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Best British TV Shows & Series 2000s

Updated on April 23, 2017

British TV in the 2000s - A Decade of Quality Telly

The Castaway 'cast' who won places on a remote Scottish island.
The Castaway 'cast' who won places on a remote Scottish island. | Source
Harvey Walden - trainer on Celebrity Fit Club
Harvey Walden - trainer on Celebrity Fit Club | Source

Reality TV Takes Hold

In 2000, Britain continued its love for reality TV.

This time though, the reality took a very different turn.

Castaway placed a group of 36 British people from all walks of life onto the outer Hebridean island of Taransay.

Castaway is often considered to be a reality TV show but it had the benefit of being shown in well spaced out episodes over the course of a year on TV.

Castaway was gripping viewing because British viewers tried to imagine themselves in a similar position - leaving the rat race behind for a life very far removed from their own.

British TV first showed Big Brother in 2000 but the format was very different - it was on every day, all day for satellite viewers and a highlight show was shown every evening. Again, British viewers lapped it up.

Survivor which had been popular in the late 1990s was shown for the first time in the USA in 2000 and in Britain, we switched to a non-competitive version called Shipwrecked but the core viewer demographic was younger viewers and the show remained true to its roots and never had wide appeal.

Other popular reality TV shows included Celebrity Fit Club, Wife Swap, Super Nanny (still hugely popular), Bad Lads Army, Biggest Loser and of course perennial favourites, X Factor and Pop Idol.

One of the most unusual 'reality' TV shows was Channel 4's 2005 'Anatomy For Beginners' which had Dr Gunther Van Hagen dissect a human cadaver live on air to show the amazing anatomy of the human body.

Not everybody's idea of entertainment but in fact, it was done so professionally that millions tuned in night after night to watch it.

Peter Kay - still king of comedy.
Peter Kay - still king of comedy. | Source
Ricky Gervais, star of The Office and Extras
Ricky Gervais, star of The Office and Extras | Source

British TV Comedy in the 2000s

When you look at the best British comedy shows in the 2000s, you literally cannot move for quality!

There is a list as long as your arm of well written, well performed, funny, funny, funny comedy shows.

Most of these have gone on to become popular box sets - The Office, Extras, Peep Show, Gavin and Stacey, The IT Crowd , The Royle Family whilst others have been very successful unique pieces of comedy gold - Nighty Night, Marion & Geoff, Trigger Happy.

British comedy in the 2000s moved from a more traditional studio based comedy to sitcoms which took place in a living room (The Royle Family), an office (The Office), a flat (Peep Show), a working men's social club (Phoenix Nights), a Spanish hotel (Benidorm) and one was even a monologue which took place in a car (Marion & Geoff).

Rob Brydon
Rob Brydon | Source
Catherine Tate (with David Tennant)
Catherine Tate (with David Tennant) | Source
Lou and Andy - their names came from Lou Reed and Andy Warhol! Little Britain's less than dynamic duo.
Lou and Andy - their names came from Lou Reed and Andy Warhol! Little Britain's less than dynamic duo. | Source

British TV comedy has always been (mostly) high in quality - we have to turn a blind eye to Two Pints of Lager and A Packet Of Crisps (8 series! How? Why?) but in general, beginning the decade of the 2000s with the Royle Family and The Office gave British audiences pause for thought.

These comedies were very different. Ricky Gervais went that extra mile with The Office. When it was first shown, it harnered a cult following but was not really noticed but its repeat made everyone sit up and pay attention.

Caroline Aherne achieved similar success with The Royle Family - a working class family sitting in a living room talking about how crap the telly is and living life in Britain under a microscope but it was #1 in the comedy charts.

Rob Brydon's wonderfully 'ordinary' monologues in Marion & Geoff seemed to touch us all and 'Nighty Night' made us laugh whilst we also cringed at Julia Davis' monster wife, making it all up as she went along.

