To die for: how Bodyguard became the biggest new TV drama of the decade

Jed Mercurio’s BBC series is pulling in extraordinary audiences, harking back to a time when TV shows were national events. What does its mix of politics, terrorism and sex have that other series don’t?

The BBC has, to use a technical term, smashed it: smashed the autumn ratings war, that is, with Bodyguard outpacing its ITV rival (a slightly tired, though big name Vanity Fair) by more than double the amount of viewers. But it also smashed the past decade, with the largest audience for a drama debut since 2006, and its own career-best: people haven’t lined up for a BBC debut in these quantities since records began.

Before we do the obligatory spoiler alert, is this show, in fact, unspoilable? Not because you get to see Games of Thrones’ former King in the North’s arse, but because, defying the times and all the technology in them, people are watching it live simultaneously? This isn’t precisely true: 3.6 million iPlayer viewers were added in the week after the August bank holiday, to bring the total for episode one up to 10.4million. But it’s not a box-set story, slow to take off but with a very long tail. We’re back in the world of the watercooler – a bygone era when we all watched TV at the same time, and had proper jobs where you got your own desk (and water).

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