Top 10 TV Shows in the World

Most of the time, lists of “top TV shows” leave me feeling pretty frustrated. How many times have you been mad that your favorite show didn’t make the cut? It’s hard enough to come up with a list that everyone can agree with, but try to put a mix of different TV genres from multiple countries together and it gets even more difficult to make everyone happy. But we wanted to try, so we started by figuring out which shows were the most watched worldwide. It was pretty hard to narrow the list down to a top 10, especially with all of the critically acclaimed TV shows on the air. I had such a difficult time choosing which shows to feature that after I was finished making this list, I was left wondering how in the world I’d have enough time to watch all of the new shows that piqued my interest!

Here’s our list of world-famous TV shows that are making waves across borders:

Britain’s British crime drama is a modern take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective tales. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are cast as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson. You don’t have to be an Anglophile to form a connection to Sherlock, because chances are, you are already at least a little familiar with the name Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle’s original story had been distributed around the world long before the BBC ever aired Sherlock. Hartswood Films produced Sherlock for BBC, but the company’s partnership with WGBH Boston landed it a spot on WGBH’s Masterpiece anthology series and guaranteed Sherlock an American audience.  The show’s first series aired in 2010, and two more series have followed it. Sherlock pulled in unbelievably high ratings in the UK after the third series garnered 8.8 million viewers.

Downton Abbey
This period drama is another co-production that has reached unbelievable international success. Britain’s Carnival Films teamed up with WGBH, airing the series on ITV in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on PBS in the United States. Another one of PBS’s Masterpiece series, the show details the life of the wealthy Crawley family in early 20th century Britain. People all over the world love Downton Abbey because the show highlights the divisions between social classes, the effects of World War I, and technology that is advancing much faster than the Edwardian characters’ old-fashioned values – themes that resonate with much of the world. Downton Abbey has won several awards, including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film. Downton Abbey has aired for four seasons, and will return for a fifth this year.

Doctor Who
The world of Doctor Who revolves around the adventures of the Doctor – an alien do-gooder who time-travels in a blue police box, called the TARDIS, (Time and Relative Dimension in Space). While currently at the height of its international popularity, Doctor Who has actually been around for decades. Doctor Who premiered for the first time in the UK on BBC1 in 1963 and ran for an unbelievable 26 seasons before BBC1 decided to informally cancel the show, with the intent to produce more seasons in the future. In 2005 BBC1 picked the series back up, and since then, the show’s viewership has been revived. US networks syndicated the early seasons of the show from the 1970s to the 1990s, and so when BBC America aired the show in the US, longtime fans in the US were overjoyed. This show has been around for an incredible amount of time – in fact, Doctor Who just celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013, so it’s not surprising that the series has a following all over the world! Filming for Doctor Who’s 8th series started in January, and the new series will air this fall.

Game of Thrones
George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel series was picked up by HBO, and premiered in 2011. Since then, Thrones is currently HBO’s most-viewed show, both in the US and abroad. The show’s setting is medieval middle-earth, and the cast of characters had included a sadistic king, a mythical sorceress, and everyone’s favorite character – quick-witted dwarf Tyrion Lannister. Game of Thrones is a major hit in the US, pulling in an incredible 14.2 million viewers between its Sunday night showings and viewings on HBOGO. The network’s partnership with Sky Atlantic allows fans in the UK to view the show at the same time as viewers in the US. HBO’s branded networks, like HBO Europe, partner with local networks in countries around the world, thus generating world-wide viewership for shows like Game of Thrones. It is likely that audiences outside of the US and Europe are drawn to the show because the show has a multi-cultural feel. George R. R. Martin’s middle earth includes characters that the entire world is familiar with – Thrones’ Dothraki people are said to be modeled after the Huns, while Theon Greyjoy’s ‘Ironborn’ family is modeled after the Vikings.

True Detective
After just one season, HBO’s rookie-anthology series, True Detective has quite the following – both in the United States and abroad. One might think that the first season’s setting in the American south would perhaps lessen its appeal to international audiences unfamiliar with the area. However, True Detective quickly gained a large international audience due to the fact that well-known actors like Woody Harrrelson and Matthew McConaughey were the show’s stars. Foreign audiences enjoy watching the anthology series because its innovative 20-year timeline is unlike anything else we’ve seen on TV recently. The Guardian wrote rave reviews about the crime show’s first season, which was aired on Sky Atlantic. True Detective will return for a second season with an entirely new cast and setting in 2015.

