Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. Why else would you have so many people convinced that someone besides Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F. Kennedy? Why would there be a vocal minority convinced that NASA astronauts never landed on the moon? Conspiracy theories are as American as apple pie and baseball. These five TV shows are the best at drawing upon that love of conspiracy theories.
No other TV show embraced and built the conspiracy culture quite like "The X-Files" did during its nine season run on Fox. Every sort of conspiracy you could dream up impacted the lives of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. The FBI duo battled conspiracies involving other FBI agents, shadowy government figures and alien colonists. At the height of the show's popularity, it made millions of people want to believe in conspiracies.
You could always count on two things to occur every season "24" was on the air: government officials and international terrorists would conspire to ruin the United States in some form or another, and that conspiracy would eventually be exposed as Jack Bauer tortured and killed dozens of people to bring it to light. The best part is that all of it went down in a single 24-hour period. Yeah, it was highly implausible at times. Still, few TV shows could match the adrenaline rush.
Fashioning a TV series around the central characters escaping from prison seems like a tough concept to execute. "Prison Break" pulled it off by unraveling a vast conspiracy involving corporate and government entities that put the prisoners in that position in the first place. The only problem "Prison Break" encountered was finding believable ways to put the characters back in prison and have them escape again.
The main plot arc in "Burn Notice" centers on Michael Westin's efforts to discover why he was disavowed as a covert operative. Westin works as a private investigator and mercenary for his day job. His continuing mission, though, is to unravel the conspiracy behind the burn notice attached to him and restore his standing in the intelligence community. One thing that makes this show a winner is the chance to see Bruce Campbell steal scenes while playing Westin's best friend, Sam Axe.
This British import served as the template for all conspiracy based TV shows. Patrick McGoohan starred as an ex-secret agent who is abducted and taken to a mysterious island after resigning from his intelligence post. All island inhabitants are assigned numbers to use for identification instead of their names. "The Prisoner" was a little ahead of its time and only aired a few episodes before being canceled.