the ratings game

The Most Popular U.S. TV Shows in 18 Countries Around the World

Photo: CBS, CW and Disney Channel

The Ratings Game is a weeklong series exploring what the new world of TV ratings means for your favorite shows.

It’s not much of a surprise that The Big Bang Theory is a massive hit in Canada and Australia, or that NCIS cumulatively boasts a bigger audience than any American TV show in the world. Both shows are ratings juggernauts in the States, and given the world’s historic love for our brand of entertainment, it’s logical that what plays in Peoria draws viewers in Perth and Paris. But dig deeper into the international ratings, and you quickly discover international audiences have some pretty random tastes in television. In France, for example, ABC’s short-lived 2014 crime drama Forever (the one about an immortal coroner) currently stands as the most-watched American TV show of the year. And in Romania, Lifetime’s now-dead Drop Dead Diva is a top-ten hit.  With the help of some of our production studio sources, Vulture was able to dig deep into the international ratings stats and round up audience report cards across the globe. We measured from January 1 to October 31 of this year, and only counted prime-time telecasts. Read on to learn the top ten shows in 18 nations — and try not to think too hard about why The Mysteries of Laura has such a large following in several countries.

South Africa

1 Modern Family
2 How I Met Your Mother
3 The Bold and the Beautiful
4 Teen Wolf
5 SpongeBob SquarePants
6 Transformers: Robots in Disguise
7 Second Generation Wayans
8 The Bold and the Beautiful
9 Days of Our Lives
10 Yo Gabba Gabba!

In addition to appreciating excellent American comedies such as Modern Family and How I Met Your Mother, the people of South Africa apparently have a fondness for … the family? The BET reality show Second Generation Wayans, about the Hollywood exploits of some lesser-known nephews of the more famous brothers, died after airing just 13 modestly rated episodes back in 2013. But in South Africa this year, it’s a top-ten show.


1 The Karate Kid
2 Curious George
3 Alvin & the Chipmunks
4 Crime Time
5 Aladdin
6 Sheriff Callie's Wild West
7 Tom & Jerry
8 Power Rangers Megaforce
9 Super Wings!
10 The Flash

Old-school American ’toons are big in Indonesia: Tom & Jerry, Power Rangers, and Alvin & the Chipmunks are among the top-ten U.S exports this year. And the Jaden Smith remake of The Karate Kid? As of October, it was the most-watched American-made show this year. Wax on with your bad selves, Indonesians.

South Korea

1 Scandal
2 Dragons
3 Criminal Minds
5 CSI: Cyber
6 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
7 Castle
8 SpongeBob SquarePants
9 Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu
10 Mamotte! Lollipop

Half of the ten most popular U.S. exports here are crime procedurals, such as NCIS and two CSI installments. But ABC’s soap-meets-procedural Scandal is South Korea’s favorite American show this year, fitting for the country that gave us K-dramas.


1 The Big Bang Theory
2 Quantico
3 How to Get Away With Murder
4 Revenge
5 The Blacklist
6 Criminal Minds
7 Limitless
8 Bones
9 The Odd Couple

If folks down under could craft their dream network of American shows, it’d look a lot like our Thursday night: Half of Australia’s most popular U.S. television exports air on that night here, including the top-rated The Big Bang Theory, TGIT staple How to Get Away With Murder, and Fox’s long-running procedural Bones. Australians love our Thursday shows so much, they’re even watching CBS’s new version of The Odd Couple, which, yep, aired after Big Bang this spring. Bazinga, mates!


1 Mr. Robot
2 True Detective
3 Homeland
4 Gotham
5 Grey's Anatomy
6 Criminal Minds
8 Game of Thrones
9 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
10 Stalker

We knew the Swedes were cool, but this proves it once and for all: Our top show there is USA Network’s spectacular Mr. Robot. On the other hand, CBS’s craptacular Stalker comes in at No. 10.

United Kingdom

1 Humans
2 Homeland
3 American Odyssey
4 Gotham
5 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
6 The Mentalist
7 NCIS: New Orleans
8 Episodes
9 CSI: Cyber
10 Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

In the States, Homeland and Episodes air on the subscription-based Showtime, thus limiting their potential viewership. But in the U.K., the two shows run on the widely available Channel 4 and BBC2, respectively, allowing them to rank as the No. 2 and No. 8 U.S. shows overall. (And since the No. 1 show, Humans, is actually a co-production between Channel 4 and our AMC, we’d argue that Homeland is actually the most-popular all-American show in Blighty.)


1 Forever
2 Person of Interest
3 The Mentalist
4 Unforgettable
5 Grey's Anatomy
6 Criminal Minds
7 Castle
8 Chicago P.D.
9 Rizzoli & Isles
10 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

You’d think the French would be into Mad Men, or something artsy and dark, like Hannibal. But nope: Like so much of the world, they love their American detective shows. Nine of the top ten American exports involve some form of crime-solving, including the No. 1–rated Forever (which died after just one season on ABC). The only non-crime show super-popular with the French is Grey’s Anatomy.


1 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
3 Bones
4 CSI: Cyber
5 NCIS: Lost Angeles
6 The Blacklist
7 Hawaii Five-0
8 Criminal Minds
9 The Mentalist
10 The Mysteries of Laura

The Germans dig our detectives even more than the French do, with crime procedurals making up all ten of the most-watched American series. While CSI and NCIS logically land at the top, newcomer Mysteries of Laura — which gets only so-so ratings here — ranks No. 10 in Germany.


