Adweek’s 2018 TV Hot List: The Year’s Biggest and Buzziest Shows, Networks and Personalities

From The Big Bang Theory to Atlanta, ABC to Netflix

Hottest Late-Night Host, Miniseries, Comedy and more

In the era of Peak TV, the degree of difficulty is higher than ever for shows and networks as they try to make an impact with viewers. That’s what makes this year’s TV Hot List winners so impressive, as the list reveals all the ways the industry is changing—from Netflix taking up all the oxygen (and much of the top talent like Adweek’s TV Creator of the Year Kenya Barris) in the TV space to megamergers like the Discovery-Scripps union that put Adweek’s TV Executive of the Year Kathleen Finch in charge of 11 networks—and how much it’s stayed the same, from the continued resilience of broadcast shows like The Big Bang Theory to the revival of many of our favorite shows from the past, like Queer Eye and Murphy Brown.

Show of the Year
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

The CBS comedy juggernaut, which is now in its 12th and final season, will be going out on top, as its audiences prop up not one but two networks. Big Bang was the most-watched prime-time show last season, averaging a whopping 18.8 million viewers, while its syndicated episodes continue to keep TBS on top in the demo among entertainment cable networks. —Jason Lynch

Hottest Drama
The Good Doctor (ABC)

No more seasons of Scandal for ABC? No problem: The medical series, starring Freddie Highmore as a surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, was last year’s No. 1 freshman drama, and No. 2 overall among all broadcast dramas, with a 3.4 rating in the adults 18-49 demo. Supplanting Grey’s Anatomy as ABC’s top drama last season, The Good Doctor helped power the network’s turnaround last season, moving it out of fourth place in the demo into a tie for second. —J.L.

Hottest Comedy
Atlanta (FX)

The Donald Glover series followed its breakout freshman season in 2016 with a second year that managed to be even more daring—especially the sensational, surreal “Teddy Perkins” episode, featuring Glover in whiteface, as a pale, reclusive pop star. That led to 16 Emmy nominations this year, more than any other comedy series, and a quick pickup for Season 3. —Sara Jerde

Hottest Miniseries
Sharp Objects (HBO)


The addictive miniseries, starring Amy Adams and based on Gillian Flynn’s novel, was one of summer’s most buzzed-about shows. Averaging 7 million multiplatform viewers per episode, Sharp Objects kept audiences riveted—right down to its final shocking twist. —S.J.

Hottest Network for Drama

It was a breakout year for Netflix original dramas, as the streaming service rolled out more than a dozen series that resonated with both audiences and Emmy voters, including Stranger Things, The Crown, Ozark, Black Mirror, Mindhunter, 13 Reasons Why, Altered Carbon, Alias Grace and its Marvel shows. It’s a murderer’s row of dramas that none of its competitors could match this year. —S.J.

Hottest Network for Comedy

With comedy blocks on three separate nights (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays), ABC has cemented itself as the home for top-notch family sitcoms like Black-ish, Modern Family, The Goldbergs, Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless. And that’s not even counting last season’s biggest new show, Roseanne, which took the industry by storm before Roseanne Barr’s Twitter implosion led ABC to pull the plug in May. But ABC’s new Barr-free spinoff, The Conners, should keep the momentum going. —J.L.

Hottest Kids Show
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (PBS Kids)

As America rediscovered its love for Fred Rogers this summer, celebrating Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s 50th anniversary, it also rekindled interest in the PBS series, produced by The Fred Rogers Co. and featuring characters that originated on that show. Now in its fourth season, the program has spawned a popular live show tour and consistently ranks among PBS Kids’ top offerings for kids 2-5 and 2-8. —J.L.

Hottest Kids Network

It’s been a challenging year for all kids networks, but Nickelodeon continues to reign as basic cable’s No. 1 kids network in children 2-11, 6-11 and 2-5. The network, which is also home to the top 10 kids shows across all children’s demos, continues to expand its brand with the SlimeFest festival and new revivals of two of its biggest properties: Double Dare and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. —J.L.

Hottest New Series
Killing Eve (BBC America)

The BBC America drama, starring Sandra Oh (who received an Emmy nomination for the role) and Jodie Comer, did something extraordinary during its Emmy-nominated first season: It built on its 18-49 and 25-54 demo audience each week, becoming the first new scripted series to do so since Nielsen’s live-plus-3 measurement began more than a decade ago. —J.L.

Hottest SVOD

With 130 million subscribers worldwide, 57.4 million of whom are in the U.S., and an original content budget this year that could reach $8 billion, Netflix is leaving its streaming competitors in the dust. It has the rest of the TV industry on its heels as well, signing top creators like Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy and Kenya Barris to exclusive deals and breaking HBO’s 17-year streak as the outlet with the most Emmy nominations. —S.J.

Hottest Binge Series
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (Amazon)

It’s been years since Amazon had a must-see show on par with its competitors. But that changed with its thrilling new John Krasinski series—based on Clancy’s novels—which first captured attention with an explosive Super Bowl ad in February and successfully rebooted the Jack Ryan character after some recent feature-film misfires. No wonder Amazon ordered Season 2 before the first season even aired. —S.J.

