The second most-watched mini-series (after Roots) of all time, The Thorn Birds was originally broadcast in 1983 and captivated viewers with its story of a lifelong conflict between the spirit and the flesh. Adapted from the bestselling novel by Colleen McCullough, the production stars Richard Chamberlain as a Catholic priest named Ralph de Bricassart, whose life in Australia between 1920 and 1962 is one long torment as he pines for his lover, Meggie Carson (Rachel Ward), while seeking advancement in his clergyman career. The passion and the guilt make for compelling drama, but a stellar cast of supporting players adds muscle to the proceedings: Barbara Stanwyck (who won an Emmy for her work as Meggie's tough grandmother), Jean Simmons, Richard Kiley, Christopher Plummer, Bryan Brown, and Mare Winningham. Chamberlain, who was something of the king of the miniseries form at the time, is very good in the lead, as is the often-underrated Ward. Their affair is indeed irresistible to watch, which proves to be true, too, of the story's thick weave of church politics, forbidden desire, social change over decades, and family secrets.