The Best Shows on PBS of All Time

PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, has been a pivotal part of the television landscape for decades. Offering a rich tapestry of content that spans across genres, it has given viewers historical dramas, riveting detective series, and adaptations of classic literature and best cooking shows that have stood the test of time. In this article, we delve into the top 10 PBS shows that have left an indelible mark on audiences worldwide.

Why are These Ranked as the Top 10 Shows?

As highlighted by Ranker, these top 10 PBS shows have earned their spotlight not just for their entertaining storylines but also because they share stories that many people can relate to. They take us on journeys through different eras, introducing us to characters who are both fascinating and real.

These shows have a special way of pulling us into their worlds, whether it’s the adventurous life of a detective in “Sherlock” or the close-knit family in “The Durrells.” They offer more than just a way to pass the time; they give us a chance to learn, to feel, and to explore different times and places from the comfort of our homes.

It’s their heartwarming stories and memorable characters that have made them a favorite for many, securing their place in the top 10 list on Ranker.

1. Downton Abbey

Release Date2010
IMDb Rating8.7
Director Brian Percival, Ben Bolt
Cast Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery

“Downton Abbey” is not just a television series; it’s a vivid journey back to the early 20th century, providing an in-depth exploration of both the upper echelons of British society and the everyday lives of those who served them. Set against the grand backdrop of the sprawling Downton estate, the narrative delves into the lives of the distinguished Crawley family, offering a rich tapestry of their joys, sorrows, and changing fortunes.

Throughout the series, viewers are treated to meticulous historical details, from the costumes and settings to the social mores and significant events of the times. These elements provide an authentic context, immersing the audience in an era gone by.

But what truly sets “Downton Abbey” apart are the performances of its cast. Each actor, whether portraying a member of the nobility or a household servant, delivers a performance that is both compelling and nuanced.

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2. Poldark

Release Date2015
IMDb Rating8.3
Director Ed Bazalgette and Will McGregor
CastAidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jack Farthing

“Poldark”, inspired by the sweeping novels penned by Winston Graham, transports its audience to the rugged coasts and rolling countryside of late 18th century Cornwall. At its heart, the series revolves around the life and tribulations of Ross Poldark, a character who resonates as a true man of the people. Returning from the American Revolutionary War to discover personal betrayal and economic decline in his home county, Ross finds himself in the midst of societal upheavals and challenges that are both personal and far-reaching.

Ross Poldark is not just a hero in the traditional sense. He’s a complex character, emblematic of his time, who grapples with the vagaries of love, the heartbreak of loss, and the deep-seated issues of social injustice prevalent in that era. His journey is one of resilience and passion, often finding him at odds with the elite of Cornwall, and yet, consistently driven by a commitment to his community and an inherent sense of justice.

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3. Sherlock

Release Date2010
IMDb Rating9.1
DirectorPaul McGuigan and Toby Haynes
CastBenedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs

“Sherlock” reimagines and breathes new life into the age-old stories of the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. By setting the narrative in the 21st century, the series not only introduces this iconic character to a new generation but also situates him in a world of smartphones, modern forensics, and contemporary London’s urban landscape. It’s a bold reinterpretation that retains the essence of the original tales while making them relevant to today’s audience.

The genius behind “Sherlock” isn’t just in its modern setting; it lies profoundly in the writing. The creators of the show have skillfully adapted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s intricate plots, ensuring that each episode is filled with twists and turns that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The scripts are sharp, witty, and often laced with humor, providing a delightful balance of suspense and levity.


4. Call the Midwife

Release Date2012
IMDb Rating8.4
DirectorPhilippa Lowthorpe and Jamie Payne
CastJenny Agutter, Laura Main, Vanessa Redgrave

Call the Midwife takes viewers to the 1950s East End of London, portraying the lives of a group of midwives and the families they serve. The series, grounded in reality and rich in historical detail, offers a heartfelt look at the challenges and joys of childbirth.

Rich in historical authenticity, “Call the Midwife” delves deep into the social issues of the 1950s, from poverty and housing shortages to immigration and societal prejudices. These historically accurate details serve as more than just a backdrop—they’re integral to understanding the challenges faced by both the midwives and the families they assist.

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5. Victoria

Release Date2016
IMDb Rating8.2
DirectorTom Vaughan and Oliver Blackburn
CastJenna Coleman, Tom Hughes, David Oakes

“Victoria” transports audiences to the heart of the British monarchy in the 19th century, shedding light on the tumultuous and transformative early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. As one of the most influential monarchs in history, her story is rife with complexities, both in her role as a young queen and as a woman navigating a world dominated by male influence and power.

The series does more than chronicle the political landscape of the time; it delves into Queen Victoria’s personal life, from her passionate relationship with Prince Albert to her struggles with motherhood and the weight of her crown. Her evolution from a sheltered young princess to a resolute queen provides a nuanced portrayal of her character, revealing the strength, vulnerability, and determination that defined her rule.


6. Endeavour

Release Date2012
IMDb Rating8.6
DirectorGeoffrey Sax and Andy Wilson
CastShaun Evans, Roger Allam, Anton Lesser,

Endeavour serves as a prequel to the iconic Inspector Morse series, following the young Endeavour Morse as he begins his career in the Oxford City Police. The series, known for its intricate plots and deep character development, has been a hit with both critics and audiences alike.

