The 20 Best Shows on PBS to Watch in 2023 [Update Guide]

Best shows on PBS

PBS one of the competitive streaming platform airs hundreds of entertaining and educational programs that are fulfilling, intriguing, and enjoyable. For over five decades, some of the best shows on PBS, like Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, Jamestown, etc., have helped promote the rapid expansion of high-quality content.

Over the years, the collection of PBS drama series has evolved from a handful of regional programmes into regional programming schedules that feature international news, musical specials, documentaries, kids’ shows, and so much more.

If you’re just getting into PBS and are unsure about what to watch, we’ve got you covered. PBS offers a variety of programmes, whether you like historical dramas, documentaries, culinary shows, or children’s shows.

As the platform is available to American viewership only, UK residents can watch PBS in the UK through a good VPN service such as ExpressVPN.

Here is our curated list of the best shows on PBS in the UK that you can enjoy right now:

1.  Sanditon (2019)


Genre: Drama, Romance

Director: Charles Sturridge Olly Blackburn

Writer: Andrew Davies

Cast: Rose Williams, Crystal Clark, Kris Marshall, Kate Ashfield, Anne Reid


IMDB Rating: 7.7

Runtime: 1h

Total Seasons: 2

This adaptation is based on Jane Austen’s last incomplete book, which she started writing just months before she passed away in 1817.

In Sanditon, we follow Charlotte Heywood, who ends up in Sanditon, a beach town that is about to undergo a significant shift, thanks to a stroke of luck. Feisty and talkative, Charlotte is eager to take advantage of every opportunity the community has to offer in the beginning. But she soon becomes disturbed by its cunning and opportunistic residents and captivated by the secrets they keep. When Charlotte is blunt about eager businessman Tom Parker, she quickly comes into conflict with his attractive but chaotic younger brother Sidney. Can Charlotte and Sidney overcome their imperfections and love one another in the face of competing admirers and unforeseen danger?

2.  Grantchester (2014)


Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery

Director: Tim Fywell, Rob Evans

Writer: Daisy Coulam

Cast: Robson Green, Tessa Peake-Jones, AI Weaver, Casey Ainsworth, Tom Brittney


IMDB Rating: 7.9

Runtime: 45m

Total Seasons: 7

Sidney Chambers was the rector of Grantchester, a town near Cambridge, in the year 1953. Until a homicide is thrown his way, Sidney has been leading a peaceful existence. When forced into the dangerous underworld of deceit, death, and deception, Sidney discovers right away that his understanding of human nature and the confidence he naturally inspires in others make him an excellent “detective.” Leonard Finch, Mrs Maguire, and Detective Inspector Geordie Keating accompany Sidney on his exploration of this ominous realm. Sidney’s focus, however, extends beyond criminality. The intelligent and attractive Amanda has captured his heart, but could the upper-crust Amanda ever be permitted to wed a modest rural vicar? If you’re into crime dramas, then this is one of the best shows on PBS for you.

3.  Jamestown (2017)


Genre: Drama, History

Director: Paul Wilmshurst, Bill Gallagher

Writer: Bill Gallagher

Cast: Naomi Battrick, Max Beasley, Claire Cox, Patsy Ferran, Jason Flemyng


IMDB Rating: 6.9

Runtime: 1h

Jamestown, the very first British colony, was established in 1619 in Virginia on what seemed to be the edge of the globe. The only people who have lived there for the past 12 years are men. So when the first women, including Alice, Verity, and Jocelyn, arrive in this gorgeous environment, the colony is dismantled. The newcomers have a significant influence on Jamestown right away and are thrown into a whole other world filled with love, passion, authority, and survival. While the inhabitants’ love triangles, sour conflicts, and intense ambition result in disputes, they are eventually brought together by their unshakable determination to endure and prosper in their new surroundings.

4.  Secrets of the Six Wives (2016)

Secrets of the Six Wives (2016)

Genre: Documentary

Director:  Russell England

Writer: Chloe Moss

Cast: Lucy Worsley, Nicholas Agnew , Bea Segura, Claire Cooper, Scott Arthur


IMDB Rating: 8.2/10

Runtime: 1 hour

Total Seasons: 1

Historian Lucy Worsley takes the viewers back in time when Henry VIII ruled England. The Kings marriages and reign has been the topic of multiple movies but in this documentary Worsley presents the life of the King and his wives along with their individual influence over him and his kingdom with a fresh perspective. The dramatic reconstructions of the Henry’s scandalous life and the tragic lives of his wives make an interesting documentary to watch.

