The TV everyone was obsessed with in 2020: From 'I'm A Celeb' to 'Tiger King'

David Brown
·7-min read
Our 2020 TV obsessions included Tiger King, All Creatures, Des, Killing Eve, and Normal People.
Our 2020 TV obsessions included Tiger King, All Creatures, Des, Killing Eve, and Normal People.

Television producers had a captive audience in 2020, with quarantine resulting in huge viewing figures.

From hits on linear TV to the shows we all binged on streaming services, these are the programmes that comforted, thrilled and delighted us in a year unlike any other:

All Creatures Great And Small

Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley) and Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) in All Creatures Great and Small: Episode 7 Christmas Special (Playground Television (UK) Ltd. / Photographer Ed Miller)
Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley) and Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) in All Creatures Great And Small. (Playground Television UK/Ed Miller)

Channel 5 took a gamble when it rebooted this beloved veterinary drama for a new generation. Would there still be interest in bucolic tales of life in a bygone Yorkshire?

The answer was a big yes, with TV newcomer Nicholas Ralph’s incarnation of James Herriot earning a consolidated rating of over 5 million for the first episode – making All Creatures its most popular show ever.

It’s coming back for a Christmas special on Tuesday 22 December at 9pm.

Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway

The Geordie duo broke their own record when 11 million tuned in on 21 March to see them perform without an audience for the first time in the show’s 18-year history.

Of particular poignancy was the sight of NHS key workers strutting their stuff in clips filmed on their mobile phones while Olly Murs sang Dance With Me in an empty studio for the End Of The Show Show.

Boris Johnson Addresses The Nation

The lockdown turned the likes of Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van-Tam into household names as their appearances at the Downing Street briefings became a fixture in all our lives. But it was Boris Johnson’s solo statements that bagged the biggest audiences.

The prime minister’s address on 10 May in which he outlined the “road map” for recovery was seen by 27.5 million people, ranking it among the most-watched programmes in British history.

The Crown – Season 4

Watch: Is The Crown a true story?

The lavish account of royal life entered the 80s – and attracted both acclaim and criticism. Actor Emma Corrin was much praised for her debut as Princess Diana, but UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden said Netflix should have made it clear The Crown is a work of fiction after concerns were raised that people were in danger of mistaking it as fact.

Read more: The Crown: All the answers to every question you'll ask about S4

Friends of Prince Charles also reportedly labelled the series “trolling with a Hollywood budget”.

Des

David Tennant as Nilsen on trial for murder. (ITV)
David Tennant as mass murderer Dennis Nilsen. (ITV)

David Tennant chilled viewers as mass murderer Dennis Nilsen, whose casual attitude to a police interrogation by DCI Peter Jay (Daniel Mays) sent shivers down the spine. The grim true-crime account, based on a biography written by Brian Masters (played in the three-part serial by Jason Watkins), became ITV’s biggest drama launch in 14 years.

Read more: Tennant 'relieved' Dennis Nilsen isn't alive to see Des

Tennant will no doubt be lauded with awards for his performance in the near future.

The Great British Bake Off

As it turned out, what the country needed in a time of crisis was… cake. This year’s edition of the culinary competition (filmed with contestants and crew quarantined together in a baking bubble) was a sizeable hit for Channel 4, with the final being the most-viewed show on the channel since modern records began in 2002.

An average of 9.2 million saw 20-year-old Peter Hawkins become the contest’s youngest ever winner.

I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!

Vernon Kay endures the Table of Torment on 'I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!' (ITV/Shutterstock)
Vernon Kay endures the Table of Torment on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV/Shutterstock)

It was a series unlike any other as the ITV favourite decamped from the Australian jungle to a castle in north Wales. But the change of location did nothing to dent audience figures, which hit 10 million for December’s final, an increase of 600,000 when compared to 2019’s crowning.

Highlights from the camp of 2020 included Shane Richie’s encounter with some vile cocktails, Jordan North’s abseiling angst and a messy night-time Cyclone.

Killing Eve – Season 3

'Killing Eve' debited on BBC Three but also aired on other BBC channels. (BBC)
Killing Eve debuted on BBC Three and also aired on other BBC channels. (BBC)

The cat-and-mouse thriller may have lost the edginess of earlier seasons, but assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) still has plenty of fans obsessed with her flair for assassination and fashion.

The stylish spy thriller was the second biggest BBC iPlayer hit of 2020, with the latest batch of episodes revealing that Eve (Sandra Oh) had survived the attempt made on her life and that anti-hero Eve was now partial to a clown costume.

The Mandalorian

A still from The Mandalorian - The Tragedy - streaming exclusively on Disney+ (Lucasfilm)
A still from The Mandalorian. (Lucasfilm)

The adventures of bounty hunter Din Djarin have been a huge success for Disney+, with recent figures revealing the sci-fi show is five times more popular than anything else on the site.

It’s little surprise then that a whole slew of new Star Wars spin-offs have now been announced, including high-profile returns for Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader.

Normal People

Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) in 'Normal People'. (Credit: BBC)
Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell in Normal People. (BBC)

Sally Rooney’s acclaimed novel charting an on, off, on-again romance in west Ireland came to BBC Three in April and has now become BBC iPlayer’s most requested series of the year (barring soaps).

Read more: Why are we obsessed with Normal People?

The adaptation made stars of Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mascal, who, as students Marianne and Connell, stirred passions in those caught up in the characters’ brittle, emotionally bruising relationship dramas.

The Queen’s Gambit

THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT (L to R) ANYA TAYLOR-JOY as BETH HARMON in episode 105 of THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT (PHIL BRAY/NETFLIX © 2020)
Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in The Queen's Gambit. (Phil Bray/Netflix)

The triumphs and failures of Kentucky chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) brought a big audience to Netflix. It was announced recently that 62 million households had been attracted to the drama’s impeccably evoked 50s and 60s setting and our heroine’s worrying reliance on alcohol and tranquillisers. It’s a figure that makes it the streaming service’s most-watched scripted limited series to date.

Quiz

Sian Clifford and Matthew Macfadyen, with Michael Sheen, in Quiz (Credit: ITV/Matt Frost)
Sian Clifford, Matthew Macfadyen and Michael Sheen in Quiz. (ITV/Matt Frost)

This slick ITV dramatisation of the notorious “coughing major” Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? fraud scandal was an early star of lockdown.

Matthew MacFadyen’s top-notch turn as the slightly bungling Charles Ingram sparked fresh debate about the quizzer’s conviction, while master-of-disguise Michael Sheen flashed teeth and fake tan as he channelled show host Chris Tarrant.

Strictly Come Dancing

Watch: Craig Revel Horwood on filming Strictly in lockdown

The current series went ahead without a studio audience or a trip to Blackpool, but the fact that we had any ballroom at all on our Saturday night was a big achievement for the BBC.

The Strictly team rose to the challenge and provided both glitz and glamour, with the largest number of dance fans catching the 31 October edition (the one that was in danger of being shunted from the schedules thanks to the delayed Downing Street press conference).

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness

Joe Exotic is the star of Netflix documentary series 'Tiger King'. (Credit: Netflix)
Joe Exotic is the star of Netflix documentary series 'Tiger King'. (Credit: Netflix)

The bizarre story of big cat collectors and conservationists in America kept us distracted during the first period of lockdown. Figures released by Netflix in April revealed that 64 million households worldwide had become fixated by the flamboyancy of tiger-breeder Joe Exotic since the series landed on 20 March.

Read more: The best Tiger King memes

And tabloid stories about both him and rival Carol Baskin have been a fixture ever since.