. GREY‘S ANATOMY
* Airdate: February 5, 2006
* Viewers: 38 million
Code black! This post-Super Bowl episode of ABC’s medical soap was jam-packed with attention-getting drama for the football crowd -- supply-closet sex, a doctor giving birth, a lesbian shower scene and guest star Christina Ricci as a paramedic with her hand on the trigger of a bomb that’s also inside her patient. The episode sealed “Grey‘s” hit status and proved girly shows can score ratings touchdowns after the Big Game, too.
* Airdate: May 3, 2000
* Viewers: 36 million
Three “Millionaire” episodes from the same week in May are clumped together on the most-watched list, as Regis fever swept the country. ABC was criticized for airing this flashy new game show three or even four nights a the week, though we’ll never know if the network’s scheduling saturation was to blame for the show’s demise two years later or if the game show’s popularity with viewers was destined to be short-lived.
* Airdate: May 18, 2000
* Viewers: 33.7 million
The seventh-season finale of “Cheers” spin-off “Fraiser” promised to end the suspense over Niles Crane’s swooning over physical therapist Daphne Moon. Niles confesses his love for Daphne on the eve of her wedding, only to be rejected ... or so it seemed at first.
* Airdate: May 16, 2005
* Viewers: 32.9 million
The series finale for Ray Romano’s long-running sitcom went off the air as a top 10-ranked show among total viewers. The episode was only subtly climatic, with Ray Barone’s routine surgery resulting in a moment where his family thought he might have died. The episode concluded with the Barones talking and laughing around the dinner table.
* Airdate: May 24, 2000
* Viewers: 32.8 million
Yes, we were surprised, too -- and the ratings coup is not for the series finale. This was the final episode starring Michael J. Fox, who left the show because of his worsening Parkinson’s symptoms. Charlie Sheen took the lead role for two more “Spins” seasons, and Fox had a brief return in the final year.
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