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The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows

Updated November 24, 2020 4.4k votes 804 voters 85.0k views211 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. If you're wonding what the newest documentary shows are, check out docuseries airing in 2019.

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  • 1
    Planet Earth 2
    190
    16

    Planet Earth 2

    Sir David Attenborough

    Premiered2016

    NetworkBBC One

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    #5 of 95 The Most Chill Nature & Animal Shows To Watch High#5 of 82 The Best Nature Shows To Watch When You're Drunk

  • 2
    Planet Earth
    170
    115

    Planet Earth

    Sigourney Weaver

    Premiered2006

    NetworkBBC One, BBC HD

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    The Best Songs About NatureThe Making Of Planet Earth Is Even More Mind-Blowing Than The Series Itself

  • 3
    Dirty Jobs
    75
    43

    Dirty Jobs

    Mike Rowe, David M. Barsky

    Premiered2003

    NetworkDiscovery Channel

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    Mike Rowe Reveals ‘Dirty Jobs’ Behind-The-Scenes Facts#1 of 51 The Best Reality Dramas

  • 4
    Cosmos
    73
    28

    Cosmos

    Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan

    Premiered2014

    NetworkFox Broadcasting Company

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    #170 of 334 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years#166 of 389 TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate

  • 5
    Nova
    63
    31

    Nova

    Jay O. Sanders, Lance Lewman

    Premiered1974

    NetworkPublic Broadcasting Service

    Amazon buy button
  • 6
    I Shouldn't Be Alive
    58
    30

    I Shouldn't Be Alive

    Sebastian Knapp, Eric Meyers

    Premiered2005

    NetworkDiscovery Channel, Animal Planet

    Amazon buy button
  • 7
    Making a Murderer
    78
    35

    Making a Murderer

    Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey
    Amazon buy button

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    20 Reasons Why Everyone's Crushing on Dean Strang#9 of 20 The Best True Crime Documentaries To Watch

  • 8
    Modern Marvels
    51
    25

    Modern Marvels

    Lloyd Sherr, Harlan Saperstein

    Premiered1995

    NetworkH2, The History Channel

    Amazon buy button
  • 9
    Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

    Premiered2005

    NetworkTravel Channel

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    #199 of 352 The Best Reality TV Shows Ever#2 of 45 The Best Travel TV Shows

  • 10
    Our Planet
    Amazon buy button
  • 11
    Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
    36
    22

    Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

    Jaromír Hanzlík

    Premiered1980

    NetworkPublic Broadcasting Service

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    #129 of 144 The TV Shows Most Loved by Hipsters#5 of 39 The Best Science TV Shows of All Time, Ranked

  • 12
    Antiques Roadshow
    44
    35

    Antiques Roadshow

    Bruce Parker, Angela Rippon

    Premiered1979

    NetworkBBC One

    Amazon buy button
  • 13
    In Search of...
    30
    22

    In Search of...

    Leonard Nimoy, Mitch Pileggi

    Premiered1976

    NetworkSyndicated, Syfy, History

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    #186 of 309 The Best Sci-Fi Television Series Of All Time#43 of 65 The Best Paranormal Reality Shows

  • 14
    From the Earth to the Moon
    27
    21

    From the Earth to the Moon

    Tom Hanks, Nick Searcy

    Premiered1998

    NetworkHBO

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    #24 of 158 The Best Miniseries in TV History#3 of 111 The Best Docudrama TV Shows

  • 15
    30 for 30
    26
    20

    30 for 30

    Dan Rather, Magic Johnson

    Premiered2009

    NetworkESPN

    Amazon buy button
  • 16
    River Monsters
    44
    43

    River Monsters

    Jeremy Wade, Daniel Göz

    Premiered2009

    NetworkAnimal Planet

    Amazon buy button
  • 17
    Who Do You Think You Are?
    Amazon buy button
  • 18
    American Masters
    14
    19

    American Masters

    Julianna Margulies, Laura Linney

    Premiered1986

    NetworkPublic Broadcasting Service

    Amazon buy button
  • 19
    Forensic Files
    98
    32

    Forensic Files

    Dayle Hinman, Peter Thomas

    Premiered1996

    NetworktruTV, TLC

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    #5 of 25 Netflix Shows And Movies That Are Based On Real Crimes#156 of 192 The Greatest Shows of the 1990s, Ranked

  • 20
    Cold Case Files
    82
    37

    Cold Case Files

    Danny Pino, Anthony Green

    Premiered1999

    NetworkA&E

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    #155 of 537 TV Shows Canceled Before Their Time#70 of 151 The Best TV Crime Dramas

  • 21
    Animal Precinct
    13
    22

    Animal Precinct

    Michael Madsen, Timothy Stack

    Premiered2001

    NetworkAnimal Planet

    Amazon buy button
  • 22
    Ice Road Truckers
    20
    33

    Ice Road Truckers

    Alex Debogorski, Thom Beers

    Premiered2007

    NetworkThe History Channel

    Amazon buy button
  • 23
    Wild Kingdom
    58
    21

    Wild Kingdom

    Marlin Perkins, Jim Fowler

    Premiered1963

    NetworkAnimal Planet, NBC

    Amazon buy button
  • 24
    Pole to Pole
    11
    24

    Pole to Pole

    Michael Palin

    Premiered1992

    NetworkBritish Broadcasting Corporation

    Amazon buy button
  • 25
    The FBI Files
    47
    19

    The FBI Files

    James Kallstrom, Anthony D. Call

    Premiered1998

    NetworkDiscovery Channel

    Amazon buy button

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    #12 of 98 The Best True Crime TV Shows#10 of 37 The Best True Crime Docudramas