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The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows 

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Updated March 23, 2020 8.3k votes 703 voters 82.1k views 120 items

List Rules Documentary TV series only. Science entertainment and reality shows do not count.

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 is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
BBC One, BBC HD

Actors: Sigourney Weaver

Premiered: 2006

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 11

Planet Earth is a 2006 British television series produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. Five years in the making, it was the most expensive nature documentary series ever commissioned by the ...more

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2
Forensic Files is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
truTV, TLC

Actors: Dayle Hinman, Peter Thomas, Roy Shuler

Premiered: 1996

Number of Seasons: 14

Forensic Files is an American documentary-style series that reveals how forensic science is used to solve violent crimes, mysterious accidents, and even outbreaks of illness. The show was ...more
3
Cold Case Files is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
A&E

Actors: Danny Pino, Anthony Green

Premiered: 1999

Number of Episodes: 126

Cold Case Files (A&E, 1999) is a reality legal docuseries hosted by Bill Kurtis. The show documents the investigation of many long-unsolved murders (referred to as "cold cases" in ...more
4
Dirty Jobs is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Discovery Channel

Actors: Mike Rowe, David M. Barsky, Doug Glover

Premiered: 2003

Number of Seasons: 7

Number of Episodes: 169

Dirty Jobs was a TV series on the Discovery Channel in which host Mike Rowe is shown performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the typical employees. The ...more

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5
Nova is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Public Broadcasting Service

Actors: Jay O. Sanders, Lance Lewman, Craig Sechler

Premiered: 1974

Number of Seasons: 40

Number of Episodes: 698

Nova is a United States popular science television series produced by WGBH Boston. It is broadcast on Public Broadcasting Service in the U.S., and in more than 100 other countries. The series ...more

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6
I Shouldn't Be Alive is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Discovery Channel, Animal Planet

Actors: Sebastian Knapp, Eric Meyers, Tom McKay, Nicholas Aaron, Thomas Grube, + more

Premiered: 2005

Number of Seasons: 6

Number of Episodes: 58

I Shouldn't Be Alive is a documentary television series that airs on multiple networks in the United States, Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, India, Iran, Pakistan, ...more
7
Cosmos: A Space-Time Ody... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Ferry73 added Fox Broadcasting Company

Actors: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, Stoney Emshwiller

Premiered: 2014

Number of Episodes: 13

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a 2014 American science documentary television series. The show is a follow-up to the 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was presented by Carl ...more

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8
Making a Murderer is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows

Actors: Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey, Dean Strang

This series is an American documentary television series that premiered on Netflix in 2015. The ten-episode first season, written and directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, explores the ...more

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9
Planet Earth II is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
BBC One

Actors: Sir David Attenborough

Premiered: 2016

Planet Earth II (BBC One, 2016) is a British nature documentary series presented and narrated by Sir David Attenborough. This 6-part limited series explores how animals meet the challenges of ...more

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10
Modern Marvels is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
H2, The History Channel

Actors: Lloyd Sherr, Harlan Saperstein, Franklin D. Roosevelt

Premiered: 1995

Number of Seasons: 18

Number of Episodes: 524

Modern Marvels is a television series on the History Channel. The program focuses on how technologies affect and are used in today's society. It is among History's first, and longest-running, ...more
11
Anthony Bourdain: No Res... is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Travel Channel

Actors: Anthony Bourdain

Premiered: 2005

Number of Episodes: 142

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (Travel Channel, 2005) is an American travel and food show. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain visits overseas countries, cities worldwide, and places within the ...more
12
Wild Kingdom is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Animal Planet, NBC

Premiered: 1963

Number of Episodes: 290

Wild Kingdom, sometimes known as Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, is an American television show that features wildlife and nature. It was originally produced from 1963 until 1988, and was ...more
13
Antiques Roadshow is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
BBC One

