Since the world turned on, tuned in and sat back to watch television for the very first time in 1929 there have been many TV programmes and series deserving of the epithet ‘unmissable’. There are a few shows however than transcend the greatness of merely unmissable TV to achieve the ultimate accolade: the TV programmes we viewers find not merely entertaining but actually addictive. These are the TV series that possess a magic alchemy derived from a combination of perfect storylines, characters, situations and spectacle which leaves the viewer yearning for more or clamouring to find out what happens next at the end of each episode.
Of course, choosing any list of the top 10 most addictive TV series of all time is liable to be a subjective affair, but even a cursory glance of opinion poll results, newspaper articles and any online forum where TV fans may be gathered together reveals that certain TV series are repeatedly accorded the status ‘most addictive.
Here then, and in no particular order, are those popularly held to be the top 10 most addictive TV series of all time:
The real-time adventures of Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) captured TV fans from the outset and didn’t release them for eight series. The two-digit title refers to the twenty-four hours that Bauer has to resolve each series’ terrorism-based crisis, with each episode covering a single hour in Jack’s eventful day. The series’ addictiveness stemmed from the fact that viewers rooted for Bauer and wanted to see him triumph against the odds, which routinely featured the threat of presidential assassination, mass biological contamination, the deployment of a nuclear device and institutional corruption. 24 hold the record for the longest-running espionage-based TV series ever, and picked up numerous awards during its eight-series life.
2. Coronation Street
For legions of fans, soap-opera Coronation Street is not merely an addictive TV series, it’s more a way of life. Why else would so many devotees from around the world make the pilgrimage to the cobbled set at Granada Studios to visit for themselves the infamous Rover’s Return Inn or the Kabin? The world’s longest-running soap opera embodies the perfect blend of humour, drama, intrigue and incident and delivers it via a Manchester-accented cast of characters that for many of the show’s addicts could almost be considered family.
A soap-opera on an American-sized budget and scale, Dallas might not have been considered one of the all-time most addictive TV series had it not been for one particular incident: the shooting of ruthless and amoral oil-baron J.R. Ewing. For eight agonising months between March and November 1980 the world watched and waited to see whether the show’s compelling anti-hero J.R. would live or die and to find out who shot him. This single iconic TV event captured the imagination of both fans and those who had never seen the show; ‘I shot J.R.’ tee-shirts became a must-have fashion item in the summer of 1980. Even the Queen Mother was hooked; upon meeting Larry Hagman after (a disastrous) Royal Variety Show performance that year she remarked: “’I am not going to ask you who shot you”. To which the actor replied: “I wouldn’t say, not even to you, your majesty”. It was Kristen, by the way.
Who knew, at the beginning of Lost’s six-year run, that a drama about the tribulations and intrigue that faced the surviving passengers of a stricken airliner, marooned on a mysterious island in the Pacific Ocean, would become one of the most influential, talked-about and downright addictive television series of all time. Lost’s hooks were strong: viewers desperately sought answers to the onion-skin layers of enigmatic questions posed by the show. What was the significance of the numbers 4, 8,15,16,23 and 42? What was the Dharma Initiative? Who were the ‘others’? What did ‘the hatch’ contain? Then we had the characters – Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Hurley, Locke, Charlie and so on, none of whom were exactly what they seemed: the more we watched, the more tantalising titbits of each character’s back story were revealed and the more confusing yet compelling Lost became. The sheer volume of awards that Lost won for its ingenious plotting, skilful acting and sheer popularity pay testimony to the fact that once Lost had you in its engrossing grasp you would be hooked to the very end.
5. I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
‘I’m a Celebrity’ is classic ‘car-crash’ television, and when that car crash involves relatively famous people and their attendant egos being forced into unfamiliar and potentially hostile territory and made to undertake degrading and humiliating tasks purely in the name of viewer entertainment, the result is curiously addictive. Not convinced? Even after a decade the UK show pulls in an average ten million viewers a night – no minor feat in an age where viewers have a choice of literally hundreds of digital TV channels to choose from – and has spawned variations in no fewer than seven other countries including America and India. At times a compelling cross between a televised social psychology experiment and ‘It’s a Knockout’, I’m a Celeb’s playful hosting by the irreverent Ant and Dec elevates the show from merelu unmissable to truly addictive.
