I wrote about my two new favourite TV shows for the Telegraph. I thought it was interesting they were both American network TV shows, and wondered if this was a sign that, after years of cable programmes raising the bar, network TV might also be raising its game.

My two favourite American TV shows this year have much in common. Both are spin-offs from source material that seemed already milked dry. Both bring out the best in British actors for whom I had no special admiration – until now. And both are products not of HBO, AMC, Showtime or any of the cable channels that have helped turn this last decade into a Golden Age of Television with groundbreaking series such as The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. To my surprise, my two favourite shows of 2013 are both products of American network television.

To read on, please click on the picture (above) of Mads Mikkelsen in Hannibal.


My other new favourite TV show is Elementary. I almost gave up on both shows in the early stages – Elementary because I thought the plots were too lightweight and Jonny Lee Miller wasn’t really doing it for me, Hannibal because there seemed to be a serial killer on every street corner and the FBI was so stupid. But I’m glad I persisted (and recommend you persist too, if you haven’t already done so), because both shows paid off handsomely, and now I can’t wait to see their second series.

Despite my early misgivings, Miller turned out to be terrific; the Elementary case-of-the-week was really only an excuse to shine light on the increasingly interesting relationship between Holmes and  Watson – all the more interesting because it’s non-romantic. And I finally accepted Hannibal as a stylised and gripping fantasy-world which is entirely rigged to showcase the creepy but compelling relationship between Hannibal and Will Graham.

À propos de nothing in particular, here’s a list of my favourite TV shows of all time. I’ll probably add to it as other titles occur to me, and may even end up writing a line or two about some of the titles. To answer questions you haven’t yet asked, I quite enjoy Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, but they don’t grab me the way they’ve clearly grabbed other viewers, and I tuned out of Lost and The Walking Dead at a relatively early stage. 

I watched a lot of TV in the 1960s, less after I left home in the 1970s, and relatively little in the 1980s. In the early 1990s my consumption shot up when I started subscribing to cable TV for the first time.

The Lone Ranger


Doctor Who (the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton years only)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Avengers

The Prisoner


The Complete and Utter History of Britain

Do Not Adjust Your Set

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Hill Street Blues

The Young Ones




Star Trek: The Next Generation

The X-Files (early seasons only)


Buffy the Vampire Slayer


Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

The League of Gentlemen

Black Books


The Sopranos

Arrested Development

Mad Men





  1. Oh, I should have mentioned Anderson. Adored the way she said, “Controversial choice” in that final episode. And love the ambiguous nature of her relationship with Mikkelsen.

  2. Lists are always unique to the person making them, and I suspect yours was done at speed.
    (I just tried to compile one and it’s not as easy as it looks.)

    There are a couple of programmes that might have made the ‘second division’, ‘The Twilight Zone’, in either of its incarnations and ‘Tales of the Unexpected’. Though both used different authors for each episode, so the quality could be a bit variable.

    (There is a Man from U.N.C.L.E. remake in the pipes, oh dear! )

  3. I didn’t include The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits since I mainly watched those in the 1980s, and on video, so I didn’t think they counted.

    I missed most Tales of the Unexpected, which were broadcast during one of my no-TV phases, but there were loads of horror anthologies that made a big impression on me – for example, an episode of the BBC’s Late Night Horror in 1968 titled The Bells of Hell, which was an extremely creepy adaptation of Robert Aickman’s Ringing the Changes and started me reading everything I could find by Aickman – it was wiped, of course. But I don’t really count those as shows – they were more like one-offs.

    Oh, I liked Department S and Jason King too, though I think I found them a bit camp even back then. I liked the idea of Randall & Hopkirk Deceased more than the execution.

  4. A great list of TV. Very glad to see ‘The Sopranos’ on it. But no ‘Breaking Bad’? And did you ever see ‘Deadwood’? Only three seasons but wonderful just for the philosopher king, Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). TV certainly has perked-up in the last fifteen years.

  5. Re: Breaking Bad – I mention it in the post above. I loved the first season of Deadwood, but for some reason (not, I think, the show’s fault) wasn’t quite so taken with the second. But yes, McShane was terrific – if I were making a list of TV’s great characters, Al Swearengen would definitely be on it.

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