1.1k voters

The Best '90s TV Dramas

Updated November 18, 2019 10.5k votes 1.1k voters 37.1k views43 items

List RulesThe greatest drama TV series that aired during the 1990s

The best ‘90s drama shows weighed heavily toward sci-fi premises, but gave equal time to angsty teen dramas and crime procedurals. In fact, we have the 1990s to thank for the exponential growth of the Law and Order franchise. Though some of the greatest TV dramas of the ‘90s might be comedy-drama hybrids rather than straight-up drama, the hour-long format allowed those shows to tackle more serious subjects than a sitcom.

Some of the ‘90s greatest dramas dominated what came to be known as water-cooler viewing, like The X-files, Twin Peaks, and The West Wing. Other shows didn’t quite dominate in the ratings, like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and The Sopranos, yet they secured a spot in TV history as some of the best ever in the genre.

As the Internet grew in access and popularity, we saw some of the greatest ‘90s dramas draw from the new phenomenon. (Recall Ally McBeal’s use of the dancing baby meme.) Though DVR wasn’t introduced until 1999, VHS recording allowed for delayed viewing, necessitating the rise of the SPOILER ALERT.

Finally, we have to thank a few of the best ‘90s drama shows for launching the careers of Jessica Biel (7th Heaven), Claire Danes (My So-Called Life), and James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek), reviving the careers of James Spader (The Practice), Rob Lowe (The West Wing), and Robert Downey, Jr. (Ally McBeal). And, really, we have to thank Dick Wolf for filling the airwaves end to end with witty banter and weeping victims.
  • 1

    ActorsSarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, James Marsters, Emma Caulfield, Anthony Head

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB, 1997) is an American supernatural drama television series created by Joss Whedon, based on the 1992 film. Destined to slay vampires, a young woman (Sarah Michelle...  more

    More Buffy the Vampire Slayer 

    All Of The Behind-The-Scenes Drama From 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' And 'Angel'#2 of 32 The Best UPN Shows

  • 2

    The X-Files

    September 10, 1993

    ActorsGillian Anderson, David Duchovny, Mitch Pileggi, Robert Patrick, Annabeth Gish

    The X-Files (Fox, 1993) is an American science fiction horror drama television series created by Chris Carter. The series revolves around FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigating...  more

    More The X-Files 

    'The X-Files' Episodes That Made Us Say "Ewwww"Fan Theories About 'The X-Files'

  • 3


    October 7, 1998

    ActorsAlyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, Holly Marie Combs, Shannen Doherty, Brian Krause

    Charmed (The WB, 1998) is an American fantasy drama television series created by Constance M. Burge. Sisters Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs) and Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) discover they...  more

    More Charmed 

    The Best Seasons of 'Charmed'#7 of 59 The Best Teen Sci-Fi And Fantasy TV Series

  • 4


    September 19, 1994

    ActorsAnthony Edwards, George Clooney, Julianna Margulies, Sherry Stringfield, Noah Wyle

    ER is an American medical drama television series created by novelist Michael Crichton that aired on NBC from September 19, 1994, to April 2, 2009. It was produced by Constant c Productions and...  more

    More ER 

    People You Forgot Guest Starred on ER#20 of 54 The Best TV Shows That Lasted 10+ Seasons

  • 5

    ActorsMariska Hargitay, Ice-T, Kelli Giddish, Peter Scanavino, Jamie Gray Hyder

    Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC, 1999) is an American police procedural, legal, crime drama series created by Dick Wolf. Set in New York City, the series follows the dedicated detectives who...  more

    More Law & Order: Special Victims Unit 

    29 Of The Best Memes We Could Find All About 'Law & Order: SVU'#16 of 151 The Best Shows Currently On The Air

  • 6

    Boy Meets World

    September 24, 1993

    ActorsBen Savage, William Daniels, Betsy Randle, Will Friedle, Rider Strong

    Boy Meets World (ABC, 1993) is an American television sitcom created by Michael Jacobs and April Kelly. An adolescent (Ben Savage) with two siblings tests his various theories about life as he...  more

    More Boy Meets World 

    26 Things You Didn't Know About Boy Meets World#8 of 52 The Best Sitcoms Of The '90s

  • 7

    Beverly Hills, 90210

    October 4, 1990

    ActorsIan Ziering, Jennie Garth, Brian Austin Green, Tori Spelling, Jason Priestley