6. The X- Factor
Simon Cowell really hit the jackpot with the X-factor, producing an addictive format that he’s come close, but never quite managed, to replicate with his other TV talent shows. Recent series may not possess quite as much audience magnetism as the series at its height, but the winning formula of a selection process that takes real people, weeds out potential talent from hopelessly misguided misfits and gradually transforms the boy or girl next door into a fully-fledged singing sensation keeps addicted viewers following the progress every step of the way. Throw a little contestant controversy/heart-breaking life story and judging panel in-fighting into the mix and you have a no-brainer contender for one of the most addictive TV shows of all time.
7. Doctor Who
It’s testimony to the addictive quality of a TV series that you’ll watch it through the cracks between your fingers when your hands are over your eyes because it’s a bit scary. Doctor Who, the series, is –aptly- timeless. It has fought and won battles against uncaring schedulers, budget restrictions and even the axe of a former Chairman of the BBC to emerge triumphant and every bit as addictive to viewers of all ages as it was when the unearthly strains of the TARDIS were first heard back in 1963. The appeal of Doctor Who to its legions of fans – ‘Whovians’ worldwide is simply explained: the series is unique an unequalled by anything that has followed it. A strong leading character, iconic villains, excitement, adventure and time travel all cleverly underpinned with an examination of the human condition as seen through the eyes of an intelligent, enigmatic alien combine to create a television series that, fifty years after its creation, still has the power to draw in viewers and captivate them.
Consider this; Friends, a sitcom ostensibly about nothing more the everyday lives of six friends –three boys, three girls – living in Manhattan, was an instant hit from the day it was first aired in 1994 and remained so until its finale (after a mere 236 episodes) a decade later when it was watched by a record American audience of 51.1 million viewers. Since 2004 the entire series has been released as a DVD box set and today is still aired constantly on TV channels around the world and yet it continues to draw in significant viewing audiences. Somewhere along the way Friends leapt over the boundary of mere popularity and landed in the realm of truly addictive television in which viewers will happily watch episodes over and over again. The enviable yet inevitable haul of global TV awards bestowed upon Friends, including no fewer than 63 prestigious Emmy nominations, speaks for itself.
9. The Apprentice
The Apprentice is what happens when you take an X-factor-like format, add some polish and a few quirks, and transplant it to the world of business. If there’s one aspect that will ensure that a TV series is compulsive viewing, it’s the spectacle of seeing puffed-up egos pricked unceremoniously, and watching as they deflate like a cooling soufflé before our eyes. And who better to invoke the deflation than gruff, grumpy, plain speaking multimillionaire businessman Lord Alan Sugar? Take twelve self-deluding wannabe Sugar-protégés, send them off on a series of simple but unintentionally hilarious business tasks and fire them one-by-one as they demonstrate their incompetence. It’s a simple enough premise, it’s sustained eight series of the show so far with no significant format changes, and it has us addicted. ‘Nuff said, as Sir Alan might say.
10. Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Television game shows have always been popular, but addictive? In 1998, ‘Millionaire’ entered the scene and changed the game show forever, hooking huge audiences with its suspenseful atmosphere and the highest-ever jackpot ever awarded by a TV show. Millionaire’s compulsive quality rests with that perfect and un-recreatable format: the home viewer can play along at home, testing their knowledge against the player in the hotseat, whilst watching as the cash prize grows agonisingly question by question. Shown in more than a hundred countries around the world, spawning a number of play-at-home games and featuring in the movie Slumdog Millionaire, Who Wants to be a Millionaire proves that even something as humble as a TV game show can become one of the most addictive TV series of all time.