1 The Bold and the Beautiful
3 NCIS: Los Angeles
4 Cedar Cove
5 CSI: Cyber
6 The Flash
7 Castle
8 NCIS: New Orleans
9 Arrow
10 Elementary

Daytime dramas are a shadow of their former selves here, but the Italians still love their soaps — or at least one American sudser: The Bold and the Beautiful. As it has been for years, the CBS serial is the most popular American show in Italy. Weirdly, Hallmark Channel’s Cedar Cove also makes the top five.


1 The Flash
2 Forever
3 The Strain
4 Zoo
5 The Whispers
6 Extant
7 Secrets and Lies
8 CSI: New York
9 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
10 CSI: Cyber

Superheroes are indeed global: The Flash is a ratings smash here, as are all three versions of CSI that aired this year. More curious is the fact that CBS’s modestly rated summer thrillers Zoo and Extant both end up in the top ten. Halle Berry’s star power may explain the latter show’s presence here, but Zoo? Really?


1 CSI: New York
2 Lie to Me
3 Corazón Valiente
4 The Mentalist
5 Rizzoli & Isles
6 Drop Dead Diva
7 Nikita
8 Two and a Half Men
9 Los Miserables
10 Spartacus

Romanians have some very eclectic viewing habits. In addition to predictable procedurals such as CSI and The Mentalist, citizens of the Black Sea–adjacent republic currently have a jones for the short-lived Fox drama Lie to Me, the CW Network’s now-dead Nikita, the Telemundo-produced telenovela Corazón Valiente, and … Two and a Half Men.


1 The Mentalist
2 CSI: Miami
3 Bones
4 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
5 Castle
6 Reina de Corazones
8 Walker, Texas Ranger
10 State of Affairs

They’ve been off the air for more than a decade here, but two CBS crime procedurals launched in the mid-1990s — Walker, Texas Ranger and JAG — draw enough Hungarians hungry for action to score spots in the top ten. The love for Chuck Norris and Catherine Bell is understandable, of course. More head-scratching: How Katherine Heigl’s NBC bomb State of Affairs made the list, too.


1 The Book of Negroes
2 Crossbones
3 AD: The Bible Continues
4 Frontline
5 True Justice
6 CSI: New York
7 Bones
8 CSI: Miami
9 Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
10 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

The mini-series Book of Negroes and AD: The Bible Continues didn’t draw huge audiences when they aired here, but they were big hits in Poland: They rank as the No. 1 and No. 3 shows of the year, respectively. A bigger head-scratcher is the fact that PBS newsmagazine Frontline is a top-ten hit there. Turns out the Poles love their nonfiction.


1 Game of Thrones
2 The Librarians
3 Body of Proof
4 Once Upon a Time
5 Dragons
6 Vikings
7 Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
8 The Mentalist
9 Masters of Sex
10 Unforgettable

Considering the Russian people’s rich history of political intrigue and brutal dictators, it’s totally logical that Game of Thrones leads the export chart. But Masters of Sex in the top ten? That we would not have predicted.


1 The Big Bang Theory
2 Quantico
3 Grey's Anatomy
4 Blindspot
5 Criminal Minds
6 Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
7 CSI: Cyber
9 NCIS: New Orleans
10 How to Get Away With Murder

Given their proximity, it’s pretty logical that our neighbors to the north dig a lot of shows from CBS (the most-watched network in America): Half the top ten, including No. 1, The Big Bang Theory, hails from the Eye network. A bit more surprising is that NBC’s Blindspot is currently in the top five.


1 SpongeBob SquarePants
2 Malcolm in the Middle
3 Victorious
4 iCarly
5 Criminal Minds
6 The Sylvester and Tweet Mysteries
7 Marvin Marvin
8 Adventure Time
9 The Haunted Hathaways
10 Power Rangers Megaforce

It’s hard to say what’s stranger: The fact that SpongeBob SquarePants is the biggest American show in Mexico, or that the No. 2 series is Malcolm in the Middle (or Malcolm el de en Medio, as it’s called on the website of Mexican broadcaster Canal 5). Perhaps our southern neighbors think young Frankie Muniz was adorable, or maybe a lot of Mexican fans of Breaking Bad still can’t get over Walter White’s demise. As for all the other American shows Mexicans are ignoring in favor of Malcolm, you know what they say: Life is unfair.


1 The Blacklist
2 Under the Dome
3 Austin & Ally
4 Dragons
5 Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness
6 SpongeBob SquarePants
7 Static Shock!
8 Monsters vs. Aliens
9 That's So Raven
10 The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes

While the James Spader–led The Blacklist is the most popular American series, kids shows do amazingly well in Brazil. And it’s not just current hits: That’s So Raven has been gone for eight years now, but it’s still a top ten hit here. That’s so crazy.


1 The Simpsons
2 ER
3 Brothers & Sisters
4 Homeland
5 Zorro
6 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
7 K.C. Undercover
8 Over the Garden Wall
9 Scream Queens
10 We Bare Bears

Argentines are trapped in a mid-1990s time warp: The two biggest American shows there this year are The Simpsons and ER. The only current U.S. shows grabbing Argentine audiences are Homeland and Scream Queens. We won’t cry for thee, Ryan Murphy.

The Most Popular U.S. TV Shows Around the World