Survey: 87% of Americans Have a “Comfort Show”
We asked 1,000 people if they have a show they stream when times get tough, and 8 in 10 answered yes.
When you turn on the TV or boot up a streaming service, do you look for something new to watch or venture back to an old favorite? Turns out, if you revisit shows more often than not, you’re part of a large majority of Americans who have a “comfort show” they watch during difficult or stressful times.
Comfort shows gained popularity in recent years due to the rise of streaming services and the compounding trauma of global events. Many people want to escape real life and go back to when times were simpler, like when their favorite TV show first aired.
We surveyed 1,000 Americans, and 87% told us they have a comfort show they turn to again and again. To better understand this phenomenon, we spoke with mental health experts and media professors to learn why so many people are tuning in to the same shows over and over again.
Why do so many Americans have a comfort show?
“The real world is stressful and unpredictable, and sometimes even scary. So we take comfort in our favorite shows, going back to the familiar, the predictable, and the known,” Dr. Andrew Selepak, Media Professor at the University of Florida, tells CableTV.com.
While many people may have a favorite show they return to, only 52% of Americans had heard of the term “comfort show” before taking our survey.
That makes sense because, while people have watched comfort movies for years, Americans had a lot more time on their hands during the COVID-19 lockdowns and began watching more TV—an average of 3.1 hours per day, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We may have originally fallen in love with our favorite shows because they were suspenseful or comically unpredictable, but we get enough of that throughout our day,” Dr. Selepak says. “When we want to relax, we don’t want more of the day’s stress, but to unwind with the comfort of our favorite characters in our favorite shows going through the lines and plots that we can recite by heart.”
Dr. Selepak is totally right: we found that 67% of our respondents feel emotionally attached to at least one character in their comfort show, which keeps them coming back.
- Americans also want to share their comfort shows. Over two-thirds of Americans would prefer sharing a comfort show with a partner.
Also, having a comfort show does not prohibit Americans from watching something new.
- Nearly half of our respondents enjoy watching and rewatching shows equally.
- Americans who like to watch new things versus rewatching are fairly evenly split: 29% prefer new things while 27% like to rewatch.
Curious what your comfort show says about you?
So now you know having a comfort show isn’t uncommon, you’re probably wondering what yours says about you. “A person’s choice of comfort show can provide insight into their personality and how they handle stressful situations,” Sarah Watson, a mental health professional at BPTLAB, tells CableTV.com.
- A majority of Americans agree—58% don’t think a show needs to be light in subject matter to be considered a comfort show.
“If a person chooses shows that have action-packed plotlines and an emphasis on problem-solving, it can indicate that this is a way for them to work through their own challenges in a safe and entertaining manner,” Watson continues. “Similarly, if a person chooses shows with themes of hope and optimism, they may be using the show to help them stay optimistic during difficult times.”
Our respondents’ top comfort shows reflect the diversity of television, with comedy, drama, and science fiction appearing in the top three:
So what kind of shows do people prefer? Well, the relative majority of respondents (30%) are in favor of comedy, with drama, sci-fi/fantasy, horror, and reality TV rounding out the top five.
As for me, I tend to stick right in the middle with the USA Network classic Psych. Is it a comedy or a drama? I’ve heard it both ways.
@watchcabletv What’s your top comfort show? 📺 #ComfortShow #WhatToWatch #TVTok ♬ Cafe music, corporate VP, comfortable(1277239) - zukisuzuki
What outside factors in 2023 could be causing Americans to watch comfort shows?
“Americans are still trying to figure out how to regain normalcy after the political unrest and Covid pandemic of the past few years,” Samantha Newton, LCSW, a clinical social worker and therapist at The Therapy Suite, tells CableTV.com. “It can be difficult to predict what will happen next in the world and in our individual lives.”
- Almost two-thirds of respondents (65%) say that they had a comfort show as a child too, so the phenomenon isn’t recent for them.
“Also, with the influx of streaming services and content, people can feel overwhelmed with what to watch,” Newton said. “It can create a paradox of choice. Sometimes it’s just simpler to turn on a show we’ve already seen and love instead of trying something new.”
