“Roots,” the story of an African American man tracing his family history to the slave era, was a groundbreaking television miniseries when it debuted in 1977. Since then, the miniseries has become a popular concept among audiences. It gained a boost in the 2000s when it was resurrected on cable and is now a staple among streaming services. (If you prefer the long form, here are the best movie classics you’ve never seen available to stream right now.)
To determine the best TV miniseries of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on audience reception of all multi-part presentations tagged as “miniseries” on IMDb. The miniseries were ranked based on IMDb user rating as of March 2023. In the case of a tie, the miniseries with the greater number of user votes was ranked higher. Only miniseries with at least 5,000 user votes were considered. Cast information is also from IMDb.
While many miniseries tell fictional stories, whether intimate or sweeping, a number of documentary miniseries also scored highly on our list. The natural world and space exploration have been extremely popular themes. In particular, miniseries hosted by the esteemed British biologist, natural historian, and author David Attenborough appear nine times on our list.
Space-themed miniseries include “Cosmos,” hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan, and two offerings hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Click here to see the 50 best TV miniseries of all time
History or period pieces have proved to be viewer favorites as well. In particular, miniseries with World War II themes have garnered large audiences. These include “Band of Brothers,” “Das Boot,” and “The War.” No miniseries list would be complete without including Ken Burns’ “Civil War” and “The Vietnam War.” (These are the 50 best documentaries of all time.)
Also on our list is the 2019 miniseries “When They See Us.” Directed by Ava DuVernay, the series is about five Harlem boys whose lives are thrown into turmoil when they are falsely accused of a brutal attack on a jogger in Central Park.
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