One of the most beloved holiday traditions for many American families is watching the 1947 holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life on NBC, with the movie celebrating its 70th Anniversary this year. Still, after all of those years, the holiday classic is still bringing in solid numbers, with 4.67 million viewers and a 1.0 rating with a 4 share. While those numbers may not seem terribly huge, compared to a top-rated show like The Walking Dead, for a 70-year-old movie, those numbers are still quite impressive, and even managed to hold off several other programs.
The NBC airing of It's a Wonderful Life came in ahead of last year's numbers, with 4.5 million tuning in, which was a massive 1 million-viewer jump from the 2015 numbers. The 1.0 rating remained the same as last year, with the total viewers falling just behind a repeat of Fox's The Simpsons in the 8 PM time slot, which pulled in a 1.6 rating/8 share and 5.13 million viewers. It's a Wonderful Life pulled in better numbers than ABC's airing of the 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast, which posted a 0.8 rating/3 share and 3.13 million viewers, and CBS' airing of the I Love Lucy Christmas Special, which drew in a 0.5 rating/2 share and 3.88 million viewers.
This year marks the 43rd year NBC has aired It's A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve. The story centers on George Bailey (James Stewart), who wishes he had never been born. An angel (Henry Travers) is sent to earth to make George's wish come true. George starts to realize how many lives he has changed and impacted, and how they would be different if he was never there. Despite its cultural significance now, It's A Wonderful Life wasn't exactly a critical and commercial smash hit. It earned $3.3 million, good for the 26th highest grossing film of the year, with the top-grossing film that year being The Best Years of Our Lives, earning $11.5 million.
Frank Capra won a Golden Globe for Best Director, but the film was largely shut out of the Oscars, losing in every category it was nominated for to The Best Years Of Our Lives, except for a Technical Achievement Award that went to Russell Shearman and RKO Radio Studio Special Effects Department, "for the development of a new method of simulating falling snow on motion picture sets." Over time, the film began to transcend its initial response and become a verifiable holiday classic in its own right, with new generations discovering the film each year.
With the TV ratings continuing to rise year after year, there doesn't seem to be any end to NBC's annual holiday tradition of airing It's A Wonderful Life every Christmas Eve. The movie even beat out a pair of holiday specials NBC aired just before It's A Wonderful Life, with a repeat of Trolls Holiday Special pulling in just 1.22 million viewers, airing at 7 PM, and How Murray Saved Christmas pulling in 1.25 million viewers in the 7:30 PM time slot, with It's A Wonderful Life airing from 8 PM to 11 PM ET. These ratings numbers come from TV By the Numbers.