With the rise of streaming allowing viewers to find nearly any show on demand, people are more likely to turn to their comfort show when experiencing stress.
- In fact, 70% of Americans watch their comfort show when dealing with external stressors.
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Is it normal to have a comfort show?
“It is perfectly normal to have a comfort show that you turn to for solace and respite from the stresses of daily life,” Candace Kotkin-De Carvalho, LSW, LCADC, CCS, CCTP, the Clinical Director at Absolute Awakenings, tells CableTV.com. “This can provide relief from anxiety or simply be a source of entertainment when things are difficult.”
- Three in five people we surveyed with a comfort show say they are anxious.
- “Rewatching a TV show can provide an emotional safety net for an individual with anxiety,” Samantha Newton, LCSW, says. “They know what happens next in the series, they have their favorite storylines and characters, and they can escape mentally from their current stressors.”
And honestly, you shouldn’t feel alone if you have a comfort show. There are millions of people in the U.S. alone who watch comfort shows—and some may even share the same show as you.
- After all, Friends and The Office consistently rank as two of the most-watched shows every year, so millions of people are rewatching them with you.
- And 80% of people feel connected to those who share the same comfort show.
“What matters most,” Kotkin-De Carvalho says, “is finding something that works for you— whether it’s watching your favorite sitcom, an action-packed thriller, or something more emotionally-driven—and using it as a tool to help manage stress.”
- The key part is finding a show you enjoy watching.
- The nice part is that almost all of our respondents (87%) are not embarrassed to tell others about their comfort show.
“In the same way that some people may use exercise or meditation to reduce stress, having a comfort show is just another way of finding balance and taking care of your mental health,” Kotkin-De Carvalho explains. “But remember, turning to your comfort show is just one part of a larger self-care routine, and it should never be relied upon as the sole source of respite.”
Even with a comfort show, it’s important to practice mental wellness. We at CableTV.com strongly believe in the power of TV and movies to entertain and soothe, but you still need to go outside, visit with friends and family, and live a life away from your favorite show. Don’t worry, your show will still be there when you get back.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, please reach out to a mental health professional.
Streaming services love comfort shows
With the rise of streaming TV in the last decade, there has been more talk about comfort TV and audiences revisiting classic shows. Nielsen Insights reports two of the most rewatched shows are The Office and Friends, which, during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, racked up over 180 billion minutes viewed across traditional TV and streaming platforms.
Those viewership numbers led Warner Brothers and NBCUniversal to pull the shows from Netflix and move them to their own streaming platforms—Max (formerly HBO Max) and Peacock, respectively. According to The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, the moves cost the companies over $500 million each.
But our respondents say the investment is worth it.
- 45% of Americans want to sign up for streaming services that offer both comfort shows and new content.
- Over one-third (35%) of viewers look for their comfort show when streaming.
- Only 20% of respondents focus on new content when signing up for streaming services.
Americans turn to three primary streaming services for comfort show viewing, and even though Netflix lost two of the most-rewatched shows in streaming, it still ranks #1.
- Netflix: 39% of respondents
- Hulu: 18% of respondents
- Amazon Prime: 11% of respondents
Still, would subscribers cancel Netflix if their comfort show was removed?
- Three-quarters of respondents say they would keep a streaming service even if their comfort show was removed.
- However, 25% would cancel, which lines up with earlier predictions about streaming services like Netflix.
Comfort shows are becoming more popular than ever, and streaming services are cashing in on our nostalgic favorites. But there’s a reason we turn back to older shows more than newer ones: they remind us of a simpler past.
Professors and mental health professionals told CableTV.com that comfort shows make a difference in our mental wellbeing and are connected to a need to go back to the familiar and the known. The shows help us stay optimistic and allow us to work through challenges safely.
So it’s no surprise 87% of Americans report having a comfort show. Familiar favorites keep us moored to a past life. Sure, the world is in turmoil, but at least we’ll always have Paris. Meanwhile, you’ll find me rewatching Psych after work.
The team at CableTV.com used Pollfish to survey 1,000 Americans ages 18–54+. The survey results were post-stratified to achieve a distribution of that equal to known characteristics of the population. Post-stratification was applied to gender and age range for this story.