5.  Victoria (2016)


Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Geoffrey Sax, Olly Blackburn

Writer: Daisy Goodwin

Cast: Jenna Coleman, Adrian Schiller, Tommy Knight, Jordan Waller, Nell Hudson


IMDB Rating: 8.2

Runtime: 1h

Total Seasons: 3

If historical dramas are your thing, then this is one of the best shows on PBS for you! This eagerly acclaimed eight-part drama series follows the story of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and depicts a youthful outspoken, and vivacious queen. The storyline follows the queen’s life from the time of King William IV’s demise in 1837 to her rise to the throne at the young age of 18 and her encounters with the influential people in her life.

The young queen thrives and firmly asserts herself in her new role with the help of the prime minister Lord Melbourne and her consort Prince Albert. Watch how she overcomes the scandal, dishonesty, and political manoeuvrings of the Court and quickly advances to becoming the most influential woman in the country.

6.  Wolf Hall (2015)


Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Peter Kosminsky

Writer: Hillary Mantel

Cast: Mark Rylance, Damian Lewis, Claire Foy, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Joss Porter


IMDB Rating: 8.1

Runtime: 6h

Total Seasons: 1

In the 1520s, calamity is just around the corner for England. The nation may be torn apart by civil conflict if the monarch passes away without a male successor. In order to marry Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII wishes to dissolve his previous union of twenty years. He is opposed by the Pope and the majority of Europe.

Thomas Cromwell enters this deadlock; he is a unique individual, a tyrant and a flirt, an idealist and a pragmatist, perceptive with people and relentless in his desire. But Henry is erratic; one day, he might be kind and the next, homicidal. Cromwell assists him in defeating the resistance, but what will the cost of his victory be?

7.  World on Fire (2019)


Genre: Drama, War

Director: Chanda Button, Adam Smith

Writer: Peter Bowker

Cast: Jonah Hauer King, Julia Brown, Helen Hunt, Sean Bean, Leslie Manville


IMDB Rating: 7.2

Runtime: 57m

Total Seasons: 1

World on Fire is an emotionally intense, psychologically engaging, and powerful World War II drama that chronicles the interconnected destinies of ordinary folk from all sides of this international conflict. The focus is primarily on people in five different nations as they struggle with the impact of the war on their daily lives.

The seven-hour series’ events, which are set in Britain, the United States, France, Poland, and Germany, take place throughout the 1st year of the war, beginning with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and coming to an end with the Battle of Britain.

8.  America’s Test Kitchen (2000)


Genre: Documentary

Director: Herb Sevush

Writer: –

Cast: Christopher Kimball, Julia Collin Davison, Bridget Lancaster, Jack Bishop, Adam Reid


IMDB Rating: 8.5

Runtime: 30m

Total Seasons: 22

Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison, the hosts of America’s Test Kitchen, enter the test kitchen to offer audiences evaluations of cooking utensils, taste testing, and comfort food recipes. The talented pair oversee a group of rookie cooks that the public has grown to know and admire as they scrutinise recipes and expose the test kitchen’s exclusive tips for preparing meals at home effortlessly. Watch the hosts and the Test Kitchen chefs produce some of America’s favourite dishes while sharing helpful hints along the way.

9.  The Miniaturist (2017)


Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

Director: Guillem Morales

Writer: John Brownlow

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Romolo Garai, Hayley Squires, Alex Hassell, Geoffrey Streatfield


IMDB Rating: 7.0

Runtime: 1h

Total Seasons: 1

Young Petronella “Nella” Oortman settles into a Rotterdam townhouse that her new hubby, Johannes, occupies with his sister, Marin, and their two servants, Otto and Cornelia, in the 17th century Netherlands. To pass the time, Johannes gives her access to a mystery cabinet with nine chambers. When Nella writes to a miniaturist to purchase just three things, she eventually receives more than she requested, allowing her to adorn the cabinet like a doll house.

When Nella gets the dolls of the people who live in her house, she is shocked to find a mystery message in each package, anticipating something about their home. Will Nella ever learn who the Miniaturist is, what might happen next, and will they even have any answers for her?

10. Indian Summers (2015)


Genre: Drama, History

Director: Anand Tucker, Paul Wilmshurst

Writer: Paul Rutman

Cast: Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Jemima West, Julie Walters, Rick Warden, Aysha Kala


IMDB Rating: 7.2

Runtime: 52m

Total Seasons: 2

The year is 1932, and summer is here. India longs for liberty, yet the British hold on to their position of authority. The story depicts the complex and tumultuous tale of the fall of the British Empire and the emergence of contemporary India from both perspectives, set against the majestic beauty of the Himalayan mountains and the tea plantations of Northern India.

The consequences and impacts of the complicated network of emotions, ambitions, and conflicts that characterise the lives of individuals brought together during these warmer months will change everything—lie at the core of the narrative.

11. Downton Abbey (2010)


Genre: Drama, Romance

Director: Brian Percival, David Evans

Writer: Julian Fellowes, Tina Pepler

Cast: Hughes Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Brendon Coyle, Laura Carmichael


IMDB Rating: 6.7

Runtime: 58m

Total Seasons: 6

Lord Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, regards his life’s work as continuing his family’s legacy, particularly the luxurious rural estate Downton Abbey. Following the passing of his successor on board the R.M.S.

Titanic, distant cousin Matthew Crawley, a litigator from Manchester, takes on the opportunity to take over the enormous estate with his far more progressive, socially active mother, who conflicts with his Lordship’s overbearing, traditional mother, the matriarch countess. In the meantime, the butler is in charge of a crew that works for the household but also spends the majority of their time chatting and gossiping in the servants’ chambers.

12. Sesame Street (1969)


Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Music, Musical

Director: Jon Stone, Emily Squires

Writer: Emily Perl Kingsley

Cast: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Caroll Spinney,  Jerry Nelson, Sonia Manzano


IMDB Rating: 8.1

Runtime: 55m

Total Seasons: 53

The award-winning Sesame Street, which debuted in 1969 and featured adorable Muppets, catchy tunes, and appealing creatures, has remained the most-watched nursery television programme ever since.

In more than 140 countries, Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, Bert, and Ernie are just a few well-known characters that have delighted and enlightened millions of little kids by teaching them how to count, read, and colour. Even today, Sesame Street manages to provide a sound academic and cultural education that parents appreciate and kids like with timeless comedy and skits that appeal on several levels. Its of the best PBS kids shows that you can enjoy.

13. Sherlock (2010)


Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Paul McGuigan, Nick Hurran

Writer: Mark Gatiss

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves, Louise Brealey


IMDB Rating: 9.1

Runtime: 1h 28m

Total Seasons: 4

Sherlock is a contemporary retelling of the well-known Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tales. The show is set in the twenty-first century, where Sherlock Holmes resides in London – a place of adventure, crime, and deception. Thieves, scam artists, traffickers, and serial killers are all too active in the streets and alleys.

In times of need, the authorities turn to Mr Sherlock Holmes and his creative approaches to reasoning to help them solve a case. Doctor John Watson, an Afghan War veteran who has recently moved back, helps Sherlock as he works to unravel some of the country’s most complex mysteries. With such a high rating, this is one of the best shows on PBS.

14. Antiques Roadshow (1997)


Genre: Reality T.V.

Director: Bill Francis, John Boyle

Writer: –

Cast: Mark L. Walberg, Simeon Lipman, Nicholas D. Lowry, Lara Spencer, Coral Peña


IMDB Rating: 7.3

Runtime: 1h

Total Seasons: 24

Antiques Roadshow is a series hosted by Mark L. Walberg which teaches viewers how to appraise antiques and visual arts, and viewers learn how to turn garbage into gold. Each episode features experts from the nation’s top auction houses and private traders who provide free assessments of vintage items and artefacts.

The evaluators then go into further detail about the antiques, occasionally revealing them as forgeries and ultimately calculating their estimated market worth. The programme offers advice for prospective collectors of a variety of goods, as well as stories of keepsakes, artefacts discovered at flea markets, and objects salvaged from crawl spaces and cellars.

15. Arthur (1996)


Genre: Animation, Short, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Music, Musical

Director: Greg Bailey, Geoff Adams

Writer: Bruce Akiyama

Cast: J.T Turner, Daniel Brochu, Bruce Dinsmore, Melissa Altro, Jodie Resther


IMDB Rating: 7.4

Runtime: 30m

Total Seasons: 25

Arthur is a children’s book adaptation of the same name that recounts the escapades of 8-year-old Aardvark Arthur Read. When he is not at home getting harassed by his annoying little sister D.W. and his middle-class parents, he gets into trouble at school with his friends. Other characters include the potential bully Binky, pretentious Francine, spoilt rich girl Muffy, prodigy Brain, and his closest buddy Buster.

Occasionally Arthur and the group get into some seriously crazy situations, like when a sarcastic traffic warden teases Arthur and Brain, when they quarrel over a key when they have to manage the household after Mom and Dad become ill, and a lot more. Its of the best PBS comedy shows that kids can watch.

