Get # Prime Picks: The Top 10 PBS Shows That Defined Television Excellence

PBS has a long-standing reputation for quality programming. Since its establishment in 1969, the network has offered an incredibly diverse collection of shows for over 50 years. From the first documentary series to the beloved children’s programmes, PBS’s output has been formative over the course of the past half-century. Here, we take a look at some of PBS shows’ prime-time schedule, demonstrating the network’s commitment to providing quality programming for the American public that also stands as an example for the importance of public broadcasting in American television history.

The Foundations of a Culinary Revolution: "The French Chef"

Before fancy viewing setups, before think pieces on molecular gastronomy, or the ubiquity of food channels, there was The French Chef (1963), the TV series that set the tone for everything else to follow. The widest-reaching cooking show in history, Julia Child’s classic – which served as an entry point to the world of French cooking for countless estadounidenses – did much to define modern American cooking shows, as well as setting a standard for that genre a household name.

Uncovering Treasures: "Antiques Roadshow"

Take Antiques Roadhouse, a show that’s been offering viewers a window into the past through personal treasures since 1997. With its uncomplicated premise – what’s the hidden value of your family’s old stuff? – the show has been connecting with massive television audiences, and proving that the most common of objects can have the most exciting back stories.

Ancestral Connections: "Finding Your Roots"

And since 2012, the Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr has have been taking us through this dense genetic weave in Finding Your Roots, his show which is still the best place on TV for anyone wanting to explore the deep human drama of a family tree.

Painting Joy: "The Joy of Painting"

The late Bob Ross created joy, positivity and a touch of magic through painting, his work on the TV show The Joy of Painting standing as a testament to the true power of television; its ability to make us better, more creative people, and proof of the fact that you don’t have to be a world-class painter to paint a nice picture.

Documenting History: "The Civil War"

Ken Burns’ Civil War (1990), which has done more than any other show to define the form of the documentary as history, brought the power of narrative to the form, blending photographs, narration and first-person testimony into gripping accounts of the past.

Exploring the Cosmos: "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage"

TV shows like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980) can enrich our perspective on the world, inspiring audiences to wonder about the universe beyond Earth.

Investigative Excellence: "Frontline"

Ever since the premiere of Frontline in 1983, watching it has become synonymous with engaging in serious reporting about serious issues. I feel comfortable watching this programme because Frontline is known for always trying to get the facts right and because it has been reporting in-depth on issues for years.

A Neighbor to Remember: "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood"

Fred Rogers created a space where kindness and understanding were supreme Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was some of the best educational programming – not because it taught viewers what to think, but because it nurtured their hearts and minds and stayed with them long after the credits rolled.

British Drama at Its Best: "Masterpiece"

Masterpiece has served as the launching pad for the best of British drama in the United States from its premiere in 1971 to today, introducing such groundbreaking series as the critically acclaimed Downton Abbey and Poldark. A look at the long-term success of Masterpiece is a sure sign that well-told tales are timeless.

A Cultural Touchstone: "Sesame Street"

Perhaps no show has been so important as the strategy’s poster child, the long-lasting exemplar of edutainment – Sesame Street. With its ensemble cast and an ethos of social equity, the programme aims to educate the hearts and minds of its young viewers.

Unveiling PRIME

The word prime also crops up repeatedly in this article as evidence of the fact that PBS programming – even within my narrow subject matter of cookery, science and space shows – is incomparable, relevant, and sets the standard of quality that PBS has long maintained because of its diverse offerings of excellent and thought-provoking programmes. PBS shows occupy pride of place in my article on prime shows because these are, in fact, prime shows that have set the bar of what TV can do when it aims to educate, inform, and inspire. In short, prime is the word I have chosen to ascend this list precisely because these shows have indeed become prime-time TV, the stuff of legend in the world of public broadcasting.

Jun 02, 2024
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