Watchworthy

The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows 

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Updated July 2, 2020 8.6k votes 738 voters 83.6k views 186 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
Sigourney Weaver

Premiered: 2006

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
Planet Earth II is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
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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3
Dirty Jobs is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Mike Rowe, David M. Barsky, Doug Glover

Premiered: 2003

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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4
Nova is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Jay O. Sanders, Lance Lewman, Craig Sechler

Premiered: 1974

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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5
I Shouldn't Be Alive is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Sebastian Knapp, Eric Meyers, Tom McKay

Premiered: 2005

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
6
Making a Murderer is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey, Dean Strang
Making a Murderer (Netflix, 2015) is a crime documentary series written and directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. The series explores the story of Steven Avery, a man from Manitowoc ...more

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7
Cosmos: A Space-Time Ody... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Ferry73 added Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, Stoney Emshwiller

Premiered: 2014

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
Anthony Bourdain: No Res... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Anthony Bourdain

Premiered: 2005

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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9
Modern Marvels is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Lloyd Sherr, Harlan Saperstein, Franklin D. Roosevelt

Premiered: 1995

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
Antiques Roadshow is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Bruce Parker, Angela Rippon, Arthur Negus

Premiered: 1979

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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11
River Monsters is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Jeremy Wade, Daniel Göz

Premiered: 2009

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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12
Cosmos: A Personal Voyag... is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Jaromír Hanzlík

Premiered: 1980

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

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13
In Search of... is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows

Premiered: 1976

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

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14
From the Earth to the Mo... is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Tom Hanks, Nick Searcy, Lane Smith

Premiered: 1998

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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15
30 for 30 is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
looksharp added Dan Rather, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan

Premiered: 2009

30 for 30 is the umbrella title for a series of documentary films airing on ESPN and its sister networks and online properties. The series highlights important people and events in the sports ...more

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16
Who Do You Think You Are... is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows

Premiered: 2004

Who Do You Think You Are? is a British genealogy documentary series that has aired on the BBC since 2004. It is made by the production company Wall to Wall. In each episode, a celebrity goes on ...more
17
Our Planet is listed (or ranked) 17 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

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18
American Masters is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
looksharp added Julianna Margulies, Laura Linney, William Hurt

Premiered: 1986

American Masters is a PBS television show which produces biographies on artists, actors and writers of the United States who have left a profound impact on the nation's popular culture. It is ...more
19
Ice Road Truckers is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Alex Debogorski, Thom Beers, Hugh Rowland

Premiered: 2007

Ice Road Truckers (History, 2007) is a reality television series. It features the activities of drivers who operate trucks on seasonal routes crossing frozen lakes and rivers in remote Arctic ...more
20
Forensic Files is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Dayle Hinman, Peter Thomas, Roy Shuler

Premiered: 1996

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

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21
Cold Case Files is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Danny Pino, Anthony Green

Premiered: 1999

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

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22
Animal Precinct is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Michael Madsen, Timothy Stack

Premiered: 2001

Animal Precinct is an American documentary reality television series that originally aired from June 26, 2001, to February 4, 2008, on Animal Planet. Set in New York City, the series follows the ...more
23
Wild Kingdom is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows

Premiered: 1963

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
24
The FBI Files is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
James Kallstrom, Anthony D. Call, Bob Featherer

Premiered: 1998

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

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25
Biography is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Joan Lunden, Peter Graves, David Hart Smith

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

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