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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.
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    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

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    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

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    Charmed

    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

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    ER

    September 19, 1994

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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    Angel

    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    Baywatch

    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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