The Thick of It put politics into comedy but this was not the calm, gentle humour of Yes, Prime Minister; this was political comedy with the F word and kicking opponents when they were down. The Caledonian Mafia, Malcolm Tucker was star of the show and this was a show with very few likeable characters.

Little Britain was also a new way of approaching a sketch show - 2 men, David Walliams and Matt Lucas played most of the characters, male and female and they pushed the comedy envelope. Its first series was hugely successful but sadly, it did diminish as it became more popular.

Women in comedy came into their own in the 2000s with Catherine Tate, Dawn French, Julia Davis and Ruth Jones all showing comedic character talents in their shows, not only as performers but also as writers.

David Morrissey sings in his amusement kiosk
David Morrissey sings in his amusement kiosk
Queer As Folk
Queer As Folk
Clocking Off
Clocking Off
David Tennant - The best Dr Who ever?
David Tennant - The best Dr Who ever?

Paul Abbott talks about Shameless

British TV Drama in the 2000s

British TV drama was enjoying a period of dynamism and creativity in the 2000s.

Writers at that time included Jimmy McGovern, Russell T Davies and Paul Abbott.

Hot on their heels were a new cohort of younger writers, many of them writing bold drama - TV worth watching.

Paul Abbott was leading the way with 'Clocking Off' and 'State of Play', later made into a movie starring Russell Crow.

'Shameless' which he wrote and then passed onto other writers has also had crossover success in the USA. Shameless is making its final series soon but has enjoyed a long and successful reign as one of British TV's best dramas, though it has a good blend of comedy mixed in too.

Russell T Davies had already achieved fame and some notoriety (in some quarters) with 'Queer As Folk' his 1990s drama about the Manchester gay scene, which was explicit, realistic and unlike anything ever seen on British TV up to that time.

Davies turned his talents to the revival of Dr Who in the 2000s but for many, his most touching and popular drama was the brief but wonderful Bob and Rose, starring Alan Davies and Lesley Sharp as a gay man and straight woman falling in love with one another.

Jimmy McGovern delivered quality drama writing throughout the 1990s, first with Cracker and then later with The Lakes. One of his finest pieces of writing though came in the 2000s with 'The Street', tales of different people living in the same street. He remains a writer who seems to write little and often but always with quality.

Newer writers creating great British drama include Peter Bowker who wrote the wonderful 'Blackpool' a musical crime drama starring David Morrissey.

Peter Moffet, a writer of legal drama has shone in the 2000s with Kavanagh QC and more recently, Silk.

Andrew Davies gave us some amazing adapted drama - Bleak House was truly exceptional, Dickens drama delivered in half-hour episodes; that had never been done before but the show was amazing and Davies adaptation of the risque Sarah Waters' novel 'Tipping The Velvet', a story of Victorian lesbianism was a tour de force.

Another of Waters' books, 'Fingersmith', s tale of Victorian pickpockets was adapted by Peter Ransley and also worked well as perfect Sunday evening drama.

British drama in the 2000s and beyond has stuck to its format of being 1 or 2, occasionally 3 or 4 shows in length. For whatever reason, the British do not favour the 24 episode format favoured by US shows like 24, Lost and Prison Break.


A Great British Decade - The 2000s

Like all decades, the 2000s was up and down in terms of quality.

For the first time in what seemed like a long time, British people seemed to have more of a say over how their license fees would be spent and the BBC, by an large, delivered good quality British TV shows.

The main reason for the leap in quality across the board owes more to competition between the four main stations with Channel 4 finally muscling in with its own productions after decades of BBC dominance.

ITV has only recently come out of the doldrums with 'Downton Abbey' after a so-so last decade, some good TV, some pretty awful stuff too.

BBC2 has stuck to what it does best - wildlife, politics, art and culture though it first showed the British comedy, The Thick of It.

Reality TV is still with us though lots of it is confined to satellite stations (My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and One Born Every Minute are very popular) and Big Brother has moved over to Channel 5, now recognised as the channel for some US shows and also some less popular British TV.