The Returned (Les Revenants)
France’s Canal+ premiered Les Revenants in 2012, and the series quickly gained international acclaim – so much so that it won an International Emmy for Best Drama Series. The show depicts the events that occur in a French town after several long-deceased town residents seem to have risen from the dead – but don’t get this confused with The Walking Dead. The resurrected characters in Les Revenants appear to family and friends with their health restored, and attempt to ease back into the lives that they had left behind. Les Revenants was so successful in France that the UK’s Channel 4 picked it up and aired it with subtitles, and the Sundance Channel airs the subtitled version in the US. There’s just something interesting about the concept of this show that makes it appealing to international audiences. Les Revenants’ is loved in Japan, especially by fans of Yomigaeri, a 2002 Japanese film with a similar plot. Producers in the US believe that an English-language re-make of the French television show will generate even more viewership.  A+E recently bought the rights to the English-language re-make and is teaming up with Lost’s Carlton Cuse and True Blood’s Raelle Tucker to produce it. 

The Bridge (Bron)
This Scandinavian crime series was first aired in 2011 and quickly gained an audience outside of Scandinavia when the UK’s BBC4 began airing the series. Bron’s pilot opens with the discovery of a body on the bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden, and the investigation into the crime that follows. Like Les Revenants, an English-language re-make of Bron, coined, The Bridge, was picked up by FX in 2013. The US re-make of the Scandinavian original has done well, and has been renewed for a second season that is set to air in July. It is likely that Bron has been so successful because its plot keeps viewers on their toes – remember the original version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Subtitles don’t deter viewers when a show is that good.

House of Cards
Here’s an adaptation series that really worked. Originally, a version of the political drama was aired on BBC in Britain, but in 2013, Netflix picked up the American spin-off, produced by Beau Willimon and starring Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey. House of Cards is one of Netflix’s several original TV shows… (We’re calling it a TV show because it was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Television Series). The show gives viewers an inside look into the mind of political mastermind Frank Underwood and his cunning wife, who is portrayed by Robin Wright. Underwood and his wife create a complex plan to rise to positions of power after Underwood is slighted by the political candidate that he helped win the US presidential election. Netflix has become available in countries around the world, and is continuing to grow. In 2013, the network added shows from BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 to its online streaming collection. This year, Netflix announced its intent to expand to even more areas – Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg are next on the list. Shows like House of Cards are still widely watched in areas where Netflix is still not available. Netflix has allowed several networks to purchase the rights to its original series’, such as China’s Sohu, which purchased rights to the series and airs House of Cards to a growing Chinese audience.

Orange is the new Black
Another of Netflix’s original series’; Orange is the New Black, is based off of Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name. The show’s pilot introduces viewers to main character Piper Chapman, portrayed by Taylor Schilling. Chapman is a college-educated, successful upper-middle class New Yorker, who is looking forward to marrying her fiancé, Larry. Chapman’s average life turns upside down when the exposure of a decade old drug-smuggling stint catches up to her and lands her in prison. Sentenced to a year behind bars, Piper is forced to assimilate to prison culture and build relationships with other inmates, (one of these is Chapman’s ex-girlfriend and drug-smuggling partner, Alex Vause). Like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black quickly became incredibly popular in the United States and abroad – so much so that Netflix renewed the series for a second season before the first even aired. The series is more about the backstories of the prison’s inmates and topics like racial tension, LGBTQ issues, and injustice than Piper Kerman’s prison shenanigans. If Downton Abbey is a show about a pivotal time in world history, Orange is the New Black is about pivotal issues that the world is facing right now – and viewers all over the world are recognizing this. Orange is the New Black will undoubtedly continue to draw in an international audience—as Netflix’s international audience generates a fourth of the company’s revenue.

Written and created by Michael Hirst, Vikings is an Irish/Canadian co-production by World 2000 and Take 5 Productions. Associations with Shaw Media have landed the show on the History channel in the United States and Canada, and MGM Television broadcasts Vikings internationally. Vikings follows the life of ambitious Viking warrior, Ragnar Lothbrok, who wishes to conquer faraway lands in his own name. The cast of the series includes recognizable actors, Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games), who plays Ragnar’s son, Bjorn, and Gustaf Skarsgard. Almost every audience has probably had one or two history lessons on the ancient Vikings. So much of this show’s content is based on ancient lore that it’s just too interesting to miss. Vikings has been the History channel’s most popular program to date; it is currently in its second season, and History has renewed the show for a third in 2015.

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