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
148 30
Planet Earth is listed (or ranked) 1 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
2
70 13
Planet Earth II is listed (or ranked) 2 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
3
93 29
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
79 33
Cold Case Files is listed (or ranked) 4 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
5
57 20
Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is listed (or ranked) 5 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
6
64 26
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
7
76 44
Dirty Jobs is listed (or ranked) 7 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
8
42 13
The FBI Files is listed (or ranked) 8 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
9
55 26
I Shouldn't Be Alive is listed (or ranked) 9 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
10
56 28
Nova is listed (or ranked) 10 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
11
48 23
Modern Marvels is listed (or ranked) 11 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
12
57 39
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservati... 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
13
46 29
Antiques Roadshow is listed (or ranked) 13 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
14
37 20
Wild Kingdom is listed (or ranked) 14 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
15
44 27
Biography is listed (or ranked) 15 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
16
51 37
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
17
36 21
Frontline is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Public Broadcasting Service
Frontline is a public affairs television program that produces and broadcasts in-depth documentaries about various subjects. Produced at WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts and distributed through ...more
18
29 17
Secrets of the Dead is listed (or ranked) 18 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
19
32 20
Unsolved History is listed (or ranked) 19 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
20
39 27
E! True Hollywood Story is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
E!
E! True Hollywood Story is an American documentary series on E! that deals with famous Hollywood celebrities, movies, TV shows and well-known public figures. Among the topics covered on the ...more
21
39 30
1000 Ways to Die is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Spike
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
22
26 17
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is listed (or ranked) 22 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
23
30 20
Destination Truth is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Syfy
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
24
18 8
The Keepers is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
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
25
30 23
Who Do You Think You Are? is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
British Broadcasting Corporation
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