Time Travelling Television

28 April, 2016

Time travel is a popular subject for television series these days: the classic space-time adventure Doctor Who remains popular after 50 years, while more recent shows such as Outlander and 11.22.63 have been breakout successes.

The beauty of time travel is that it enables many types of stories to be told. Science fiction series such Star Trek use time travel to allow their characters to have adventures in conventional locations while Outlander’s time traveling creates a compelling romance; Life on Mars is a police procedural while Time Traveling Bong is a stoner comedy. With such a wide range of genres utilizing time travel in different ways, we aim to determine what type of time travel attracts the most demand.

We first identified 32 shows featuring time travel and classified them into five categories: science fiction, comedy, superhero, crime and drama. The average Demand Expressions™ for these titles over the last month (March 20th – April 20th) was found and the shows ranked. The top ten time travel shows in the United States currently are:

The top five shows were all on the air during the last month, though Doctor Who, which has been off-air since December, has nearly the same demand as Outlander, which began airing its second season on April 9th. Superhero shows with a time travel element seem to be the most popular category: they take the top two rankings and all the superhero shows on the list of 32 time travel shows are in the top ten except for the original Heroes series. Crime and comedy time travel shows seem to be the least popular, as no shows from those categories appear in the top ten.

To determine how popular each category is, we find the average Demand Expressions™ of the shows in each category over the last month.

As expected from the top ten, superhero time travellers have the highest average demand, followed by dramas (a varied group, containing shows like Outlander, Fringe and Lost). Though time travel was a concept first popularized by pure science fiction shows, these types of time travel series now have much less demand than more popular genres that incorporate time travel into their own structures. Comedy titles, such as Futurama, have less than half the average demand of science fiction shows and crime shows, such as Life on Mars, have the least demand. Most of the crime titles are older, explaining their low demand and suggesting that the moment for crime-themed time travel shows has passed.

Overall, time travel is a popular trend: while time travel itself is a purely science fiction concept, it is versatile enough to be incorporated into more popular genres such as superhero and drama. Only time will tell if this theme will continue to be utilized in future popular genres.


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