That said, Channel 5 have reinvigorated Big Brother and in the last few years seem to have come on in leaps and bounds.

We are now in the second decade of the 2000s and this second decade is featured in this article.

British TV is evolving constantly and that can only be a good thing in an era where cable and satellite TV shows are making inroads in what was once a terrestrial monopoly.

In the end, it will be the British public who will reap the rewards of this competition. Hopefully, the resultant TV which is as deep in quality as it is in entertainment.

Many thanks for reading.


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    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Maj - I have been careful not to put any spoilers on here...I know, I was very shocked! But didn't they alter Matthew's personality? he was a bit of a soppy bugger by the end and that Lady Mary needs a firm hand :o)

    • travmaj profile image


      7 years ago from australia

      Oh yikes - the Christmas Downton was on - end of series three - Ohhhh noooo - how could they do this to me!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      jhenderson75, Top Gear is always on in my house because it is shown pretty much 24/7 on a satellite TV called Dave which specialises in mainstream programmes men enjoy watching -I don't like Jeremy Clarkson but I agree that it has entertainment value.

    • jhenderson75 profile image


      7 years ago from Most likely the couch


      Good list. Not sure how you'd categorize it, but as an American, at least, you have to include Top Gear. It's brilliant British television. Also, Billybuc, I think that was Torchwood, not sure on that, though. I remember the same episode.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Jackie, thanks for the visit anyway, I hope some of them were new to you and you get them soon.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      7 years ago from the beautiful south

      I will have to check and see if I get any of these. I love the old British comedies and watch them over and over again. They seem almost like family now!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Audra, that's a difficult question! I loved Gavin and Stacey; me and hubby have just watched a G&S marathon - loved it! I loved IT Crowd which makes me laugh out loud because I used to be a computer operator so I get a lot of their humour (especially Richmond, their 'hidden' engineer). Of the reality TV stuff, I enjoyed Survivor which was so novel at the time it came out, it only lasted 3 series. I also really enjoyed Castaway where they send the people to an island for a year. Of the comedy in 2000s, Catherine Tate Show was often really, really funny - I love her character, 'Nana', the foul-mouthed granny!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I miss 'Gavin and Stacey'! I never got to see the is not on the BBC here, only where I used to live. Great compilation of British shows in your hub! Hopefully I will get to see the rest of them. Oh, I like how you described your main tv stations...very interesting. I like British entertainment that we can see here...Grahm Norton is my fave! Out of all of the shows you mentioned...what is your fave?

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Theresa, thanks so much for your comment. I have another article on 80s sitcoms so some of his faves may be featured there. Have you seen my Ancestors poem? There's a little acknowledgement there to you!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very interesting Jools. Some of these I am familiar with, but many I was not. MY brother lived in England for a couple of years in the 80s and to this day he loves British sitcoms. :) Theresa

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Lady_E, I love 'Compuer Says No', I''ve worked with people like that too!

    • Lady_E profile image


      7 years ago from London, UK

      Lovely to read - good memories.

      Little Britain is my favourite comedy show. They are so creative with that show. Once in a while, when my friends ask me for help, I say "computer says noooo". lol.

      Brilliant Hub. Cheers.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Deb, thanks for reading. Of course, we have also pinched some of your good comedies as well, though they sometimes don't work over here.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 

      7 years ago from Iowa

      It amazes me how many American shows are based on British ones. I knew that the Office and American Idol were Americanized versions of the British originals, but had no idea that also was true of Biggest Loser, Big Brother, and Queer as Folk.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Oh you're in for a treat Maj! No spoilers here :o)

    • travmaj profile image


      7 years ago from australia

      Hi again - no haven't seen the christmas special Downton yet - just watched the wedding that wasn't - oh and Downton is saved!!!!!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      KAthryn, thanks for your comment. I think humour sometimes crosses the Atlantic and sometimes, it doesn't. I loved Cheers, Friends, Two and A Half Men, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Whitney and Mike and Molly but I never really got into Seinfeld and I know that was massive in the US. Dr Who has actually gotten better over the last decade after ending its original run rather stale. At the moment, Call the Midwife, Sherlock and Ripper Street are getting lots of viewers because Brits seem to like nostalgia.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image


      7 years ago from Windsor, Connecticut

      I have watched some BBC shows over time.

