“Black Mirror” = Sadness

New research reveals that Black Mirror evokes sadness in its viewers more than any other TV show

  • Chernobyl triggered fear and surprise in its audience over any other top TV show, while Our Planet offered the most joyful viewing experience
  • Stranger Things is the most-talked about TV show of the last two years, receiving over 32 million Twitter mentions
  • Fargo is the most loved, with 89% of the tweets about the show positive

New research by Currys PC World – in collaboration with Sony – identifies the TV shows that are making us the happiest, angriest and most terrified. The research phase consisted of an exhaustive sentiment analysis of the tweets written about the world’s top 20 TV shows. Psychotherapist and cultural theorist, Aaron Balick PHD, has also shared his expert insights into the psychology of television.

The most talked about TV shows

While TV discussion would have once remained within the four walls of the home or office, social media has made it possible to share any given thought in real-time. Not only that, but we’re able to exchange these views and opinions with millions of other social media users.

Balick explains that sharing the viewing experience by way of social media can enhance the emotional response through what is called ‘emotional contagion’ – people online get behind different characters – with groups forming in support of one or the other. This can make the watching of a television show like a team sport.”

The top 3 most talked about TV shows on Twitter were:

  • Stranger Things – 32,197,368 Twitter mentions
  • Game of Thrones – 11,152,522 Twitter mentions
  • House of Cards – 2,905,028 Twitter mentions


The TV gender gap

Do TV habits differ between men and women? The data suggests that men are more likely to speak up online about what they’re watching, with 15 out of the 20 TV shows attracting more tweets from male viewers than female. The types of programmes discussed by men and women online also differ. Action comedy-drama Cobra Kai captivated its male audience, while detective series Sherlock gained more attention from female viewers.
The most talked about TV shows by men:

  • Cobra Kai – 77%
  • Nathan For You – 70%
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm – 68%

The most talked about TV shows by women:

  • Sherlock – 58%
  • When They See Us – 58%
  • Stranger Things – 56%


The emotions that TV shows trigger

To gather the data, millions of tweets were analysed, with joy the most common emotion shared. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however, as TV shows commonly evoke feelings of sadness, anger, surprise and even disgust.

Our Planet topped the ‘joy’ list with 64% of tweets about the show expressing happiness, while Black Mirror elicited sadness in its viewers more than any other show (70%).

“TV shows can provoke all sorts of emotions – we don’t watch them just to feel good. Even those that we call ‘negative’ emotions can be enjoyable to feel,” explains Balick. “You might cry at the death of a favourite character, which may be a cathartic experience for you because you may also be thinking about someone close to you who has died, and part of your mourning is for them. Other times you might experience fear or suspense, and then the pleasure when that suspenseful moment is resolved (they don’t call it a Hollywood ending for nothing).”

How TV toys with our emotions: 

  • Most joy – Our Planet (64%)
  • Most sadness – Black Mirror (70%)
  • Most anger – Westworld (25%)
  • Most fear – Chernobyl (17%)
  • Most disgust – The Vietnam War (15%)
  • Most surprise – Chernobyl (7%)

The most loved TV shows:

  • Our Planet – 64% were joyous tweets
  • Fargo – 62% were joyous tweets
  • Stranger Things – 58% were joyous tweets

The most conflicting TV shows:

  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – 52% joyous tweets / 74% negative sentiment
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm – 48% joyous tweets / 77% negative sentiment
  • Westworld – 25% angry tweets / 71% positive sentiment


Positive vs negative sentiment

As a whole, tweets about all 20 shows were overwhelmingly positive (75%) and only four out of the 20 TV shows elicited more negativity than positivity (Nathan for You, Cobra Kai, Curb Your Enthusiasm and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

“Watching a show via its hashtag on Twitter, for example, can be a community experience. It can provoke both comradeship and rage equally – and because of the scale, it has the capacity to create virtual in-groups and out-groups,” says Balick.

The 3 TV shows that received the most positive tweets:

  • Fargo – 89%
  • Our Planet – 87%
  • The Boys – 86%

The 3 TV shows that received the most negative tweets:

  • Nathan for You – 84%
  • Cobra Kai – 83%
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm – 77%


What is it about TV shows that gets us coming back for more?

There’s something about our favourite TV shows that have us tuning in time after time. And this is no coincidence – these shows are carefully crafted to capture viewers’ attention.

Balick explains that there are two basic reasons we tune into our favourite TV shows:

“Diversion: Many of us seek diversion through television to get a break from the stress of everyday life – it’s a bit like checking out. By diverting our attention from the stresses and strains of daily living, we can get a bit of light relief by tuning into someone else’s life on television.

“Identification: This is a psychological term that describes when you see a character in a film or TV show as representing a part of yourself.”

The formula for a ‘winning’ TV show

So, what is the secret to producing the next big thing for the silver screen?

Balick explains that “there are lots of models that writers use to trigger ‘buy in’ from an audience and to get them feeling attached to the characters. This is often done by making some characters more appealing than others or setting up storylines where the viewer is somewhat manipulated into identifying with particular characters (Fleabag is a good example).”


The top 20 TV shows used in the campaign were selected using IMDB’s list of top-rated TV shows in August 2019. To qualify for the campaign, each show must have been aired in the last 24 months, be a live action show (as opposed to a cartoon, reality TV show, chat/game show, news or sport) and be in English.

Data was sourced from Twitter using the social listening tool Brandwatch. Each TV show was tracked by inputting the most commonly used keywords and hashtags related to the show and the official Twitter handles where available. Boolean search was also used to hone in on TV-specific results (where the title of a TV show may also be used to refer to a place, event or in general conversation – e.g. Our Planet).

Amilia Totten
About the Author
Amilia Totten is a freelance writer, photographer and erstwhile time-waster. Her eclectic film favourites include the latest Hollywood blockbuster to European avant-garde and the joys of Bollywood.

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