Top Cable News Shows of 2021: Tucker Carlson Tonight Is No. 1 in All Measurements For First Time Ever

By A.J. Katz 

Fox News, once again, dominated the cable news rankings in 2021. This time, it was Tucker Carlson, not Sean Hannity, whose show averaged the largest total audience on cable news. Fox News’ 8 p.m. offering Tucker Carlson Tonight eclipsed Fox News’ 9 p.m. show Hannity in 2021, having averaged 3.21 million total viewers. Hannity, meanwhile, dropped to No. 3 in total viewers, averaging 2.87 million in 2021. Hannity had been the the most-watched show on cable news from 2017-2020.

So, who finished between Carlson and Hannity? That would be Fox News’ 5 p.m. panel show The Five, which posted an average of 2.94 million in 2021. The Five’s performance represents the first time a non-primetime program was the second-most-watched show for a calendar year in cable news history.

Overall, Fox News is home to seven of the 10 most-watched cable news shows of 2021. The other three hail from MSNBC.

The Rachel Maddow Show was the top non-Fox News show for 2021, averaging 2.59 million at 9 p.m. (No. 4 overall).

Anderson Cooper 360 was CNN’s most-watched show in 2021, having averaged 1.255 million at 8 p.m. (No. 25 overall).

Here’s a snapshot of the top 10 regularly-scheduled cable news shows for 2021.

2021 TOTAL VIEWERS (Nielsen Live+SD data)

Time Slot | Network | Program / Total Viewers / # of Telecasts 

  1. 8 p.m. |Fox News | Tucker Carlson Tonight: 3,214,000 / 230
  2. 5 p.m. | Fox News | The Five: 2,936,000 / 253
  3. 9 p.m. | Fox News | Hannity: 2,870,000 / 224
  4. 9 p.m. | MSNBC | The Rachel Maddow Show: 2,593,000 / 245
  5. 10 p.m. | Fox News | The Ingraham Angle: 2,266,000 / 227
  6. 6 p.m. | Fox News | Special Report with Bret Baier: 2,130,000 / 252
  7. 7 p.m. | Fox News | Fox News Primetime: 1,868,000 / 237
  8. 10 p.m. | MSNBC | The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell: 1,777,000 / 240
  9. 11 p.m. | Fox News | Gutfeld!: 1,701,000 / 175
  10. 4 p.m. | MSNBC | Deadline: White House with Nicolle Wallace

Below, the full regularly-scheduled weekday cable news ranker for 2021, sorted by average total viewers.