      Dr Who was a show I grew up with, and I used to love it.

      I like British humor sometime, although there are other times I just don't get it. There's a comedian with a puppet of some kind that has a late night show, and most of the time I have no clue why the crowd is laughing.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Vellur, many thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      7 years ago from Dubai

      An excellent insight into British TV shows, will catch up on some of them.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      ImKarn, we now have a telly box with a slot for a USB but we haven't used it yet. Shameless was a really shocking show when first shown, it had the F and C word used at will, sex scenes which would make even us blush and was as near to being banned from TV as you could get. Thankfully, it survived and has won so many awards now. An American version is made now starring William H Macy but its not as good as the British TV version.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 

      7 years ago

      such a coincidence - a friend of mine who has this...magical stick(lol)..that he can plug into any modern television (in other words - NOT mine) - was just telling me about this series he found - Shameless! I had never even heart of it, and - he loved it - saw about 4 episodes..

      the only reality tv i watch is dancing with the stars - but - i have seen the office - and loved it!

      always interesting to find out about what's trending in other countries - at least - it is to

      up and sharing forward..

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Martin, so sorry you're not able to watch TV. Thanks for your comment. Really good comedy doesn't need TV; if the script is great, it can be listened too and still be funny.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Maj, what a shame about the Downton Abbey ads. It does have ads here too (it's on ITV) but luckily they're only every 20 minutes or so. Have you seen the Xmas special yet? Many twists and turns ahead!!!!!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Peanutritious, thanks for commenting. I have the box sets of Benidorm, Boosh, IT Crowd, The Office and Extra which still get a regular marathon evening - Boosh is more my daughter's favourite, I still have to concentrate on everything they say :o)

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you so much for this. My disability won't let me watch TV so it is good when someone tells me what's going on.

    • travmaj profile image


      7 years ago from australia

      Thanks for this - have seen and enjoyed so many. So many of my favourites here - Little Britain, the Office, Blackpool - The third series of Downton just started here - complete with ads - lots of them. Huh, so annoying but have to keep watching...

    • Peanutritious profile image

      Tara Carbery 

      7 years ago from Cheshire, UK

      Loved this hub, it got me all nostalgic. There is so much British comedy gold. Shameless is so brilliantly written. Other big fave's of mine are 'Benidorm', 'spaced', 'The mighty boosh' and 'celebrity juice'.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Maria, thanks so much for such a great comment. The British version of The Office is an acquired taste but it is clever because it is so different. Ricky Gervais' latest show 'Derek' is another comedy which is a little bit 'out there' but it is also very funny. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      7 years ago from Jeffersonville PA


      I would love to hang out with you...I always learn fascinating bits about our mutual love of great music and other entertainment.

      Oh how Shameless rules the TV station shamelessly actually for the old man, who loves it! I like it in bits and pieces honestly.

      Love Ricky Gervais, whom we have heard on stand up shows...will have to look out for The Office.

      Thank you for this tasty sampler of British goodies. Voted UP and all.

      Hugs, Maria

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Bill, thanks for your comment - you've got me wondering now...Mmmmm, I need to find out which show you mean!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Julie! I'll look for some of these on DVD. This article reminds me of a British series I loved about ten years ago....and I can't remember the name. Something about a team of researchers who kept going through a Black Hole into other times and places...I remember dinosaurs entering today's world....just snatches in my mind, but the humor was excellent as I have come to expect from British television.


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