The Best Documentary TV Shows

5.4k votes 188 voters 41k views 62 items tags f p @

List Criteria: Documentary TV series only. Science entertainment and reality shows do not count.

The best documentary TV shows make learning an entertaining journey that viewers don’t want to end. After all, who doesn’t want another season of Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey? Other great documentary shows include the Emmy-winning hit Planet Earth and NOVA. But which TV documentary shows are the best? See what lifelong fans of learning think in the ranking below.

If you’ve ever wanted to know how a pistol is made for instance, Tales of the Gun goes in-depth on the construction of important handguns. Even if you have zero interest in a topic, a good documentary show will get you hooked on the subject while explaining it thoroughly. Sure, you may never need to know how far the Moon is from the Earth, but it could come in handy during a bar trivia night.

Some documentary TV shows—specifically travel documentaries—let you live vicariously through the host. Never been to Italy? Well, Anthony Bourdain can virtually transport you there with his exciting food adventures and soothing voice. If you prefer cooking more than traveling, you’d probably be interested in these food documentaries as well.

For those curious who hosts a particular documentary TV show, details such as host and cast are included below when available. So vote up your favorite documentary TV shows below or add any that you feel should be on the list. After all, the best documentary TV shows are something that should be shared.

Collection Photo: via cbs
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  1. 1
    + 56
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    Sigourney Weaver

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  2. 2
    + 36
    - 15

    most listed
    Mike Rowe, David M. Barsky, Doug Glover

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  3. 3
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    - 5


    Dayle Hinman, Peter Thomas, Roy Shuler

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  4. 4
    + 28
    - 10


    Jay O. Sanders, Lance Lewman, Craig Sechler

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  5. 5
    + 20
    - 5


    Danny Pino, Anthony Green

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  6. 6
    + 26
    - 11


    Jeremy Wade, Daniel Göz

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  7. 7
    + 21
    - 7


    Sebastian Knapp, Eric Meyers, Tom McKay

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  8. 8
    + 32
    - 17


    Marc Summers, Lee Anne Wong

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  9. 9
    + 20
    - 6


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  10. 10
    + 20
    - 8


    Lloyd Sherr, Harlan Saperstein, Franklin D. Roosevelt

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  11. 11
    + 16
    - 5


    Tom Hanks, Nick Searcy, Lane Smith

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  12. 12
    + 17
    - 7
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  13. 13
    + 19
    - 8


    Joan Lunden, Peter Graves, David Hart Smith

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  14. 14
    + 16
    - 6


    Josh Gates, Gabriel Copeland, Mike Morrell

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  15. 15
    + 24
    - 14


    Penn Jillette, Teller, George W. Bush

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  16. 16
    + 16
    - 8


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  17. 17
    + 15
    - 6


    J.V. Martin, Daniel Martinez, Mike Sode

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  18. 18
    + 19
    - 12


    Bruce Parker, Angela Rippon, Arthur Negus

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  19. 19
    + 19
    - 11


    Don Morrow, Neil Ross, Kieran Mulroney

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  20. 20
    + 9
    - 3

    added by looksharp
    Julianna Margulies, Laura Linney, William Hurt

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  21. 21
    + 10
    - 5


    Michael Madsen, Timothy Stack

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  22. 22
    + 12
    - 6


    Will Lyman, Arun Rath, Sarah Childress

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  23. 23
    + 12
    - 6


    David Carradine, Keith Carradine

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  24. 24
    + 11
    - 7


    Michael Palin

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  25. 25
    + 13
    - 9


    Austin Porter, Jael De Pardo, Ben Hansen

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  26. 26
    + 11
    - 6


    Linda Blair, Zelda Rubinstein, Alan Robson

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  27. 27
    + 14
    - 11


    Alex Debogorski, Thom Beers, Hugh Rowland

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  28. 28
    + 11
    - 8


    Zach Thomas, Darren Woodson, Eddie Kennison

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  29. 29
    + 17
    - 13


    Jeff VanVonderen, Candy Finnigan

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  30. 30
    + 4
    - 1
    Making a Murderer is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Documentary TV Shows


  31. 31
    + 10
    - 6


    Stephen Fry

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  32. 32
    + 10
    - 6


    Liev Schreiber

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  33. 33
    + 8
    - 4


    James Kallstrom, Anthony D. Call, Bob Featherer

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  34. 34
    + 7
    - 3


    Dave Salmoni

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  35. 35
    + 3
    - 0

    added by looksharp
    Dan Rather, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan

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  36. 36
    + 15
    - 13


    Alisdair Simpson, Ron Perlman, Khyber Zaffarkhan

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  37. 37
    + 6
    - 4


    Jaromír Hanzlík

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  38. 38
    + 11
    - 8


    Matthew Broderick, John Lithgow, Gary Sinise

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  39. 39
    + 7
    - 4


    Bill Kerr

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  40. 40
    + 7
    - 4


    Edward R. Murrow

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  41. 41
    + 6
    - 4


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  42. 42
    + 13
    - 11


    Flower the Meerkat, Mozart the Meerkat, Bill Nighy

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  43. 43
    + 10
    - 8


    Yvette Fielding, Ciarán O'Keeffe, Derek Acorah

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  44. 44
    + 10
    - 8


    Michael Moore, Bruce Brown, Louis Theroux

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  45. 45
    + 9
    - 7


    Mike Curtis, Boyd Coddington, Mike Rowe

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  46. 46
    + 7
    - 5
    Long Way Round is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Documentary TV Shows


    Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman

  47. 47
    + 7
    - 5


    Nigel Marven, Rod Arthur, Suzanne McNabb

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  48. 48
    + 7
    - 5


    Kate Humble, Simon King, Chris Packham

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  49. 49
    + 9
    - 8


    Dhani Jones, Stephen Koepfer

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  50. 50
    + 9
    - 8


    Laura Dakin, Molly Kendall, Luke Van Horn

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