IMDB Television Series Data

IMDB is a website that aggregates various pieces of data about movies and television series. Users can submit their own data, including reviews and ratings. IMDB has several datasets available for download, one of which is the rating data for every entry in their database.

I chose to look just at TV series and even within that set of data, there is a lot of interesting information. One note on the data: users can rate an entire show on the show’s main page and/or rate individual episodes. This data only looks at the individual episode ratings.

Best and Worst TV Shows

The top rated and lowest rated series was easy to find, but I wanted to exclude odd, esoteric series that few people have seen. These tables show series that have an average of at least 250 votes per episode.

Best TV Shows:

SeriesAvg. Score
South of Sunset (1993)9.400
Planet Earth (2006)9.155
Band of Brothers (2001)9.090
Anything But Love (1989)8.900
Fawlty Towers (1975)8.867
Game of Thrones (2011)8.810
Breaking Bad (2008)8.807
Firefly (2002)8.764
The Wire (2002)8.763
Freaks and Geeks (1999)8.761

Worst TV Shows:

SeriesAvg. Score
Ben Hur (2010)5.700
Beck (1997)5.923
Wallander (2005)5.967
Fear Itself (2008)5.969
Masters of Horror (2005)6.1423
Veronica Mars (2004)6.344
Rags to Riches (1987)6.400
Knight Rider (2008)6.656
Stand by Your Man (1992)6.800
The Shield (2002)7.000

My wife says this can’t be accurate because “Veronica Mars is a great show,” but I guess the internet disagrees.

Another way of controlling what gets placed into the top and bottom is to look at overall votes. By looking at series with a total of at least 1000 votes, we get to see shows that (generally) span a longer time since more episodes equals more votes.

Best TV Shows:

SeriesAvg. Rating
Planet Earth (2006)9.155
Band of Brothers (2001)9.090
Fawlty Towers (1975)8.867
Absolutely Fabulous (1992)8.858
Saving Grace (2007)8.817
Game of Thrones (2011)8.810
Breaking Bad (2008)8.807
Oz (1997)8.771
Firefly (2002)8.764
The Wire (2002)8.763

Worst TV Shows:

SeriesAvg. Score
House of Payne (2006)1.260
Renegade (1992)2.399
The Simple Life (2003)2.695
MADtv (1995)3.807
Witchblade (2001)4.113
Rosamunde Pilcher (1993)4.362
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992)4.385
American Idol (2002)4.453
Dancing with the Stars (2005)4.530
Baywatch (1989)4.782

Even with this adjustment, many of the top shows are the same. However, the bottom shows are a bit more interesting in this table. We see shows with many seasons and no story arcs (e.g. talk shows), but also the controversial sitcom House of Payne.


Sticking with shows that have a total of at least 1000 votes, I wanted to see which shows are most and least consistent. To find this, I subtracted the minimum episode rating from the maximum episode rating.

Most Consistent Series:

SeriesDifferenceAvg. Rank
Planet Earth0.19.15
Black Mirror0.27.93
Murder Rooms: Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes0.37.88
Police Squad!0.38.20
The Hollow Crown0.58.13
Band of Brothers0.59.09
Day Break0.57.77
Generation Kill0.68.41

Least Consistent Series:

SeriesDifferenceAvg. Rating
Jimmy Kimmel Live!8.84.85
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno8.84.38
ABC Afterschool Specials8.65.82
SpongeBob SquarePants8.07.28
Big Time Rush7.74.98
Hawaii Five-O (1968)7.76.89
Video on Trial7.66.62
Screen Two7.66.78

Note that consistency doesn’t necessarily correlate with overall rating (even with all shows plotted out). Taken and Sponge Bob have similar overall ratings, but they are very different in terms of consistency.

“I can’t believe they cancelled ____” and “That show is still on?”

I pulled the best shows with only one season and the worst shows with at least five seasons. To be fair, some of the one-season shows are intended to be mini-series. However, you’ll also notice many cult classics.

Top Rated Series with One Season:

SeriesAvg. Score
Planet Earth9.155
Band of Brothers9.090
Freaks and Geeks8.761
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena8.667
Mr. Bean8.579
My So-Called Life8.432
Shin seiki evangerion8.423
Generation Kill8.414

The worst shows that have at least five seasons are particularly interesting because it shows a disconnect between the people who rate TV shows on IMDB and the public at large. These shows are or were profitable otherwise the television companies would cancel them.

Worst Rated Series with At Least Five Seasons:

SeriesAvg. Score
House of Payne1.26
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno4.38
American Idol: The Search for a Superstar4.45
Dancing with the Stars4.53
Jimmy Kimmel Live!4.85
Walker, Texas Ranger4.91
7th Heaven5.32
Big Brother5.33

Rating Distribution

In looking at this data, I noticed that it’s pretty hard for a show to get a low rating. The large majority of shows are in the 7-9 range, and very few shows have an average below 5.0. The median rating was 7.4 which may be a side-effect of a 1-10 rating system. Notice also the two up-ticks at 1.0 and 10.0. (Click to enlarge)

IMDB TV Rating Distriubtion

A distribution graph of the ratings of TV shows on IMDB.

I was curious to see if the number of votes changes the distribution. This chart shows the four quartiles of the number of votes per episode. (Click to enlarge)

IMDB TV Rating Distribution Quartiles

Distribution of IMDB ratings, broken down by quartile.

The first quartile is almost identical. The fourth quartile is interesting because it has two distinct modes. If a popular show has a bad episode, it likely draws in more people to vote giving us the peak around 6.0.

Since the episodes in the fourth quartile are also often the highest-rated, I wondered if there was a correlation between number of votes and rating. Logically, it makes sense that the better a show is, the more popular it is, and therefore more people will be voting on it.

This chart has jitter applied because I found the distinct bars to be distracting. (Click to enlarge)

IMDB votes vs. avg. rating

Comparison between the number of votes and avg. score.

The correlation is there, but it is loose (R=0.092).

<h4>Shows over time</h4>

My opinion is that a good show should only rarely go past five seasons. Most of my favorite shows are ones that knew when to stop. This chart shows the distribution of episodes according to season (outliers excluded). (Click to enlarge)

Average rating by season

The average TV series rating by season

My five-season marker seems to hold true in this chart. There’s a noticeable dip for sixth and seventh seasons. And after eight seasons, it’s mostly downhill.

<h4>Golden age of TV</h4>

Many critics agree that television in the past few years is the best it has ever been. We’re getting movie-quality writing, acting, and directing over dozens of episodes. To test this, I plotted the median rating per year since 1980. (Note, the data set shows the year in which the series started, not the year of the episode itself.)

Median rating by year

The median TV series rated for each year.

While not definitive, you can definitely see that starting in 2003, TV has been moderately consistent. This is change from the 80s and 90s when it was more hit or miss.

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