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RLLMUK's Favourite Non-Fiction TV Programmes


lordcookie
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Welcome to RLLMUK's favourite TV show thread. The category is Non-Fiction TV (documentaries, reality TV, sports, game shows etc.), anything is permitted be it a one-off special, mini-series, long running series or short but they must have originally been commissioned for television (they can be commissioned anywhere in the world and do not have to have been broadcast in the UK). TV movies are also allowed, to make sure your choice is eligible check out IMDb as they will say if the film is a TV movie or not.

There will be some natural crossover in the way the categories have been split so I will leave it up to the individual where they want to place their choices (for example, Doctor Who could go in either TV Drama of Children's TV, or, if they wish, both).

Here are some websites that might help in picking your list: BFI TV 100, Britain's best sitcom, 100 greatest Kids' TV shows, TV Cream.

Please order your list in the following fashion:

1. This is my favourite programme

2. This is my next favourite

3. And so on

4. You get the idea

...

20. No more programmes after this

The order of the categories will be as follows (dates may vary):

Drama TV (3rd March - 24th March)

Children's TV (16th March - 6th April)

Non-Fiction TV (30th March March - 20th April)

Comedy TV (13th April - 4th May)

Please use this topic for lists AND discussion.

Thanks and best of luck with your selections.

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1. Life On Earth

2. Trials Of Life

3. Life In The Freezer

4. Private Life Of Plants

5. Life Of Birds

6. Life Of Mammals

7. Life In The Undergrowth

8. The Living Planet

9. The Up Series

10. The Power of Nightmares

11. Arena

12. Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends

13. Blood on the Carpet

14. Planet Earth

15. Grand Designs

16. Animation Nation

17. Lost

18. The RKO Story

19. Around the World in 80 Days

20. 102 Minutes That Changed America

I found this selection almost impossible, not because I don't watch documentaries but because I seem to have had a complete mental block on the subject. It hasn't helped that the only documentaries I do remember have all been feature films so even though I watched them on TV they still aren't eligible for selection (stuff like Dear Zachary and In the Realms of the Unreal) which would have undoubtedly found a place in my final twenty if they were allowed. Because of this I'm hoping others have a better memory on the subject so their selections can perhaps jog mine. Of the ones I do remember these are the ones I enjoyed the most.

1. Life On Earth

2. Trials Of Life

3. Life In The Freezer

4. Private Life Of Plants

5. Life Of Birds

6. Life Of Mammals

7. Life In The Undergrowth

8. The Living Planet

I had originally intended to group the Life series under one entry but because of my brain freeze regarding this category I have had to expand them to eight. The ordering is arbitrary and whilst some will undoubtedly be better than others I feel it unfair to list them as such.

The programmes of David Attenborough have become such a familiar part of so many people's lives it is almost impossible to imagine a time when he finally calls it quits. Several generations of the British public have grown up with his natural world documentaries, so much so I would wager the majority of things we have learned about the subject come directly from these ground breaking series. They seem to typify John Reith's belief that the BBC show inform, educate and entertain and very few people have managed to achieve all three throughout their career, let alone a career lasting as long as Attenborough's has.

As informative and entertaining as these series are (Britain always seems to be leading the way in wild life documentaries and these are undoubtedly the best in this field) it is also interesting to see the evolution of nature photography and how the advances in technology have driven these series'. Each one of these shows has had a number of iconic moments spring from it, whether it be the killer whale attacking seals or Attenborough getting close to a family of gorillas. These sequences have transcended the documentaries themselves and become some of the most famous sequences in television history. Of all the entries in my list it is this set of programmes that will remain timeless.

9. The Up Series - The Up Series is a series of documentary films that have followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old. The children were selected to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds in Britain at that time, with the explicit assumption that each child's social class predetermines their future. Every seven years, the director, Michael Apted, films new material from as many of the fourteen as he can get to participate.

This is arguably the most important social experiment ever conducted on television and whilst it lacks the sensationalism it is riveting viewing. The next entry, 56 Up, is due at the end of the year and they tend to repeat the whole series in the run-up so if you haven't seen any yet do try and watch them. It is amazing to see how many of the original 14 are still happy to be a part of this experiment but I guess it has become such a big part of their lives and, sadly for some, it seems the only thing in their lives. Watching the documentaries back-to-back is particularly illuminating as the childhood optimism makes way for the crushing realisation of adulthood.

10. The Power of Nightmares – All of Adam Curtis' documentaries are essential viewing but I think this three-part series about the use of fear for political gain is his most damning and direct work to date. As with all his documentaries Curtis uses old footage beautifully to create a rich and powerful tapestry that helps support his arguments. His films are very different to the usual documentaries we see, they are very one-sided and don't have the typical talking head sections from experts. Perhaps that means his films lack balance but the directness of the message has a lot more power. The use of music is especially excellent.

11. Arena – It is a shame the BBC haven't managed to replace this wonderful documentary series with anything else. Arena-alumni, Alan Yentob, has his Imagine programme but it feels like a watered down version of this long running series. The greatest appeal was the wide range of subjects and people the documentaries covered and even when the subject initially sounded of no interest there would normally be something that would hook you. It also had a wonderful opening credit with a neon Arena sign in a glass bottle slowly floating into view through the fog. Despite the programme running for many years I don't think they ever changed the opening credits which is very rare to see. There are too many great episodes to single out but I would like to mention the Orson Welles documentary which probably resulted in his best ever interview.

12. Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends – I have enjoyed everything Theroux has done but for me his strongest series was still the one that really made his name. His interview style was still fresh as was his bemused fish-out-of-water shtick. He has dealt with bigger issues in his work recently but I found these quirky documentaries far more illuminating. He appeared game for anything and met some genuinely strange individuals. The series also contains the majority of his iconic moments and you were never quite sure where each episode would go. It would be nice to see him return to this style of film-making although I guess after three seasons there might not be that many more weird people to meet.

13. Blood on the Carpet – This documentary series ran for two seasons at the start of last decade and was about particularly nasty and hard fought corporate battles. Whilst it was always related to business it did cover a range of areas and issues and was far less sensationalist than a lot of current business series. Another good series at the time was Back to the Floor where the boss of a large company would, unsurprisingly, go back to a ground level job and see how the company runs and how it could be improved. Whilst there was an element of it being just a PR job it was surprisingly candid in the failings of the organisations and how they could be improved. Both series were always going to have short life spans but they were interesting while they lasted.

14. Planet Earth – This sold High-Definition to many people and even now it still a thing of beauty. The reason it is lower than the other Attenborough documentaries is simple, whilst it is undoubtedly the prettiest series it was lacking in the information department. There was still plenty of things to gain from watching it but compared to the Life series it felt very light and more interested in showing off the pretty pictures than educating its audience.

15. Grand Designs – It is amazing to think how long this show has now been running and it is still as interesting today as it was when it first started. I think the shows longevity lies in the fact it has two appeals, the voyeurism of looking at other people's tastes (often jealously at the amount of money they have to spend on such projects) and our desire to build our own homes which seems to be a big 'if only' thing for many people in this country. The fact the show only focuses on those projects that are unusual certainly helps and by the end of the programme everybody has an opinion on the end result. Kevin McCloud is a great host for the show too, he is enthusiastic without appearing false and he isn't afraid to give his opinion. The only problem with the series is the over-reliance on revisits. The time frame for building a house is not an exact science so it is inevitable some projects will end up not being ready for broadcast but they go back to far too many houses of late which is a shame (and no doubt not helped by the economic issues facing the country).

16. Animation Nation – This was a three-part documentary on BBC4 about animation in Britain. I absolutely love animation so it was great to finally see a documentary series look at the subject. The series was split up into propaganda, comedy and children's animation and interviewed most of the big hitters in the area. I always hoped there would have been a follow-up series looking at the animation around the world but I guess I'll be waiting a long time for that to happen. In its short life BBC4 has gained a reputation of delivering interesting and niche documentaries and long may it continue.

17. Lost – This is obviously not the island based drama series that intrigued and infuriated in equal measure. Instead this was a very short lived reality based gameshow where groups of two people were blindfolded, flown to a remote place anywhere in the world and left to get back to London. They don't know where they are, they have only limited money and a very basic survival kit. Essentially it was an extreme version of Amazing Race but rather than being led by the hand with carefully placed tasks the teams could do whatever they wanted to get back to England. It originally aired on Channel 4 but was quickly shunted to a graveyard slot where very few people watched it. Then 9/11 happened and such a series concept was always going to be impossible to maintain. It is a real shame it didn't find an audience though as it was a great series especially as many of the competitors were dick heads so it was great seeing them fail, repeatedly. There was also a US version of the show but I'm not sure what that was like.

18. The RKO Story – This is probably one of the most detailed and thorough movie documentaries you are likely to come across. Spread over six parts it chronicled the rise and fall of the RKO studios. Introduced by Ed Asner and with contributions by all the main players (that were still alive of course) it was a fascinating insight into the many lives of the studio and the characters that shaped it. If you only have a passing interest in film it is probably a bit of a mammoth watch but the six hours flew by for me.

19. Around the World in 80 Days – A gimmicky travel programme it may have been but Michael Palin was a brilliant guide, his genuine enthusiasm and easy charm making the people he met drop their guard, and the locations were a bit different from the usual travelogues (especially at the time). It was the first of a number of themed travel shows fronted by Palin and whilst all of them were good the first is still my favourite (probably helped by the fact that it was a breath of fresh air at the time whilst you knew what to expect from the subsequent documentaries).

20. 102 Minutes that Changed America – 9/11 is undoubtedly the biggest event I have lived through. I remember watching the rolling news for hours on the day of the attack and the planes flying into the twin towers has become the most iconic image of our age. The image is so familiar that the impact of the event has become diluted which is what makes this documentary so impressive. Played in real-time with various home video cameras it chronicles from the first plane hitting the WTC to the final collapse. The intimacy of the footage and the real-time playback made this almost as shocking as when the event originally occurred.

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Right, been bored this afternoon so had a go at this. Its a bit history heavy as I mostly watch history documentaries:

1. The World at War

2. Civilization

3. The Ascent of Man

4. Life on Earth

5. The Trap – Adam Curtis

6. Match of the Day

7. Cutting Edge - Graham Taylor at the World Cup

8. University Challenge

9. Alistair Cooke’s America

10. The Civil War

11. Private Life of a Masterpiece

12. Sky Cricket coverage

13. The Magnetic North – Jonathan Meades

14. BBC US Masters coverage

15. Newsnight

16. Simon Schama’s History of Britain

17. 15 to 1

18. Connections

19. The Ascent of Money – Niall Ferguson

20. Walking with Dinosaurs

1 - The World at War. Best documentary series ever? Its certainly the best I have seen. Covers an extremely complex subject thoroughly, with involvement from people on both sides of the conflict. Still essential viewing.

2 - Civilization. Kenneth Clark's masterpiece. A history of Western civilization from the fall of Rome until the present day. Clark is a wonderful presenter, travelling the whole of Europe using location as a tool in a way that current documentary makers could learn a lot from (Mr Cox's director/producer for instance). I watched this when I was about 16 and it pushed me towards studying medieval history at university. He ties in art to thought to politics to architecture effortlessly.

3 - The Ascent of Man. A complementary series to Civilization where the history of man is seen through the medium of science rather than that of art. Watched this as part of a history of science course at university and loved it. Made me much more aware of a different side of human development. The guy who made it was in Auschwitz you learn at the end, and he died shortly after making this, can't really think of a better legacy.

4 - Life on Earth. Attenborough was part of the production of the previous two series, which taken together are a pretty good introduction to human history, and with Life on Earth he himself covers the natural world. Just a great great nature show. I loved nature shows growing up, and this was the king of them all. I appreciated it as much at 14 as I do now. I'm leaving out Attenborough's other stuff, as I don't think he's done better than this.

5 - The Trap - Adam Curtis. Only put one of the Curtis documentaries in, and it was a toss up between this and The Century of Self. Great use of archive footage and great ideas behind the intellectual argument he puts across. What more do you want from a documentary. Made me look at things in a different way, which isn't something that happens very often as I am a cynical bastard about most things.

6 - Match of the Day. Well, BBC football coverage in general up until the point that Alan Shearer joined as he is a black void of charisma and intellect and should be dropped into a pit and poked with sticks. Iconic theme tune, normally good analysis and most of all goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooals. I spend more time than is probably healthy watching football and Match of the Day is still the best, with a nod also to Channel 4's Italian football in the 90s and any Italian football show where birds gets their wangers out, which I assume happens.

7 - Cutting Edge - Graham Taylor at the World Cup. Did anyone not see this? By turns equally compelling, horrifying, hilarious and tragic. Gave rise to several instant playground catchphrases when it came out. About two weeks after it aired we went on a trip to see a play in Stoke and Graham Taylor was in the audience, one of my classmates ended up in the toilets at the next urinal to him, looked down at his cock and said "Do I not like that".

8 - University Challenge - Why is it the teams who win are three totally anonymous people picked clearly to make up the arts knowledge and then some polymath idiot savant who looks like they only eat marmite on toast that the Oxbridge College obviously keeps locked in a closet surrounded by encyclopedias for the rest of the year? Always used to watch it as a family and it was always great when you actually managed to get one right. More participatory than something like Mastermind where you could never shout out the answers to the specialist subjects.

9 - Alistair Cooke's America - My uncle gave me a set of tapes of Alistair Cooke radio show for Christmas one year, and I loved them so much that I picked up the TV series on VHS. Cooke was the BBCs Washington correspondent for years, and his love and knowledge of the country really shine through in this series. Part history, part travelogue, part political commentary. I also loved Schama's American Future when that was on a few years back and you could see the debt that that series paid to Alistair Cooke.

10 - The Civil War - PBS (I think) produced this in the US about the American Civil War. Its the same sort of thing as The World At War, and makes a lot of use of photography and location shoots to set the scene. Brings a quite far removed conflict to life very effectively, and its crazy how feelings are still so strong about it in some of the descendants interviewed.

11 - Private Life of a Masterpiece. I'm a philistine when it comes to art mostly, so a series like this that takes some of the greatest pieces of Western art and places them in a proper context that you aren't going to get as you file past them in a museum came as a really pleasant suprise. Probably the best BBC documentary of its size in the last 15 years.

12 - Sky cricket coverage. I think cricket is the one thing that is better on Sky than it was on the BBC (prepares for abuse). The technology that its brought in has benefitted the game as a whole, and the commentary is fantastic.

13 - The Magnetic North - Jonathan Meades. Another art history documentary, this one examining why northern Europe isn't hailed as much as southern Europe when it comes to art and culture. The flip side to toss like Francesco's Venice where bimbling on for 40 minutes about olives or some tripe is seen as spiritual whereas carrots in the Netherlands are looked down on as dour. Meades is a very engaging presenter and has a wicked sense of humour.

14 - BBC US Masters coverage. This is shared with ABC (I think) in the US, and is normally the one bit of golf I try and make sure I watch each year. Its not really about the crowds or players, its about the course. Its an unnaturally beautiful looking place, and the way it changes with the light from the afternoons into the evenings is fantastic. I would love to play there just to see it, but I am shit at golf so they probably wouldn't let me. And the coverage and commentary is great as well, the best thing about it is that they know when to say nothing. Most commentary is random gibbering to fill dead air and is totally redundant, but here they know when to let the pictures speak for themselves.

15 - Newsnight. Best news programme on TV. Not much more to add to that.

16 - Simon Schama's History of Britain. I'm not sure I like Simon Schama, he waves his arms about a lot when he's on Question Time and that annoys me. But this series is history of the first order. Shows that to make a great series you don't have to get in someone who is telegenic with a famous dad to dumb down a subject.

17 - 15 to 1. Why don't we have quizzes/gameshows like this any more? Properly hard, and more about getting through as many questions as possible than a celebrity presenter or forced "tension" over some ridiculous random event. Perfect shouting at the TV material, and it was a great double act with Countdown.

18 - Connections. Another series I watched through studying the history of science. Tried to show how scientific advances shaped the world that we live in today, the last great documentary series of the 70s.

19 - The Ascent of Money - Niall Ferguson. I have a thing going on with Niall Ferguson, in that I hate him every time I see him on QT or a financial panel, but he's just such a good historian its impossible not to love some of his work. Sure, I don't agree with him, but when he forces you to think about something so much then that has to be a good thing. His Empire series was great, but I think his financial history of the world is his best work as yet. Its an incredibly dry subject that he makes compelling, and it is supremely relevant now.

20 - Walking With Dinosaurs. Its giant CGI dinosaurs walking about eating each other. Need I say more?

The top 4 are pretty much far and away the best stuff I have seen on TV, fiction or non-fiction. I know its a cliche and everything, but they really don't make em like they used to. Wideranging, intellectual and accesible all at the same time. I don't think we'll be seeing anything comparable anytime soon unfortunately.

Honourable mentions for Panorama, Arena, Horizons, Southbank Show, Channel 4 News and Ski Sunday.

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Whilst this list is numbered 1-20 I don't really rate most of it as higher than the other as to be honest the documentary stuff is all fantastic and pretty impossible to rank. It's also a mixed bag- you can't really compare the BBC stuff with Gladiators, there's some seriously dodgy and low brow stuff in my list.

1. BBC Wildlife Special

2. Walking with Dinosaurs

3. Life of Mammals

4. Planet Earth

5. Blue Planet

6. TFI Friday

7. Gamesmaster

8. Top Gear Specials

9. James May Toy Stories

10. The Crystal Maze

11. Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends

12. When Louis Met...

13. Gladiators (Original ITV with Fashanu)

14. Sky Sports Soccer Saturday

15. Parkinson

16. Space

17. Wonders of the Solar System

18. Human Planet

19. Life

20. The Cook Report

Is the BBC Wildlife Specials OK as one entry? It was mainly made in the late 90s, but they keep adding to it. I think it's technically still one show, yeah? If not and I have to be more specific then Tiger: Spy in the Jungle from the Wildlife Specials should be my no.1 as that was the best thing I've ever seen.

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1. BBC Wildlife Special

Loved the BBC Wildlife Specials, which focused on like 12 of the most "popular" animals such as tigers, sharks and eagles. I think it's the archetypal Attenborough, this stuff is the very best of BBC. They mix beautiful, interesting and often intense shots with the perfect voice of a man that's interesting and knowledgeable, he comes across as warm than preachy or stuffy. I could listen to the man for hours.

So, the actual series. There's this incredibly disgusting (for me who is freaky over bugs, snakes, spiders etc) yet thoroughly amazing bit where a snake swallows an antelope. The scene with the shark is amazing, how something so large can leap up with such poise. The tiger mini series one from only a few years back was utterly incredible, they trained elephants to walk amongst the tigers and made log cam for amazing shots of the beautiful beasts. The shots of the lions in their pride are truly incredible, you can't get closer without being a lion or prey.

2. Walking with Dinosaurs

Everybody loves dinos and Jurassic Park, don't they?. If not they should. This series was a continuation of a subject I have great interest in and I felt they did it really well.

I remember they kept me waiting for T-Rex until the end as they did the sequence in chronological order and it was always enjoyable looking forward to the next show for another "favourite". Graphically it was fantastic and think still looks good today, the mix of CGI and animatronics really effective and believable. It was pretty bloody and harsh at times, it had the cool, almost cruel nature of some of the Attenbrough documentaries.

I personally found it pretty much perfect, a lovely blend of facts, information and ZOMG THERE'S A T-REX ON SCREEN!

3. Life of Mammals

4. Planet Earth

5. Blue Planet

Just breathtakingly thorough and beautiful. Don't really know what more to say, it was as good as I anticipated. Endlessly fascinating and informative. Blue Planet especially was like watching some sci-fi film at times, the sheer oddity of some of the creatures astounded me at times, they really where like alien life forms so different where they.

Life of Mammals is so full of wonderful, memorable bits. I think my favourite was the last episode with the apes. The chimps and orangutans are just beautiful, supremely brilliant animals and they where done full justice in this show.

6. TFI Friday

This was very much a way of life for me. At a time when Brit pop was at it's peak and the music of it was so important to me, this show was the perfect accompaniment to a very distinct vibe and feel of a special period in time for me.

I found Evans funny, his shock tactics both entertaining and edgy. So many of the features I enjoyed and remember vividly, the likes of Ugly Bloke and It's Your Letter I couldn't help but hum when thinking of the show. Their championing of OCS "Riverboat Song" another fond memory. I remember Shaun Ryder coming on and swearing the place up, whilst his antics weren't big or clever the squirming of everybody else certainly was.

7. Gamesmaster

This was hit and miss, especially when Dom wasn't there. But when it hit it was easily the best thing I've ever seen in regards to a show about my favourite hobby.

Initially the show was an exciting thing for me, catching glimpses and early previews of games was always brilliant. In a time before the internet and Youtube catching early footage of stuff like Mario 64 was mindblowing.

This excitement over the games always remained, but as I got older I grew to appreciate the humour more and more and it developed from an information tool to a genuinely entertaining programme. I mean that Mario 64 challenge with the Games Animal Dave Perry was the stuff of legends. All his hype and build about being the best games player and he goes and fucks it up royally trying to be smart. The piss taking about this is something that I remember fondly all these years on.

8. Top Gear Specials

I watch Top Gear though in honesty I have next to no interest in cars. Stuff like racing Ferraris and other super cars really doesn't interest me. The reason I watch Top Gear is for the bits, usually at the start and end, where the 3 goons just mess around. Sure they happen to be in cars but it's their messing around that regularly has me in hysterics. Things like their features where they race a car against the Japanese Bullet Train, or their England Vs episodes are easily my favourite things about the show.

So when they make a full episode a feature, it's these specials that I enjoy the most. From memory they're a fairly recent addition to the show, the likes of the US Special, the Winter Olympics and their re-enactment of the Three Wise Men all excellent.

I think best of all was when they went to Vietnam and Bolivia, it was a perfect mix of humour, lovely scenery and moments of tension. I never really know where the lines cross with them in terms of it being factual and fiction, for sure it's edited to tell a distinct narrative but the story they're telling is something I always enjoy.

9. James May Toy Stories

More BBC and more James May. Yay!

This show was absolutely brilliant and something I thoroughly enjoyed. Hit so many aspects for me: the nostalgia trip of cool toys, the humour and tension as the story unfolds and deadlines near wondering whether it'll all come off successfully. The premise was to bring favourite toys of the past into the modern era, by using the toys in real life large scale models. He also explores the history of each toy which was interesting.

I originally learned about this show when there was a feature about May building a full size house he could sleep in from Lego and in honesty this was probably the weakest episode for me. The other episodes though where fantastic. I loved the Chelsea flower show one where they made flowers from plasticine, the snooty bastards in charge of the show being proved wrong a real moment. The kids recreating a spitfire was genuinely enthralling, but best of all where the episodes where they raced model trains across the country side and Scalexric across a grand prix site real highlights.

10. The Crystal Maze

Cheap, tacky and probably pretty shit and dated. Easily the worst show on my list. Yet I adored it back in the day and have caught it on Challenge TV now and again in more recent times and it's still a guilty pleasure.

It's another show that is hit and miss, O'Brien being easily the best thing about it. At the time it caught my imagination, the blend of ingenious games and challenges in the great big fantasy world something that really appealed.

11. Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends

12. When Louis Met...

I generally like his Gonzo journalism, he's a guy I find funny and challenging. I think his best stuff is the real train crash TV stuff when he shows us the oddballs that exist.

The best bits are where he subtly exposes the contradictions and farce of peoples beliefs. He does this most memorably when meeting with the White Supremacists and Survivalists, these episodes carrying a real air of danger and menace to Therouxs well being that I find morbidly fascinating. The Jimmy Saville one was a great example of something that was really uncomfortable to watch yet I couldn't take my eyes off it.

13. Gladiators

Talking exclusively about the original 90s show with Fashanu. The remake on Sky is beyond dreadful.

Another really poor, cheesy show that was perfect fodder for a Saturday tea time.

It probably fits more in line with drama as it's all so scripted, but I think it just about sneaks into this list from it's sports and games show element. It's another guilty pleasure but something that has so many fond memories. The likes of Wolf being a dick and getting showed up, Eunice Huthart jumping cars and winning the show then becoming a Gladiator herself a great story.

I think the main pleasure was on one hand seeing the Gladiators smash the folk up so overwhelmingly, then seeing them trounced the next week.

14. Sky Sports Soccer Saturday

Generally my team doesn't have 3PM kick offs, nor do the really big or important games happen at this time. So for me this is the best way of following the days football en masse.

I think why it's so successful and entertaining is because isn't about the presenters trying to show they're experts, or coming across as lazy, boring know it all pundits like the bigger names do.

15. Parkinson

I just like the class and style of the man. He isn't interested in shock tactics, nor is he concerned about making himself out to be the star. He just generally gets famous people on, sits them down and has a chat, managing to coax the stories out by being attentive and interested.

There's more famous, controversial outspoken presenters that I enjoy for a time but this is the only one I can think of that I've watched for like all my life and always been entertained by.

16. Space

17. Wonders of the Solar System

18. Human Planet

19. Life

It's more of the same blend of info and amazingness from the Beeb , albeit this time about space and earth than animals. I like how complex ideas are brought home so simply and concisely in the likes of Space and Wonders.

20. The Cook Report

I'm not sure this should be here and I'm forgetting a really obvious, much more famous example of this type of show.

For now though Roger Cook can stay in this place, his travelling across the UK mostly and worldwide occasionally with a secret camera crew uncovering crooks and criminal activity was always interesting. That said I think the best bits generally where when he confronted the targets in question and it all kicked off. I remember being properly hooked and appaled by the Satanic Cult one, only for it to come out later on it was all a fake. I guess that is both funny and pretty damning, and a fairly major strike to the credibility of the show.

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Ooh 15-1, I loved that show. I agree that there should be more quizzes like that, instead we just get celebrity based, multiple choice answers or, the most irritating of all, luck based games that pretend they aren't (Deal or No Deal, The Colour of Money etc.).

Despite being fascinated by dinosaurs as a child I could never get on with Walking with Dinosaurs. It just seemed so light weight and solely there because we finally had the technology to do it. I also found the way they portrayed everything as fact rather irritating.

Shit, I left out Watercolour Challenge from my list.

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Looking at the other two lists and reasons I can't help but think I'm doing it wrong. My list and reasons reads as "ooh, pretty animals", entertainment that blurs the boundaries of fact and scripted in search of entertainment and pretty bad, cheesy shows. It's like I've entered the wrong poll or something, though it'll be interesting to see how the thread pans out in general. Can't help but shake the feeling I've missed some stuff out as my list is very modern with a few nostalgic flashbacks.

Though I guess that's half the fun of making it favourite shows and not best shows as mine would read very differently. Stuff like Newsnight I regularly watch, World at War I have seen and appreciate. The latter is something I can clearly identify the quality and value of, however it's not something I hold particularly dearly to heart.

I think most of all though is there's got to be some really hard hitting, massive expose pieces that I'm missing through bad memory. Right now all I can think of are film adaptations of said themes and actual documentaries that where committed to a theatrical release rather than TV.

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8 - University Challenge - Why is it the teams who win are three totally anonymous people picked clearly to make up the arts knowledge and then some polymath idiot savant who looks like they only eat marmite on toast that the Oxbridge College obviously keeps locked in a closet surrounded by encyclopedias for the rest of the year? Always used to watch it as a family and it was always great when you actually managed to get one right. More participatory than something like Mastermind where you could never shout out the answers to the specialist subjects.

