While the way we watch TV evolves, what we want to watch remains consistent: the hottest TV shows still have heart, soul and wit.
This Is Us, our pick for both Show of the Year and Hottest Drama, is giving NBC a much-needed shot in the arm. Our pick for Hottest Sports Network, Twitter, isn’t really a network at all, but a platform for sharing and engaging. Our Creator of the Year, the prolific Ryan Murphy, reveals that fear is what motivates him. And Late Show’s Stephen Colbert, our Hottest Late-Night Host, proves outrage and laughter can coexist.
Big Little Lies
HBO viewers were treated to big-screen performances from Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Alexander Skarsgård. With an average of 7.1 million viewers per episode, Big Little Lies dominated social media as fan theories built around the central whodunit mystery. See if you can watch the show without getting a few songs from its soundtrack stuck in your head. —Sami Main
Hottest Kids Show
The series—about a teenager who moonlights as a superhero sidekick—was the No. 1 kids show on TV last year. Nickelodeon has already ordered a fourth season, and is doubling down on its success by ordering an animated spinoff, The Adventures of Kid Danger and Captain Man, which should lift the network’s ratings even higher. —Jason Lynch
Hottest Kids Network
While ratings for its rivals have fallen, Nickelodeon just keeps dominating. It is No. 1 in all three kids’ demos (2-11, 2-5 and 6-11), and has been the most-watched kids network for three years, while airing all of the top 10 shows last year among kids 2-11, including hits like The Thundermans and Game Shakers. —J.L.
Hottest New Series
The Handmaid’s Tale
The most startlingly relevant show on television, the Elisabeth Moss drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, was an immediate hit for Hulu: last month’s debut episode was the most-watched—and most-acclaimed—premiere in the streaming network’s history. Amid the deafening buzz, Hulu almost immediately picked up the show for Season 2. —J.L.
After years of searching, Hulu has finally found a prestige series—The Handmaid’s Tale—that can go toe-to-toe with the best shows from Netflix and Amazon. Now the company is luring cord-cutters and cord-nevers with its enticing new live TV streaming service. Netflix is still the big SVOD on the block, but Hulu is making the biggest, boldest moves. —J.L.
Hottest Binge Series
Part supernatural thriller, part interpretive dance lesson, this bizarre creation of longtime collaborators Brit Marling (who also stars) and Zal Batmanglij (who directs) is one of Netflix’s most fascinating, frustrating and addictive originals to date. Thankfully, a second season is en route, leaving fans hopeful there’s more to this inscrutable story. —David Griner
Hottest Late-Night Host | TV
No late-night program has discovered its voice under President Trump more than the Late Show with Stephen Colbert [CBS], where the once-struggling host has led The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in total viewers every week since the end of January. Fallon continues to dominate in the demo for now, but Colbert has pulled off a stunning late-night turnaround in the past year. —J.L.
Hottest Late-Night Host | Digital
Forget going viral the next day: Late Night with Seth Meyers gets a jump on the competition with early online releases of his signature “A Closer Look” segments—a 10-minute deep dive into the latest Trump-related crisis—hours before that night’s episode airs on NBC. Each video tops 1 million views, giving Meyers a consistent digital stronghold. —J.L.
The Big Bang Theory
Consistently the most-watched show on TV, the venerable Big Bang Theory is adding audience as it ages. Averaging 20.3 million per episode, the 2015-16 season was its most watched. CBS has renewed Big Bang for two more seasons, bringing the total to 12. It’s also getting its first spinoff, a prequel called Young Sheldon. Bazinga! —Chris Ariens
Hottest News Anchor
CNN’s Jake Tapper is receiving critical acclaim for his hard-hitting interviews and biting criticism of the Trump administration. His fierce face-off with Kellyanne Conway has racked up nearly 1 million views on YouTube, and we haven’t seen much of Conway on cable news since. —A.J. Katz
Hottest Show on Social Media
The Walking Dead
Conversation around TV shows are some of the most enjoyable times of social media, as people gather ’round to tweet and update their gasps and theories. AMC’s The Walking Dead, based on a beloved comic book series set in a zombie apocalypse, saw more than 1.8 million social reactions, in the hours before and after its Season 7 finale in April. That’s more than three times any other series. —S.M.
Hottest Network for Comedy
The streaming service will release new stand-up comedy specials each week through the end of the year from comedians like Amy Schumer, Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld and many more. Combined with past specials from comedians and tons of original comedy programs, like Master of None, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix will keep you laughing. —S.M.
One Day at a Time
Netflix was able to bring Norman Lear into the 21st century with this revival of his classic sitcom. This time, three generations of a Cuban-American family, plus one friendly landlord, are the heart of the show, which was recently renewed for a second season. In true Lear fashion, the series covered topics like sexuality, PTSD and alcoholism with laughter and warmth. —S.M.
Hottest Reality/Competition Series
RuPaul’s Drag Race
After an Emmy win last fall, RuPaul is more ready for prime time than ever. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a bright, creative, dramatic and moving reality competition that aired on Logo for its first eight seasons, then moved to VH1 this year. The season premiere doubled the ratings of last year’s debut. —S.M.
Hottest Sports Network
Twitter went way beyond 140 characters last year with a first-of-its-kind streaming deal for Thursday Night Football. While Amazon outbid Twitter for the right to stream those games this season, the social platform has partnerships with the NBA, MLB, PGA and more. At its first NewFronts earlier this month, Twitter announced new deals to carry WNBA games, a series with The Players’ Tribune and a new weekly MLB show. —A.K.
Hottest Lifestyle Network
Whoever said audiences were fleeing TV forgot to tell HGTV, which has seen four years of growth in its core demo of adults 25-54. Last year was its highest rated ever, thanks to hit shows like Fixer Upper and Flip or Flop. Now HGTV is expanding both those franchises, using the same formula it perfected with House Hunters and Property Brothers. —J.L.
Hottest Network for Drama
The only repeat TV Hot List winner from last year, the network has continued 2016’s momentum with a murderer’s row of critically acclaimed dramas—including Legion, Feud, Fargo and The Americans—unmatched by any other network. FX’s streak should continue into next year as Ryan Murphy readies four new installments of his various anthology shows. —J.L.
Hottest News Network
In a three-way race, MSNBC has long been the No. 3 cable news network trailing Fox News and CNN, but with Trump’s election and the fast and furious news from his first 100 days, the network has seen an influx of viewers across all dayparts and has slid into second, ahead of CNN. It’s also seeing the most growth of the cable newsers, up 66 percent vs. April 2016. —C.A.
Hottest Network in Prime Time
With viewers watching by the millions for election news and staying through Trump’s first 100 days, Fox News marked 10 months as the most-watched cable channel. But the network’s drive screeched to a halt in April when its biggest star, Bill O’Reilly, was shown the door over multiple harassment allegations. That led to the network’s biggest prime-time shake-up in its 20-year history. Still, the network saw 28 percent prime-time growth in April vs. the same month last year. —A.K.
Check out the rest of this year’s Hot List honorees: