Documentary 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.

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Planet Earth is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Planet Earth 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

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

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Cold Case Files is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Cold Case Files 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

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Planet Earth II is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Planet Earth 2 Planet Earth II (BBC One, 2016) is a British nature documentary series presented and narrated by Sir David Attenborough. A documentary series exploring how animals meet the challenges of ...more

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Making a Murderer is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Making a Murderer Making a Murderer 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 ...more

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Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Ferry73 added Cosmos 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

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The FBI Files is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
The FBI Files 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

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I Shouldn't Be Alive is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
I Shouldn't Be Alive 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

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Nova is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Nova 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

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Dirty Jobs is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Dirty Jobs 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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Modern Marvels is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Modern Marvels 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

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Wild Kingdom is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Wild Kingdom 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

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Antiques Roadshow is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Antiques Roadshow 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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Biography is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Biography 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

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Anthony Bourdain: No Reservati... is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations 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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E! True Hollywood Story is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
E! True Hollywood Story 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

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River Monsters is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
River Monsters 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

The Best Doctors of Doctor Who

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1000 Ways to Die is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
1000 Ways to Die 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

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Unsolved History is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Unsolved History 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

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Frontline is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Frontline 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

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Jack the Ripper is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Jack the Ripper British Broadcasting Corporation Jack the Ripper is a six-part BBC television drama made in 1973, in which the case of the Jack the Ripper murders is reopened and analysed by Detective Chief Superintendents Barlow and Watt. ...more

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Secrets of the Dead is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Secrets of the Dead 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

The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time

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In Search of... is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
In Search of... 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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Destination Truth is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Destination Truth 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

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Scariest Places on Earth is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Scariest Places on Earth ABC Family Scariest Places on Earth is an American paranormal documentary reality television series that originally aired from October 23, 2000 to October 29, 2006. The program was produced by Triage ...more

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Who Do You Think You Are? is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Who Do You Think You Are? 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

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Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage 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

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Deadliest Warrior is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Deadliest Warrior Spike Deadliest Warrior is a television program in which information on historical or modern warriors and their weapons are used to determine which of them is the "deadliest" based upon ...more

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From the Earth to the Moon is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
From the Earth to the Moon HBO 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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Intervention is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Intervention 5*, A&E Intervention (A&E, 2005) is an American documentary television series created by Sam Mettler. It follows one/two participant(s), who are dependent or are addicted, documented in anticipation ...more

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30 for 30 is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
looksharp added 30 for 30 ESPN 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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Penn & Teller: Bullshit! is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Showtime 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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The Keepers is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
The Keepers The Keepers (2017, Netflix) 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

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Meerkat Manor is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Meerkat Manor Animal Planet Meerkat Manor is a British television programme produced by Oxford Scientific Films for Animal Planet International that premiered in September 2005 and ran for four series until its ...more

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Most Haunted is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Most Haunted Sky Living, Travel Channel Most Haunted is a British paranormal reality television series. The series was first shown on Living TV between 25 May 2002 and 21 July 2010, a new online edition aired on 31 October 2013 with ...more

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Fact or Faked: Paranormal File... is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files Syfy Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files is a paranormal investigation series produced by Base Productions that began airing July 15, 2010, on SyFy. The show follows a team of investigators, led by ...more

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Wild West Tech is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Wild West Tech The History Channel Wild West Tech is a program that aired on The History Channel in the United States that aired from 2003 to 2005. The show was originally hosted by Keith Carradine, but his half-brother, David ...more

The Best Things About Fall

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The Killing Season is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
The Killing Season The Killing Season (A&E, 2016) is an American true crime documentary TV series executive produced by Alex Gibney. The series follows documentarians Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills as they ...more

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Ice Road Truckers is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Ice Road Truckers Channel 5, The History Channel Ice Road Truckers is a reality television series that premiered on History on June 17, 2007. It features the activities of drivers who operate trucks on seasonal routes crossing frozen lakes and ...more

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The Jinx: The Life and Deaths ... is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO, 2015) is a documentary miniseries directed by Andrew Jarecki. Exploring the complicated life of reclusive real estate icon Robert Durst, the ...more

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American Masters is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
looksharp added American Masters Public Broadcasting Service 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

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Pole to Pole is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Pole to Pole British Broadcasting Corporation Pole to Pole is an eight-part television documentary travel series made for the BBC and released in 1992. The presenter is Michael Palin, this being the second of Palin's major journeys for the ...more

Movies & TV Shows to Watch If You Love Mad Men

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Animal Precinct is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Animal Precinct Animal Planet 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

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Animal Cops: Houston is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Animal Cops: Houston Animal Planet Animal Cops: Houston is an American documentary reality television series that premiered in 2003 on Animal Planet. It takes place in Houston, Texas and focuses on the work of the Houston Society ...more

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Animal Face-Off is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Animal Face-Off Discovery Channel, Animal Planet Animal Face-Off is a television program that aired on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet in 2004.

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The West is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
The West Public Broadcasting Service The West— sometimes marketed as Ken Burns Presents: The West — is a documentary film about the American Old West. It was directed by Stephen Ives and the executive producer was Ken Burns. The ...more

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Life is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Ferry73 added Life

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Stephen Fry in America is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Stephen Fry in America British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC One Stephen Fry in America is a six-part BBC television series in which Stephen Fry travels across the United States, a country in which he was almost born. Just before Fry was born, his father was ...more

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Born This Way is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows
Born This Way Born This Way (A&E, 2015) is an Emmy Award-winning American reality television series. It features seven adults with Down Syndrome who work hard to achieve goals and overcome obstacles.

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Cosmos is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Documentary Series & TV Shows