P2+
RANK NETWORK PROGRAM NAME AA (000) #Tlc
1 FOXN TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT 3214 230
2 FOXN FIVE, THE 2936 253
3 FOXN HANNITY 2870 224
4 MSNB RACHEL MADDOW SHOW 2593 245
5 FOXN INGRAHAM ANGLE, THE 2266 227
6 FOXN SPECIAL RPT W/BRET BAIER 2130 252
7 FOXN FOX NEWS PRIMETIME 1868 237
8 MSNB LAST WORD W/ L. ODONNELL 1777 240
9 FOXN GUTFELD! 1701 175
10 MSNB DEADLINE:WHITE HOUSE 1584 267
11 FOXN OUTNUMBERED 1580 244
12 MSNB ALL IN W/ CHRIS HAYES 1571 243
13 FOXN AMERICAS NEWSROOM 1513 511
14 FOXN FAULKNER FOCUS, THE 1476 231
15 MSNB BEAT W/ARI MELBER 1465 244
16 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/ H.JACKSON 1443 54
17 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/ S.RUHLE 1436 57
18 MSNB REIDOUT 1434 246
19 FOXN STORY, THE 1420 244
20 FOXN YOUR WORLD W/NEIL CAVUTO 1417 244
21 FOXN AMERICA REPORTS 1416 468
22 MSNB 11TH HOUR/11TH HOUR W/WILLIAMS 1392 246
23 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/A.MOHYELDIN 1391 60
24 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/K.TUR 1359 56
25 CNN ANDERSON COOPER 360 1255 269
26 CNN CNN TONIGHT/CUOMO/COOPER 1229 236
27 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/ C.MELVIN 1221 58
28 FOXN FOX AND FRIENDS 1215 753
29 CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT 1121 249
30 CNN SITUATION ROOM 1095 374
31 FOXN FOX NEWS AT NIGHT 1044 252
32 MSNB MORNING JOE 1018 252
33 CNN LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER 995 371
34 CNN CNN NEWSROOM 940 1313
35 MSNB MTP DAILY 875 242
36 CNN DON LEMON TONIGHT/CNN TONIGHT 873 447
37 MSNB ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS 869 235
38 MSNB STEPHANIE RUHLE REPORTS 824 187
39 CNN INSIDE POLITICS 823 208
40 MSNB AYMAN MOHYELDIN REPORTS 805 118
41 MSNB HALLIE JACKSON REPORTS 763 189
42 MSNB KATY TUR REPORTS 754 195
43 CNN AT THIS HOUR 684 182
44 MSNB CRAIG MELVIN REPORTS 658 179
45 MSNB JOSE DIAZ-BALART REPORTS 614 58
46 CNN NEW DAY 524 753
47 FOXN FOX & FRIENDS FIRST 470 500
48 MSNB WAY TOO EARLY W/K. HUNT 431 142
49 HLN DEREK CHAUVIN TRIAL 419 136
50 NMX GREG KELLY REPORTS 405 255
51 CNN CNN NEWSROOM LIVE 319 343
52 NMX SPICER & CO 305 260
53 CNN EARLY START 302 247
54 MSNB WAY TOO EARLY 296 112
55 CNBC FAST MONEY HALFTIME RPRT 293 249
55 CNBC SQUAWK ALLEY 293 70
55 CNBC SQUAWK ON THE STREET 293 251
58 NMX CHRIS SALCEDO SHOW, THE 263 258
59 NMX STINCHFIELD 260 255
60 CNBC EXCHANGE, THE 259 249
61 NMX ERIC BOLLING THE BALANCE 244 107
62 CNBC CLOSING BELL 243 250
63 CNBC POWER LUNCH 241 250
64 HLN KILLING OF A.ARBERY TRIAL 240 90
65 CNBC TECHCHECK 237 180
66 FBN VARNEY & COMPANY 236 747
67 CNBC NEWS W SHEPARD SMITH, THE 231 253
68 CNBC MAD MONEY 213 206
69 FBN KUDLOW 206 213
70 CNBC FAST MONEY 201 279
71 NMX AMERICAN AGENDA 199 260
72 NMX NATIONAL REPORT 196 260
73 NMX JOHN BACHMAN NOW 195 259
74 HLN MORNING EXPRESS W/ MEADE 176 1227
75 NMX ROB SCHMITT TONIGHT 171 252
76 CNBC OPTIONS ACTION 157 48
77 NMX CORTES & PELLEGRINO 150 161
78 FBN EVENING EDIT, THE 149 249
79 FBN CAVUTO COAST TO COAST 145 498
80 FBN CLAMAN COUNTDOWN, THE 139 249
80 FBN MAKING MONEY W/C.PAYNE 139 246
80 CNBC SQUAWK BOX 139 252
83 FBN FOX BUSINESS TONIGHT 135 222
84 NMX WAKE UP AMERICA 118 260
85 FBN MORNINGS WITH M.BARTIROMO 106 747
86 FBN KENNEDY 87 199
87 FBN AMERICAN BUILT 83 28
88 FBN AMERICAN DREAM HOME 56 28
88 FBN M. BARTIROMOS WALL STREET 56 48
90 CNBC WORLDWIDE EXCHANGE 55 250
91 FBN MANSION GLOBAL 53 28
92 FBN WSJ AT LRGE W/GERRY BAKER 43 48
93 FBN PURSUIT W/JOHN RICH, THE 42 28
94 CNBC STREET SIGNS 36 56
95 FBN BARRONS ROUNDTABLE 29 48

Tucker Carlson Tonight is one of the most polarizing and influential shows on television. In addition to average total viewers, it also happens to be the most popular show on cable news among adults 25-54, averaging 535,000 viewers from the key measurement in 2021.