    Beverly Hills, 90210 (Fox, 1990) is an American teen drama television series created by Darren Star. A group of friends living in Beverly Hills, California make their way through life from their...  more

    More Beverly Hills, 90210 

    Behind-The-Scenes Drama That Fueled 'Beverly Hills, 90210' In The '90s#90 of 161 Shows With The Best Freakin' Series Finales Of All Time

  • 8

    ActorsChris Noth, Sam Waterson

    Law & Order (NBC, 1990) is an American police procedural legal drama series created by Dick Wolf. Set in New York City, the series follows an investigation of a crime, apprehension, and prosecution...  more

    More Law & Order 

    All The Detectives From 'Law & Order,' Ranked#133 of 298 The Best Duos of All Time

  • 9


    October 5, 1999

    ActorsDavid Boreanaz, J. August Richards, Amy Acker, Andy Hallett, James Marsters

    Angel (The WB, 1999) is an American supernatural television series created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, and a spin-off from the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel (David...  more

    More Angel 

    14 Things Most People Have Never Noticed About 'Angel'#52 of 255 The Best TV Shows Streaming On Hulu

  • 10

    The Sopranos

    January 10, 1999

    ActorsJames Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico

    The Sopranos (HBO, 1999) is an American crime drama television series created by David Chase. New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) deals with personal and professional issues in his...  more

    More The Sopranos 

    The Best Characters on The Sopranos#2 of 109 The Best HBO Original Series

  • 11

    Quantum Leap

    March 26, 1989

    ActorsScott Bakula, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Wolfberg, W. K. Stratton, Carolyn Seymour

    Quantum Leap is an American television series that originally aired on NBC for five seasons, from March 1989 through May 1993. Created by Donald P. Bellisario, it starred Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam...  more

    More Quantum Leap 

    #86 of 398 The Best TV Shows to Rewatch#16 of 271 The Best Cult TV Shows of All Time

  • 12

    Xena: Warrior Princess

    September 4, 1995

    ActorsLucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor

    Xena: Warrior Princess is an American/New Zealand television series filmed in New Zealand. The series aired in syndication from September 4, 1995, until June 18, 2001. The series was created in 1995...  more

    More Xena: Warrior Princess 

    16 Enchanting Facts About Xena: Warrior Princess Most Fans Don't Know#39 of 57 The Best Science Fiction Franchises of All Time

  • 13

    Dawson's Creek

    January 20, 1998

    ActorsJames Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson, Michelle Williams, Kerr Smith

    Dawson's Creek (The WB, 1998) is an American teen drama television series created by Kevin Williamson. Four friends (James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson, and Michelle Williams) in a...  more

    More Dawson's Creek 

    #280 of 631 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch#209 of 538 TV Shows Canceled Before Their Time

  • 14

    7th Heaven

    August 26, 1996

    ActorsStephen Collins, Catherine Hicks, David Gallagher, Beverley Mitchell, Mackenzie Rosman

    7th Heaven is an American family drama television series, created and produced by Brenda Hampton. The series premiered on August 26, 1996, on The WB, the first time that the network aired Monday...  more

    More 7th Heaven 

    #67 of 95 TV Shows You Wish You Were A Character On#16 of 92 The Best Drama Shows About Families, Ranked

  • 15

    My So-Called Life

    August 25, 1994

    ActorsBess Armstrong, Wilson Cruz, Claire Danes, Devon Gummersall, A.J. Langer

    My So-Called Life (ABC, 1994) is an American teen drama television series created by Winnie Holzman. A 15-year-old girl (Claire Danes) and her trials and tribulations of being a teenager and dealing...  more

    More My So-Called Life 

    #6 of 310 The Best Shows Canceled After a Single Season#61 of 83 The Best ABC Shows of All Time

  • 16

    Touched by an Angel

    September 21, 1994

    ActorsRoma Downey, Della Reese, John Dye, Valerie Bertinelli

    Touched by an Angel is an American supernatural drama series that premiered on CBS on September 21, 1994, and ran for 211 episodes and nine seasons until its conclusion on April 27, 2003. Created by...  more