Actors: Bruce Parker, Angela Rippon, Arthur Negus

Premiered: 1979

Number of Seasons: 42

Number of Episodes: 821

Antiques Roadshow is a British television show in which antiques appraisers travel to various regions of the United Kingdom to appraise antiques brought in by local people. It has been running ...more

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14
Biography is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
The Biography Channel, A&E, CBS

Actors: Joan Lunden, Peter Graves, David Hart Smith, Fred Melamed, Jack Perkins

Premiered: 1987

Biography is a documentary television series that had three original runs, twice on CBS and the current on A&E then The Biography Channel then FYI. It was originally a half-hour filmed ...more
15
The FBI Files is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Discovery Channel

Actors: James Kallstrom, Anthony D. Call, Bob Featherer

Premiered: 1998

Number of Seasons: 7

Number of Episodes: 120

The FBI Files is an American television docudrama series that originally ran from 1998 to 2006. It was carried by the Discovery Channel cable network and produced by New Dominion Pictures of ...more
16
River Monsters is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Animal Planet

Actors: Jeremy Wade, Daniel Göz

Premiered: 2009

Number of Episodes: 7

River Monsters is a British and American wildlife documentary television programme produced for Animal Planet by Icon Films of Bristol, United Kingdom. Hosted by extreme angler and biologist ...more

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17
E! True Hollywood Story ... is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
E!

Actors: Don Morrow, Neil Ross, Kieran Mulroney

Premiered: 1996

Number of Seasons: 13

Number of Episodes: 501

18
Frontline is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Public Broadcasting Service

Actors: Will Lyman, Arun Rath, Sarah Childress

Premiered: 1983

Frontline is the flagship investigative journalism program of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), producing in-depth documentaries on a variety of domestic and international stories and ...more
19
Unsolved History is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Military Channel, Investigation Discovery, Discovery Channel

Actors: J.V. Martin, Daniel Martinez, Mike Sode

Premiered: 2002

Number of Episodes: 51

Unsolved History is an American documentary television series that aired from 2002 to 2005. The program was produced by MorningStar Entertainment, Termite Art Productions, Lions Gate Television, ...more
20
In Search of... is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows

Premiered: 1976

Number of Episodes: 146

In Search of... is a television series that was broadcast weekly from 1977 to 1982, devoted to mysterious phenomena. It was created after the success of three one-hour TV documentaries produced ...more
21
Destination Truth is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Syfy

Actors: Josh Gates, Gabriel Copeland, Mike Morrell

Premiered: 2007

Number of Seasons: 4

Number of Episodes: 19

Destination Truth was a weekly American paranormal reality television series that premiered on June 6, 2007, on Syfy. Produced by Mandt Bros. Productions and Ping Pong Productions, the program ...more
22
1000 Ways to Die is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Spike

Premiered: 2008

Number of Seasons: 4

Number of Episodes: 46

1000 Ways to Die is an anthology television series that premiered on Spike on May 14, 2008, and ended on July 15, 2012. The program recreates unusual supposed deaths and debunked urban legends ...more

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23
From the Earth to the Mo... is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
HBO

Actors: Tom Hanks, Nick Searcy, Lane Smith

Premiered: 1998

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 12

From the Earth to the Moon is a twelve-part HBO television miniseries co-produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Tom Hanks, and Michael Bostick, telling the story of the landmark Apollo ...more

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24
Secrets of the Dead is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Public Broadcasting Service

Actors: Liev Schreiber

Premiered: 2000

Number of Seasons: 10

Number of Episodes: 55

Secrets of the Dead is an ongoing PBS television series produced by Thirteen/WNET New York, which began in 2000. The show generally follows an investigator or team of investigators exploring ...more
25
Penn & Teller: Bulls... is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Showtime

Actors: Penn Jillette, Teller, George W. Bush

Premiered: 2003

Number of Seasons: 8

Number of Episodes: 89

Penn & Teller: Bullshit! is an American documentary television series that aired from 2003 to 2010 on the premium cable channel Showtime.

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