Hannity behind his FNC colleague with an average of 460,000 adults 25-54 in the 9 p.m. hour. The Five finished in third, averaging 423,000 adults 25-54 at 5 p.m, followed by The Ingraham Angle at 10 p.m. (389,000).

MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show came in at No. 5 in 2021 among adults 25-54 (371,000), making it the highest-rated non-Fox News show in the key demo.

CNN programming finished far outside of the top 10 in average total viewers, but had two shows inside the top 10 when it came to adults 25-54: Anderson Cooper 360 (No. 8, 315,000), and the network’s 9 p.m. hour of Cuomo Primetime/CNN Tonight/AC 360 (No. 10 , 293,000).

2021 ADULTS 25-54 (Nielsen Live+SD data) 

Time Slot | Program / Adults 25-54 / # of Telecasts 

  1. 8 p.m. | Fox News | Tucker Carlson Tonight: 535,000 / 230
  2. 9 p.m. | Fox News | Hannity: 460,000 / 224
  3. 5 p.m. | Fox News | The Five: 423,000 / 253
  4. 10 p.m. | Fox News | The Ingraham Angle: 389,000 / 227
  5. 9 p.m. | MSNBC | The Rachel Maddow Show: 371,000 / 245
  6. 6 p.m. | Fox News | Special Report with Bret Baier: 332,000 / 252
  7. 11 p.m. | Fox News | Gutfeld!: 325,000 / 175
  8. 8 p.m. | CNN | Anderson Cooper 360: 315,000 / 269
  9. 7 p.m. | Fox News | Fox News Primetime: 307,000 / 237
  10. 9 p.m. | CNN | Cuomo Primetime/CNN Tonight/AC360: 293,000 / 236

Below, the full regularly-scheduled weekday cable news ranker for 2021, sorted by adults 25-54.