16. FRONTLINE (1983)


Genre: Documentary, News

Director: Michael Kirk, Ofra Bikel

Writer: Daffodil Alten, Kevin Anderson

Cast: Will Lyman, Sarah Childress, Priyanka Boghani, Arun Rath, Judy Woodruff


IMDB Rating: 8.6

Runtime: 1h

Total Seasons: 41

Frontline provides an honest and captivating look at complex, meaningful, and sometimes controversial topics. Every hour-long segment features a comprehensive news documentary. The subjects range from the elaborate scam committed by Bernie Madoff and the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib to AIDS, racial conflicts, and the impact of Walmart on American economic growth.

Suppose you want to watch an investigative documentary series that addresses a range of national and global concerns, such as terrorist attacks, politics, ecological disasters, and many other sociopolitical challenges. In that case, this is one of the best shows on PBS for you. The programme releases extensive transcribed interviews, in-depth chronologies, independent articles, sidebar tales, associated links and studies, and reference materials that include images and additional research.

17. Rick Steves’ Europe (2000)


Genre: Documentary, Reality

Director: Simon Griffith

Writer: Steve Cammarano, Cameron Hewitt

Cast: Rick Steves, Andreas Clemens, Alfio Di Mauro, Francesca Caruso, Georg Reichlmayr


IMDB Rating: 8.5

Runtime: 26m

Total Seasons: 11

In each segment of this family-friendly travel show, travel writer Rick Steves goes to Europe and hosts the journey, sharing his adventures along the way. The host provides historical context and valuable travel advice for European cities, suggests unique local accommodations, eateries, and tourist hotspots, and rarely uses his travel guides.

He guides you through the most important landmarks in Europe and beyond, from the must-see cathedrals and galleries to the back alleys, where you may discover undiscovered treasures that highlight the grandeur and intricacy of their surroundings. He gives background details on what visitors to these cities would encounter.

18. Call the Midwife (2012)


Genre: Drama, History

Director: Syd Macartney, David O’Neill

Writer: Jennifer Worth

Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Laura Main, Jenny Agutter, Stephen McGann


IMDB Rating: 8.6

Runtime: 1h

Total Seasons: 11

Inspired by Jennifer Worth’s memoirs, Call the Midwife follows Jenny, then 22 years old, as she leaves her cosy home in 1957 to work as a midwife in London’s Eastern suburbs. She is shocked to learn that she will be residing in Nonnatus House, a monastery.

Jenny’s eyes are opened to the complicated and stressful circumstances of the slum areas while working with other midwives and medically qualified nuns, but she also learns about the kind souls and courage of the moms. Even when Jenny moves away from Nonnatus, she keeps a diary of the midwives who have grown to be her family.

19. The Great British Baking Show (2010)


Genre: Reality T.V.

Director: Andy Devonshire, Jeanette Goulbourn

Writer: –

Cast: Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Mel Giedroyc, Sue Perkins, Prue Leith


IMDB Rating: 8.6

Runtime: 1h

Total Seasons: 13

This is a culinary competition programme where contestants are required to prepare a variety of dishes, such as cakes, cookies, and desserts. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, two renowned food critics, assess the creations. Throughout the contest, participants – all amateur bakers are required to prepare a wide range of popular recipes that Mary and Paul have laid out for them.

Every episode focuses on a specific theme, with the most frequent being desserts, including cakes, pastries, and pies. Three challenges are timed and finished in each instalment: the Signature Challenge, Technical Challenge, and Showstopper Challenge.

20. Reading Rainbow (1983)


Genre: Family

Director: Larry Lancit, Mark Mannucci

Writer: Ellen Schecter, Ronnie Krauss

Cast: LeVar Burton, Jon Bonavia, Jennifer Betit Yen, Arnold Stang, Fred Newman


IMDB Rating: 8.4

Runtime: 30m

Total Seasons: 16

The children’s television programme Reading Rainbow was made to inspire a passion for reading and literature among young viewers. Each instalment consists of several on-location clips or tales that focus on a theme from a featured children’s story. Children are also given book recommendations from the programme to hunt for at the library.

Every episode of this show is hosted by actor and executive producer LeVar Burton and showcases a different children’s picture book, usually read by a celebrity. Following the main story, Burton travels to several locations related to the episode’s themes and sometimes includes guest interviews.

If you’re looking for something educational to make your kids watch, this is one of the best shows on PBS.

Wrap Up!

And there you have it – everything you need to know about the best shows on PBS available to stream right now. With the diversity and variety in this list, we’re sure you’ll find something that tickles your fancy. New PBS movie also available that can grab your attention such as Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth is missing, Cyberchase and many more. So, what’re you waiting for? Grab some popcorn and start streaming!