    More Touched by an Angel 

    #75 of 191 The Greatest Shows of the 1990s, Ranked#182 of 196 The Best Television Shows of the 2000s

  • 17

    Twin Peaks

    April 8, 1990

    ActorsKyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer

    Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990) is an American mystery horror drama television series created by Mark Frost and David Lynch and, despite being canceled after two seasons, sparked a cult following that...  more


    Surprising Things You Didn't Know About Twin Peaks#11 of 45 New TV Shows of the Last Few Years with the Best Overall Acting

  • 18


    September 22, 1989

    ActorsDavid Hasselhoff, Mitzi Kapture, David Chokachi, Kelly Packard, Michael Bergin

    Baywatch is an American action drama series about the Los Angeles County Lifeguards who patrol the beaches of Los Angeles County, California, starring David Hasselhoff. The show was canceled after...  more

    More Baywatch 

    #1036 of 1,313 The Best Guilty Pleasure TV Shows#47 of 124 TV Shows with the Hottest Casts

  • 19

    Northern Exposure

    July 12, 1990

    ActorsRob Morrow, Janine Turner, John Corbett, Cynthia Geary, John Cullum

    Northern Exposure is an American television series that ran on CBS from 1990 to 1995, with a total of 110 episodes. It dealt with a New York City physician, Dr. Joel Fleischman, who is sent to...  more

    More Northern Exposure 

    #39 of 79 The Best CBS Shows of All Time#102 of 296 The Greatest Sitcoms in Television History

  • 20

    Walker, Texas Ranger

    April 21, 1993

    ActorsChuck Norris, Clarence Gilyard, Sheree J. Wilson, Noble Willingham, Nia Peeples

    Walker, Texas Ranger (CBS, 1993) is an American action crime television series created by Leslie Greif and Paul Haggis, inspired by the film Lone Wolf McQuade. Texas Ranger Cordell Walker (Chuck...  more

    More Walker, Texas Ranger 

    #20 of 44 The Best CBS Dramas of All Time#81 of 98 The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time

  • 21

    Melrose Place

    July 8, 1992

    ActorsGrant Show, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Andrew Shue, Thomas Calabro, Josie Bissett

    Melrose Place is an American primetime soap opera that aired on Fox from July 8, 1992 to May 24, 1999, for seven seasons. The show follows the lives of a group of young adults living in an apartment...  more

    More Melrose Place 

    #60 of 277 The Most Overrated TV Shows Of All Time#4 of 99 The All-Time Best Primetime Soap Operas

  • 22

    The West Wing

    September 22, 1999

    ActorsMartin Sheen, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff

    The West Wing (NBC, 1999) is an American serial political drama television series created by Aaron Sorkin. The series is set primarily in the West Wing of the White House, where the Oval Office and...  more

    More The West Wing 

    Ranking the Best Seasons of 'The West Wing'#20 of 56 The Best NBC Dramas of All Time

  • 23

    ActorsMatthew Fox, Scott Wolf, Neve Campbell

    Party of Five (Fox, 1994) is an American television teen and family drama created by Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman. After their parents' untimely death, five siblings (Matthew Fox, Scott Wolf,...  more

    More Party of Five 

    #22 of 23 '90s Shows That Are Coming Back#17 of 20 TV Shows That Essentially Exist To Make You Cry

  • 24

    NYPD Blue

    September 21, 1993

    ActorsDennis Franz, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Bill Brochtrup, Henry Simmons, Jacqueline Obradors

    NYPD Blue is an American television police drama set in New York City, exploring the internal and external struggles of the fictional 15th precinct of Manhattan. Each episode typically intertwined...  more

    More NYPD Blue 

    #379 of 508 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time#211 of 320 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

  • 25

    Ally McBeal

    September 8, 1997

    ActorsCalista Flockhart, Greg Germann, Jane Krakowski, Peter MacNicol, Portia de Rossi

    Ally McBeal is an American legal comedy-drama television series, originally aired on Fox from September 8, 1997 to May 20, 2002. Created by David E. Kelley, the series stars Calista Flockhart in the...  more

    More Ally McBeal 

    #81 of 309 The Best Female-Led TV Shows#43 of 113 The Best Dramedy TV Series