Entertainment

The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows 

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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.

list ordered by
1
Planet Earth II is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
BBC One
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
2
Planet Earth is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
BBC One, BBC HD
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

More Planet Earth 

#144 of 394 TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate #303 of 2,296 The Greatest TV Shows Of All Timefeaturing The Making Of Planet Earth Is Even More Mind-Blowing Than The Series Itself

3
Forensic Files is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
truTV, TLC
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
4
Cosmos: A Space-Time Ody... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Ferry73 added
Fox Broadcasting Company
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
5
Cold Case Files is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
A&E
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

More Cold Case Files 

#344 of 579 TV Shows Canceled Before Their Time #1,193 of 2,296 The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time

6
Making a Murderer is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
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

More Making a Murderer 

#537 of 779 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watchfeaturing 20 Reasons Why Everyone's Crushing on Dean Strang

7
Nova is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Public Broadcasting Service
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

More Nova 

#56 of 394 TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate #224 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

8
Dirty Jobs is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Discovery Channel
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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#273 of 2,296 The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time #31 of 254 The Best Reality TV Shows Everfeaturing Mike Rowe Reveals ‘Dirty Jobs’ Behind-The-Scenes Facts

9
Modern Marvels is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
H2, The History Channel
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
10
I Shouldn't Be Alive is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Discovery Channel, Animal Planet
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
11
The FBI Files is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Discovery Channel
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
12
Anthony Bourdain: No Res... is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Travel Channel
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

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#1,473 of 2,296 The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time #2 of 41 The Best Travel TV Shows

13
Wild Kingdom is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Animal Planet, NBC
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
14
Biography is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
The Biography Channel, A&E, CBS
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
Antiques Roadshow is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
BBC One
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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#731 of 2,296 The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time #293 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #27 of 254 The Best Reality TV Shows Ever

16
River Monsters is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Animal Planet
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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#105 of 254 The Best Reality TV Shows Ever #18 of 88 The Most Chill Nature & Animal Shows To Watch Highfeaturing The Creepiest Things Ever Reeled In On 'River Monsters'

17
The World at War is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
The World at War is a 26-episode British television documentary series chronicling the events of the Second World War. At the time of its completion in 1973 it was the most expensive series ever ...more
18
In Search of... is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
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

More In Search of... 

#189 of 310 The Best Sci Fi Television Series of All Time #27 of 61 The Best Paranormal Reality Shows

19
Cosmos: A Personal Voyag... is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Public Broadcasting Service
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a thirteen-part television series written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, with Sagan as presenter. It was executive-produced by Adrian Malone, produced ...more
20
Secrets of the Dead is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Public Broadcasting Service
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
21
Frontline is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Public Broadcasting Service
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
22
Our Planet is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Our Planet (Netflix, 2019) is a nature documentary series narrated by David Attenborough. The series addresses issues of conservation while featuring these disparate animals in their respective ...more
23
Unsolved History is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Military Channel, Investigation Discovery, Discovery Channel
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
24
E! True Hollywood Story ... is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
25
The Keepers is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
The Keepers
Netflix
The Keepers (Netflix, 2017) is a seven-episode American documentary web series. It explores the unsolved murder of the nun Sister Cathy Cesnik who taught English and drama at Baltimore's ...more