Hottest News Network
Fox News

Love it or hate it, no one can touch it: Fox News Channel has now been the most-watched cable news network for 67 consecutive quarters, and is on track to finish 2018 as the No. 1 network across all of basic cable. Count President Donald Trump among the millions of Americans who tune in to the network’s news and opinion programming each day. Fox News Channel will be an integral part of the news- and sports-focused “New Fox,” which will comprise the 21st Century Fox assets that aren’t part of the Disney merger. —A.J. Katz

Hottest Show on Social Media
The Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise (ABC)

When it comes to rabid social media fan bases, few hold a candle to Bach Nation. From dramatizing each and every rose ceremony, to blasting Arie Luyendyk Jr. in March after he withdrew his proposal to one contestant and declared his emotions for another, viewers have made social media an essential component of the Bachelor franchise, with 7.2 million social engagements this year across all shows. —S.J.

Hottest Revival
Murphy Brown (CBS)

Its debut (10.4 million viewers in live-plus-3-days ratings) might not have matched the huge numbers put up by other recent revivals of ’90s hits, like Will & Grace and Roseanne, but no other TV return seems as perfectly timed to this moment in culture than Candice Bergen’s fearless television journalist. Hillary Clinton made a surprise cameo in the season premiere, while subsequent episodes tackled the #MeToo movement and the current White House’s war with the press. —A.J.K.

Hottest Reality/Competition Series
Queer Eye (Netflix)

In the year of reboots, this Fab Five remake made a name for itself and established a unique, modern-day voice. The series earned three Emmys, including outstanding structured reality program, and won over so many viewers during its first two seasons that it will be back for a third campaign. “Yass henny.” —S.J.

Hottest Sports Network
Fox Sports

As Fox prepares to rely more heavily on sports programming for its assets that will be spun off into a new company (currently known as New Fox) prior to the upcoming Disney merger, it has bulked up on major sports broadcast rights for Fox Sports—including new five-year deals for Thursday Night Football and WWE Smackdown. Those bolster a robust sports portfolio—airing on Fox, FS1 and FS2—that also includes FIFA Men’s and Women’s World Cups, Major League Baseball (along with the World Series), and college football and basketball. Its Sunday NFL package, America’s Game of the Week, was TV’s most-watched program last season, with 22.7 million viewers. —A.J.K.

Hottest Late-Night Host
Stephen Colbert

In another news-heavy year, Colbert has managed to stay relevant … and funny, holding his own as the best comedian in late night. The Late Show increased its audience by 12 percent year over year, and has maintained a commanding, million-plus total-viewers lead over The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, while continuing to narrow the 18-49 demo gap between the two programs. —S.J.

Hottest Unscripted Network

Shifting away from scripted series in 2017 has paid off for the network, which has seen six consecutive quarters of year-over-year ratings growth in the adults 25-54 demo. It’s the No. 8 cable network in the 25-54 demo this year, up four spots from 2017. And thanks to Live PD, which is often cable’s No. 1 show in 25-54 on Fridays and Saturdays, the network was No. 1 in 18-49 and 25-54 among all networks, including broadcast, on Fridays and Saturdays in August. —J.L.

Hottest Live TV Streaming Service
YouTube TV

Several vMVPDs [virtual multichannel video programming distributors] have been making noise during the past year in the battle for cord cutters and cord nevers. But none has been as aggressive in the live TV streaming space as YouTube TV, which made splashy presenting sponsor partnerships with the World Series and NBA Finals, and also signed multimedia rights deals with several Major League Soccer franchises as part of a massive marketing push. —J.L.

Hottest Media Battle
CBS Corp. vs. National Amusements

Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Sources: Getty Images

There were several brutal media face-offs this year, but none as nasty as the fight between CBS and parent company National Amusements (led by Shari Redstone and her father, Sumner) over its future (among other things, CBS objected to the prospect of a forced merger with Viacom). CBS filed suit in May 14, days before its upfront, and while the companies settled their differences on Sept. 9—the same day that embattled CBS Corp. chairman and CEO Les Moonves exited after a second wave of sexual misconduct allegations—the move seems to be more of a temporary cease-fire than the final chapter of this battle. —J.L.

Hottest TV Franchise
The Walking Dead (AMC)

AMC already has three hit shows on the air—The Walking Dead, aftershow Talking Dead and spinoff Fear the Walking Dead—but the network is just getting started. In January, it promoted Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple to chief content officer, tasking him with overseeing and expanding the entire Walking Dead universe. He’s already hard at work, with ambitious plans for new series, TV movies and specials that should keep the franchise going for at least the next decade. —J.L.

Hottest Branded Content

CNN’s in-house branded content studio has expanded beyond short-form video into a variety of intriguing formats, including documentaries, animation, audio-augmented reality and experiential events. But none has had the impact of the CNN linear live ad for MassMutual that the studio pulled off on New Year’s Eve: the first live-ad in cable TV history. —J.L.

Check out all of this year’s honorees:

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.