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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 18:37 GMT
TV's world record breakers
Baywatch
Baywatch: Beach drama pulls 1.1bn viewers worldwide
Television provides a constant stream of information and entertainment for those who want it - and judging by the UK's 55 million TV sets, most of us do.

Its global popularity gives inhabitants of the Himalayas the chance to see Del and Rodney's antics in Only Fools and Horses, while Helsinki gets to revel in Baywatch's bouncy delights.

The Californian lifeguard drama is a telling indicator of how far-reaching TV shows can be - it is the most widely viewed TV series in the world, pulling an estimated weekly audience of more than 1.1 billion viewers in 142 countries.

only fools and horses
Only Fools and Horses is also beamed around the globe
In fact, since June 1996, it has been broadcast on every continent except Antarctica.

But this figure is dwarfed by a single live broadcast which got an estimated 2.5 billion viewers in 1997 - the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The footage of the London ceremony went down in the Guinness World Records as the biggest TV audience for a live broadcast.

As well as commanding massive audiences, the small screen also has some enduring successes.

funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales
The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales was watched by billions
The BBC's live magazine programme Blue Peter is the longest-running children's programme.

It was first broadcast in 1958 and is still going strong, with three shows per week and four presenters.

There are no prizes for guessing that the longest-running drama is ITV's Coronation Street, which began in 1960 and has had millions hooked with the ins and outs of the characters' lives.

And another entertainment winner - the game show Wheel of Fortune - has been syndicated to 54 different countries. It reaches 100 million viewers each week and was first shown on US TV in 1975.

Walking With Dinosaurs
Walking With Dinosaurs was costly but got huge audiences
Money is an important factor in TV, and some programmes can be costly. The award-winning six-part documentary Walking With Dinosaurs cost a total of 6.1m, or 37,654 per minute, to make.

This makes it the most expensive documentary series made, with its use of computer graphics and animatronics pushing up the bill.

The TV industry can also be very lucrative for those it employs - US talk show host Oprah Winfrey earned more than $150m (103m) in 1999, according to the 2000 Forbes celebrity 100 list.

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey is one of TV's top earners
And US news correspondent Barbara Walters, who has interviewed every US president since Richard Nixon, is said to earn in excess of $13m a year.

Although size isn't everything, it certainly helps when it comes to getting mass audiences - 84% of the densely-populated country of China has access to the state-owned station.

China Central Television is transmitted to an estimated 900 million viewers each day.


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