RANK NETWORK PROGRAM NAME A25-54 (000) #Tlc
1 FOXN TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT 535 230
2 FOXN HANNITY 460 224
3 FOXN FIVE, THE 423 253
4 FOXN INGRAHAM ANGLE, THE 389 227
5 MSNB RACHEL MADDOW SHOW 371 245
6 FOXN SPECIAL RPT W/BRET BAIER 332 252
7 FOXN GUTFELD! 325 175
8 CNN ANDERSON COOPER 360 315 269
9 FOXN FOX NEWS PRIMETIME 307 237
10 CNN CNN TONIGHT/CUOMO/COOPER 293 236
11 CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT 284 249
12 CNN SITUATION ROOM 277 374
13 FOXN OUTNUMBERED 250 244
14 FOXN AMERICAS NEWSROOM 248 511
15 CNN DON LEMON TONIGHT/CNN TONIGHT 244 447
16 FOXN STORY, THE 240 244
17 FOXN FAULKNER FOCUS, THE 237 231
17 MSNB LAST WORD W/ L. ODONNELL 237 240
19 FOXN AMERICA REPORTS 236 468
19 FOXN YOUR WORLD W/NEIL CAVUTO 236 244
21 CNN LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER 226 371
22 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/ H.JACKSON 225 54
23 FOXN FOX NEWS AT NIGHT 221 252
24 MSNB ALL IN W/ CHRIS HAYES 218 243
25 CNN CNN NEWSROOM 217 1313
26 FOXN FOX AND FRIENDS 211 753
27 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/ S.RUHLE 207 57
27 MSNB REIDOUT 207 246
29 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/A.MOHYELDIN 206 60
30 MSNB 11TH HOUR/11TH HOUR W/WILLIAMS 205 246
31 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/K.TUR 202 56
32 CNN INSIDE POLITICS 191 208
33 MSNB DEADLINE:WHITE HOUSE 189 267
34 MSNB BEAT W/ARI MELBER 187 244
35 MSNB MSNBC LIVE W/ C.MELVIN 186 58
36 CNN AT THIS HOUR 151 182
37 MSNB MORNING JOE 137 252
38 HLN DEREK CHAUVIN TRIAL 128 136
39 CNN NEW DAY 120 753
40 MSNB ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS 116 235
40 MSNB MTP DAILY 116 242
42 MSNB AYMAN MOHYELDIN REPORTS 106 118
43 MSNB KATY TUR REPORTS 96 195
43 MSNB STEPHANIE RUHLE REPORTS 96 187
45 FOXN FOX & FRIENDS FIRST 95 500
46 MSNB HALLIE JACKSON REPORTS 91 189
47 MSNB CRAIG MELVIN REPORTS 86 179
48 CNN CNN NEWSROOM LIVE 75 343
49 CNN EARLY START 72 247
50 MSNB JOSE DIAZ-BALART REPORTS 65 58
50 CNBC SQUAWK ALLEY 65 70
50 MSNB WAY TOO EARLY W/K. HUNT 65 142
53 CNBC SQUAWK ON THE STREET 63 251
54 NMX GREG KELLY REPORTS 60 255
54 HLN KILLING OF A.ARBERY TRIAL 60 90
56 CNBC FAST MONEY HALFTIME RPRT 58 249
57 HLN MORNING EXPRESS W/ MEADE 53 1227
58 CNBC EXCHANGE, THE 50 249
58 CNBC TECHCHECK 50 180
60 NMX STINCHFIELD 49 255
61 CNBC CLOSING BELL 46 250
61 CNBC POWER LUNCH 46 250
63 NMX SPICER & CO 45 260
64 CNBC MAD MONEY 42 206
65 CNBC NEWS W SHEPARD SMITH, THE 41 253
66 NMX CHRIS SALCEDO SHOW, THE 39 258
66 CNBC FAST MONEY 39 279
68 MSNB WAY TOO EARLY 38 112
69 NMX ROB SCHMITT TONIGHT 36 252
70 NMX AMERICAN AGENDA 35 260
71 NMX JOHN BACHMAN NOW 33 259
71 CNBC SQUAWK BOX 33 252
73 NMX NATIONAL REPORT 32 260
73 CNBC OPTIONS ACTION 32 48
75 NMX ERIC BOLLING THE BALANCE 30 107
76 NMX CORTES & PELLEGRINO 28 161
77 FBN VARNEY & COMPANY 25 747
78 FBN KUDLOW 17 213
78 NMX WAKE UP AMERICA 17 260
80 FBN CAVUTO COAST TO COAST 16 498
80 FBN CLAMAN COUNTDOWN, THE 16 249
80 FBN MAKING MONEY W/C.PAYNE 16 246
83 CNBC WORLDWIDE EXCHANGE 13 250
84 FBN EVENING EDIT, THE 12 249
84 FBN MANSION GLOBAL 12 28
84 FBN MORNINGS WITH M.BARTIROMO 12 747
87 FBN FOX BUSINESS TONIGHT 11 222
87 FBN KENNEDY 11 199
89 FBN AMERICAN BUILT 10 28
90 FBN AMERICAN DREAM HOME 9 28
90 CNBC STREET SIGNS 9 56
92 FBN PURSUIT W/JOHN RICH, THE 7 28
93 FBN M. BARTIROMOS WALL STREET 6 48
94 FBN BARRONS ROUNDTABLE 5 48
95 FBN WSJ AT LRGE W/GERRY BAKER 4 48

Source: 2021 (Nielsen LIVE+SD) Weekday Program Analysis (excluding breaking news & specials, includes all original programming)
2021 FINAL (12/28/20-12/24/21). Program Name Averages, Live+SD, M-F 6a-2a, Su-Th 4-6a,. Only original scheduled programs with 20+ telecasts included.

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