Set amidst the historic spires of Oxford, the series chronicles Endeavour Morse’s initiation into the world of criminal investigation with the Oxford City Police. Unlike the older, more contemplative Morse that fans are familiar with, here we encounter a young, eager detective, still raw around the edges but possessing the unmistakable brilliance that would define his later years.

This fresh perspective allows viewers to delve deeper into Morse’s psyche, understanding the experiences that moulded his character and the origins of his often complex relationships.


7. Grantchester

Release Date2014
IMDb Rating7.9
DirectorHarry Bradbeer and Jill Robertson
CastJames Norton, Robson Green, Morven Christie

Grantchester, set in the 1950s, follows the adventures of a clergyman-detective as he solves mysteries in the small village of Grantchester. The series, with its charming setting and compelling narratives, offers a delightful blend of drama and mystery.

The charm of “Grantchester” lies in its ability to capture the essence of the 1950s. The show paints a vivid picture of the era, complete with vintage cars, period-appropriate attire, and the gentle rhythms of village life. This attention to detail creates an atmospheric backdrop that enhances the depth and allure of the narratives.

Yet, what truly makes “Grantchester” a standout series is its unique blend of drama and mystery. Instead of solely focusing on the whodunnit aspect, the series delves deep into the why and the how, exploring the motivations and emotions behind each act. This character-driven approach, combined with the inherent charm of the setting, ensures that each episode offers both intellectual engagement and emotional resonance.


8. Mr. Selfridge

Release Date2013
IMDb Rating7.7
DirectorJon Jones and Anthony Byrne
Cast Jeremy Piven, Katherine Kelly, Tom Goodman-Hill

“Mr. Selfridge” delves deep into the heart of London’s retail renaissance in the early 1900s, putting a spotlight on the audacious and visionary American entrepreneur, Harry Gordon Selfridge. At a time when shopping was a straightforward affair, Selfridge envisioned it as an experience, a grand spectacle that could enchant every visitor to his store. The series chronicles his relentless pursuit to transform the landscape of retail in London by establishing the iconic Selfridges department store.

But “Mr. Selfridge” is more than just a tale of business acumen and retail innovation. It paints a portrait of a man driven by ambition yet plagued by personal vulnerabilities. Selfridge’s character is multifaceted – he’s a passionate businessman, a dedicated family man, and yet, he’s susceptible to the temptations and distractions of London’s high society. This deep character exploration allows viewers to appreciate the man behind the retail empire and understand his complexities.

The series also boasts an array of vibrant characters, from the employees who are the backbone of Selfridges to the aristocrats and entertainers of London’s elite. These characters bring richness to the narrative, offering subplots filled with love, ambition, betrayal, and resilience.

Mr Selfridge

9. The Durrells

Release Date2016
IMDb Rating8.2
DirectorSteve Barron and Roger Goldby
CastKeeley Hawes, Josh O’Connor, Milo Parker

“The Durrells” whisks its audience away on a sun-drenched journey to the island of Corfu in the 1930s, painting a vibrant portrait of the idiosyncratic Durrell family and their adventures. Inspired by the autobiographical works of the renowned naturalist and author, Gerald Durrell, the series captures the family’s bold decision to leave the gray skies of England behind and embark on a new chapter in the Greek isles.

The narrative centers around Louisa Durrell, a widowed mother, and her four children, each with their distinct personalities and quirks. From Larry’s aspirations as a budding novelist to Gerry’s insatiable passion for the animal kingdom, the series dives deep into the individual dreams, challenges, and escapades of each family member. Their interactions, filled with humor, love, and occasional clashes, form the heart of the show.


10. Wolf Hall

Release Date2015
IMDb Rating8.1
Director Peter Kosminsky
CastMark Rylance, Damian Lewis, Claire Foy

“Wolf Hall” delves deep into the tumultuous corridors of Tudor England, presenting a riveting portrayal of the political and personal machinations that defined the reign of Henry VIII. Drawing inspiration from the award-winning novels by Hilary Mantel, the series offers a nuanced take on this volatile epoch, shifting the lens from the oft-portrayed monarch to his enigmatic and astute advisor, Thomas Cromwell.

Rather than focusing solely on the grandeur and romance commonly associated with the Tudor court, “Wolf Hall” hones in on the behind-the-scenes power plays, intricate alliances, and deadly rivalries. At the center of this maelstrom is Cromwell, a man of humble origins who rises through the ranks to become one of the most influential figures in the kingdom.

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PBS has indeed been a treasure trove of quality dramas, offering viewers a rich array of stories that span different eras and landscapes. From the aristocratic halls of Downton Abbey to the picturesque landscapes of Poldark, these Best Shows on PBS have not only entertained but also educated audiences, offering deep insights into different periods of history.

As we reminisce about these iconic shows, we are reminded of the power of storytelling and the rich tapestry of experiences that PBS has brought into our living rooms over the years. It is a testament to PBS’s commitment to quality that these shows continue to be celebrated, standing as towering milestones in the landscape of television drama.

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Hamna Mudassar

A hardworking individual who is always ready to give her best

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