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The Best '90s TV Dramas

Updated November 18, 2019 10.6k votes 1.1k voters 35.5k 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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  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer1

    ActorsSarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, James Marsters

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB, 1997) is an American supernatural drama television series...  more

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  • The X-Files2
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    ActorsDavid Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi

    The X-Files is an American science fiction horror drama television series created by Chris...  more

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  • Charmed3
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    ActorsShannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano

    Charmed (The WB, 1998) is an American fantasy drama television series created by Constance M....  more

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  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit4

    ActorsMariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, Ice-T

    Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC, 1999) is an American police procedural, legal, crime...  more

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  • ER5
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    ER

    1994

    ActorsAnthony Edwards, George Clooney, Julianna Margulies

    ER is an American medical drama television series created by novelist Michael Crichton that...  more

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  • Boy Meets World6

    ActorsBen Savage, Rider Strong, William Daniels

    Boy Meets World (ABC, 1993) is an American television sitcom created by Michael Jacobs and...  more

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  • Beverly Hills, 902107

    ActorsJason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Luke Perry

    Beverly Hills, 90210 (Fox, 1990) is an American teen drama television series created by Darren...  more

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  • Law & Order8
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    ActorsChris Noth, Sam Waterson

    Law & Order is an American police procedural and legal drama television series, created by...  more

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  • Angel9
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    Angel

    1999

    ActorsDavid Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof

    Angel (The WB, 1999) is an American supernatural television series created by Joss Whedon and...  more

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  • The Sopranos10
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    ActorsJames Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco

    The Sopranos (HBO, 1999) is an American crime drama television series created by David Chase....  more

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  • Xena: Warrior Princess11

    ActorsLucy Lawless, Renée O'Connor, Ted Raimi

    Xena: Warrior Princess is an American/New Zealand television series filmed in New Zealand. The...  more

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  • Quantum Leap12
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    ActorsScott Bakula, Dean Stockwell, Deborah Pratt

    Quantum Leap is an American television series that originally aired on NBC for five seasons,...  more

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  • Dawson's Creek13
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    ActorsJames Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Michelle Williams

    Dawson's Creek (The WB, 1998) is an American teen drama television series created by Kevin...  more

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  • 7th Heaven14
    157
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    ActorsStephen Collins, Catherine Hicks, Jessica Biel

    7th Heaven is an American family drama television series, created and produced by Brenda...  more

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  • My So-Called Life15

    ActorsClaire Danes, Bess Armstrong, Wilson Cruz

    My So-Called Life (ABC, 1994) is an American teen drama television series created by Winnie...  more

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  • Touched by an Angel16

    ActorsRoma Downey, Della Reese, John Dye

    Touched by an Angel is an American supernatural drama series that premiered on CBS on...  more
  • Baywatch17
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    ActorsDavid Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson, Yasmine Bleeth

    Baywatch is an American action drama series about the Los Angeles County Lifeguards who patrol...  more

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  • Twin Peaks18
    113
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    Twin Peaks

    1990

    ActorsKyle MacLachlan, Russ Tamblyn, Sherilyn Fenn, Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick

    Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990) is an American mystery horror drama television series created by Mark...  more

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  • Northern Exposure19

    ActorsRob Morrow, Janine Turner, Barry Corbin

    Northern Exposure is an American television series that ran on CBS from 1990 to 1995, with a...  more

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  • Walker, Texas Ranger20

    ActorsChuck Norris, Clarence Gilyard Jr., Sheree J. Wilson

    Walker, Texas Ranger (CBS, 1993) is an American action crime television series created by...  more

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  • NYPD Blue21
    103
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    ActorsDennis Franz, Gordon Clapp, James McDaniel

    NYPD Blue is an American television police drama set in New York City, exploring the internal...  more

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  • Melrose Place22
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    ActorsHeather Locklear, Andrew Shue, Courtney Thorne-Smith

    Melrose Place is an American primetime soap opera that aired on Fox from July 8, 1992 to May...  more

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  • The West Wing23
    104
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    ActorsMartin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney

    The West Wing is an American serial political drama television series created by Aaron Sorkin...  more

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  • Party of Five24
    115
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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...  more

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  • Ally McBeal25
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    ActorsCalista Flockhart, Greg Germann, Jane Krakowski

    Ally McBeal is an American legal comedy-drama television series, originally aired on Fox from...  more

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