'The Simpsons' & the Other Longest-Running Scripted Primetime Shows Ever

Some shows manage to stand the test of time — luring audiences in for decades. Whether it’s a strong narrative, a humorous cast, spellbinding suspense, or tearjerking drama, the longest-running primetime scripted shows all boast qualities that keep viewers hooked for seasons on end. And, The Simpsons has been on the air since 1989; thus, it holds the record for the longest-running, primetime scripted series with the runner-up lagging way behind. 

1. ‘The Simpsons’

The Simpsons premiered in 1989 and focuses on the Simpsons family in the heart of Springfield (a town in an unnamed U.S. state). The father of the household, Homer, is not a typical dad, and he does his best to lead his family and raise his kids, but they often end up leading him. 

Homer works at a nuclear power plant and lives with his wife — the compassionate matriarch Marge, and their three kids, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. Bart’s the troublemaker, Lisa is the overachiever, and Maggie is the baby. Critics initially hailed the series for its satirical approach and subversive formula, and it has since become the animated gift that keeps on giving. 

2. ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’

Law & Order: SVU has managed to outlive its predecessor, Law & Order, by diving into crimes of a sexual nature…and placing Mariska Hargitay in the driver’s seat. The series is intense, and it is never short on drama. SVU is also not afraid to approach socio-cultural topics deserving of a primetime exposé. The series tugs at the heartstrings, too, exploring its primary characters and how they change over time in response to the taxing job at hand. The series premiered in 1999 and remains on the air to this day.

3. ‘Gunsmoke’

Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975. The show followed Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) as he does all in his power to prevent lawlessness from conquering Dodge City, Kansas. With help from a few friends — Miss Kitty Russell and Doc Adams — he remains grounded and focused on the various missions at hand. The show grew out of a radio serial of the same name, and the tv show and radio special were on the air together for a brief moment. 

4. ‘Law & Order’ 

The original Law & Order ran for 20 seasons from 1990 to 2010 and focused on the complexities tied to determining guilt or innocence. The episodes were often inspired by headlines that were taking over the news, ensuring that the show remained relevant across seasons. Viewers were able to relate to the personal and ethical dilemmas that prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys all had to face. 

5. ‘Lassie’

Lassie ran for 19 seasons and premiered in 1954. The show followed the brave and intelligent Collie named Lassie, who was always performing various heroic acts. For the first several years, Lassie lived on family farms, yet she eventually went on to work with forest rangers later in the series. 

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