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Make Your Own TV Marathon

When these series premiered, viewers had to wait a week for each episode. That's no longer a problem

'24'

Ready to get addicted to a particular TV show? Something you hunker down with for hours at a time? We've got a few to try, starting with this gripping drama that will have you zipping from one hour in a potentially catastrophic day to the next. Only federal agent Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) can prevent disaster and spit in the eye of death every time. (8 seasons).

20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

'The Wire'

Best TV ever? Agree or not, just try to stop watching HBO's groundbreaking show about the cat-and-mouse games played by cops and drug dealers in Baltimore. It's impossible. Classic characters (including Omar Little, played by Michael Kenneth Williams), quotable dialogue and incisive storytelling. (5 seasons)

Nicole Rivelli/HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Arrested Development'

Most sitcoms don't reward viewers who watch multiple episodes at once, as jokes and stories are self-contained. AD is different: The gags and situations are funnier the more familiar you are with the foibles of the Bluth clan. It's a treasure for the marathon viewer. (4 seasons)

Gavin Bond/20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Downton Abbey'

Don't let the high-class British accents or PBS pedigree put you off: Downton is soapier than Dallas and Revenge in a hot tub together. The melodramatic early-20th-century machinations of the upstairs Crawley family (including Maggie Smith, as the irrepressible Dowager Countess of Grantham) and their downstairs staff are riveting. (2 seasons)

Carnival Films for Masterpiece/PBS/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Friday Night Lights'

This fine drama is about big dreams, small towns, marriage, family, friendship, community and, oh yeah, a little bit of Texas high school football, too. Kyle Chandler, as Coach Eric Taylor, is at the center of it all. The gift of watching from the first to last episodes is seeing characters you come to love truly grow up — no matter how old they are. (5 seasons)

NBC/Photofest

'Sherlock'

This irresistible modern take reinvents Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective for the high-speed Internet age. Benedict Cumberbatch is a magnetically arrogant Sherlock, a marvel to behold as he delivers rapid-fire deductions. "How do you know?" one bewildered observer asks after one. "I don't know," snarls Sherlock. "I notice." (2 seasons)

Colin Hutton/BBC/Hartwood Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Police Squad!'

Just six episodes of this hilarious cop show spoof were produced so it's less of a marathon and more like a long movie. Its gag-a-minute legacy endures mostly through the film series it spawned, The Naked Gun, which continued the misadventures of bumbling detective Lt. Frank Drebin (the late Leslie Nielsen, pictured with Priscilla Presley). (1 season)

Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Mad Men'

Press play and step into a time machine. As it moves through the '60s, this drama's nostalgic thrills arrive in tiny moments: The way Don Draper (Jon Hamm, pictured with January Jones) coolly pulls a flame to his cigarette; the classic 1961 Cadillac gliding smoothly down a suburban street, the retro Maidenform ads, the cultural ground subtly shifting beneath everyone's feet. (5 seasons)

AMC/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Damages'

Each season follows one tricky, twisty legal case with different guest stars. But it's Glenn Close, insanely good as mercurial, merciless, manic Manhattan attorney Patty Hewes, who makes it impossible to stop at one episode. (5 seasons)

Larry Riley/FX Network/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Murder One'

The little-remembered 1995 drama was ahead of its time. During one sterling season (skip the ill-conceived season 2) it tracked a single murder case in L.A. Critics raved, but the concept didn't fly, partly because in the pre-DVR/Web streaming age, viewers who missed an episode had trouble catching up. That's not a problem anymore. (2 seasons)

20thCentury Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Gilmore Girls'

Gilmores Lorelai and Rory (Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, respectively) are as much BFFs as mom-daughter. Watching both of them blossom and share rat-a-tat-tat dialogue could be family bonding time. A bonus: Melissa McCarthy, pre-Bridesmaids fame. (7 seasons)

Warner Bros/courtesy Everett Collection

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How to Watch, and Preview, the Shows

All of our recommendations are available on DVD, often in boxed sets by season, or through online streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu, just made for continuous consumption. But if you can't wait, you can take a peek at each show from the list at right via YouTube, Hulu or their networks of origin.

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