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The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows

Updated May 27, 2021 6.5k votes 856 voters 87.3k views288 items

List RulesVote up the best documentary TV series that have ever aired.

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.

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  • 1

    Planet Earth

    avid Attenborough, Sigourney Weaver
    173
    120

    PremieredMarch 5, 2006

    NetworkBBC1

  • 2

    Planet Earth 2

    Sir David Attenborough
    203
    18

    Premiered2016

    NetworkBBC One

  • 3

    I Shouldn't Be Alive

    Sebastian Knapp, Eric Meyers
    59
    29

    PremieredOctober 28, 2005

    NetworkDSC, APL

  • 4
    Ferry73 added

    Cosmos

    Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan
    70
    26

    PremieredSeptember 28, 1980

    NetworkPBS

  • 5

    Dirty Jobs

    Mike Rowe, David M. Barsky
    72
    44

    PremieredNovember 7, 2003

    NetworkDSC

  • 6

    Nova

    Jay O. Sanders, Lance Lewman
    61
    31

    Premiered1974

    NetworkPublic Broadcasting Service

  • 7

    PremieredJuly 25, 2005

    NetworkThe Travel Channel

  • 8

    Making a Murderer

    Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey
    79
    38

    PremieredDecember 18, 2015

    NetworkNETOV

  • 9

    Our Planet

    David Attenborough
    22
    2

    Premiered2019

    NetworkNETOV

  • 10

    Antiques Roadshow

    Bruce Parker, Angela Rippon
    46
    35

    PremieredFebruary 18, 1979

    NetworkBBC1

  • 11

    Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

    Jaromír Hanzlík
    35
    21

    Premiered1980

    NetworkPublic Broadcasting Service

  • 12
    looksharp added

    30 for 30

    Dan Rather, Magic Johnson
    31
    21

    PremieredOctober 6, 2009

    NetworkESPN

  • 13

    In Search of...

    Leonard Nimoy, Mitch Pileggi
    30
    21

    PremieredApril 17, 1977

    NetworkSyndicated, Syfy, History

  • 14

    River Monsters

    Jeremy Wade, Daniel Göz
    46
    41

    PremieredApril 5, 2009

    NetworkAPL

  • 15

    Who Do You Think You Are?

    David Morrissey, Mark Strong
    27
    29

    Premiered2004

    NetworkBritish Broadcasting Corporation

  • 16

    Modern Marvels

    Lloyd Sherr, Harlan Saperstein
    49
    61

    PremieredJanuary 1, 1995

    NetworkH2, The History Channel

  • 17
    looksharp added

    American Masters

    Julianna Margulies, Laura Linney
    17
    20

    PremieredJune 23, 1986

    NetworkPBS

  • 18

    Ice Road Truckers

    Alex Debogorski, Thom Beers
    23
    35

    PremieredJune 17, 2007

    NetworkHISTORY

  • 19

    Forensic Files

    Dayle Hinman, Peter Thomas
    94
    31

    PremieredApril 21, 1996

    NetworkTLC, TRUTV

  • 20

    Cold Case Files

    Danny Pino, Anthony Green
    80
    36

    PremieredFebruary 27, 2017

    NetworkAETV

  • 21

    Animal Precinct

    Michael Madsen, Timothy Stack
    35
    55

    Premiered2001

    NetworkAnimal Planet

  • 22

    Wild Kingdom

    Marlin Perkins, Jim Fowler
    56
    20

    PremieredJanuary 6, 1963

    NetworkAnimal Planet, NBC

  • 23

    Meerkat Manor

    Dave Bell
    45
    24

    PremieredSeptember 12, 2005

    NetworkAPL

  • 24
    ValentineFeatherstone added

    The Vietnam War

    Narrated by Peter Coyote
    26
    5

    The Vietnam War is a 10-part American television documentary series about the Vietnam War written by Geoffrey C. Ward and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The first episode premiered on PBS on September 17, 2017. The script is by Geoffrey Ward, and the series is narrated by Peter Coyote.

  • 25
    35
    18

    PremieredFebruary 8, 2015

    NetworkHBO