One of the members of the Exeter University Challenge team that got knocked out by Gail Trimble's team a couple of years ago wrote a blog post about their experiences of the programme, which is worth a read:

http://lystellion.livejournal.com/84288.html

I thought Granada would feed us. We all went to get lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, and I tried chilled cucumber soup. Which turned out to be as ghastly as it sounds, so I didn't eat it. Granada's canteen was shut. I ended up literally begging the production team for food prior to the match, and I raided the make-up room for cereal and milk, eaten with a plastic teaspoon. With that I was fuelled by randomly gathered cheese, crackers and nuts brought by the pitying Granada staff. Most teams are gearing up mentally for the coming match in the green room. I was stuffing my face ASAP. What I'm trying to say is: This is a bad way to prepare for University Challenge.
Their captain, Gail Trimble, is the quintessence of these abilities, a truly remarkable player in the same exclusive class as Kaufman and Christodoulou of previous series. It doesn't quite come across on screen what it's like to be on the end of their intellectual Blitzkrieg - listening as hard as you can to question after question and hearing them answer it, often before you've got much of an idea of what it's about. It puts a mass of pressure on every question to buzz in early, too early, and you end up getting surprised if you get anything.

A little snippet of conversation afterwards:

Me: Did I hint at the answer at all, when I said saprophyte?

GT: No, I could work it out from the 'epi' part...

Me: ...oh of course the Latin...

GT: ...Greek.

Me: Ah, right, yes, sorry. Of course.

More than anything else, pretty much sums up my day.

He makes a good point about the differences between being on the show and playing along at home: at home, it might seem like you've got a decent number of questions right over the course of the programme, but then you have to discount away the starters you wouldn't have buzzed quickly enough, and the bonus questions that didn't go to your team...

Differences between the show in life and at home.

It is harder. A lot, lot harder. And a lot more fun. If you want an idea, pick a team next time it's on. In life you have no choice who you're with, so you should probably flip a coin. Take something vaguely buzzer-shaped and place your finger on it. When a question is read out, push it when you want to answer and then answer within two and a half seconds. You must push it a *clear half-second before* Roger Tilling announces anyone's name, else another player got there before you, and that's you out. Also, if one of your chosen 'team mates' answers and happens to get it wrong, that's you out. For extra spice only answer those bonuses that you or one of your 'team mates' get the starters to - so as to experience the frustration of hearing easy bonuses that the other team fails to get. 'Playing at home' is *comparatively easy*, you can hold back answering until Tilling's voice kicks in. Figuring out for yourself when you've heard enough whilst listening to the rest of the question whilst assessing where the question is going whilst assessing your potential answers whilst wondering if one of the people next to you has a better idea, is a lot harder. If you end up guessing incorrectly more than two or three times, consider how much that would dent your confidence, and how much you'd be letting down the team. If you keep getting questions right despite all this, get on the show ASAP.

The 'wild guesses' that you can throw at the TV at home are generally a no-no in the studio. Twice on our episodes I would've guessed Tchaikovsky for starters because he's one of the few composers I know. It would've been the right answer twice, I would've 'got that' at home. But on TV I wasn't nearly confident enough to waste a potential chance for a team mate, and it was the right decision, I think, not to buzz.

I never really judged people that harshly before being on it, but now I'm all the more sympathetic to contestants on screen. It's harder than it looks, and you have to be very good indeed to get more than 3 or 4 starters in an episode.

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Looking at the other two lists and reasons I can't help but think I'm doing it wrong. My list and reasons reads as "ooh, pretty animals", entertainment that blurs the boundaries of fact and scripted in search of entertainment and pretty bad, cheesy shows. It's like I've entered the wrong poll or something, though it'll be interesting to see how the thread pans out in general. Can't help but shake the feeling I've missed some stuff out as my list is very modern with a few nostalgic flashbacks.

Though I guess that's half the fun of making it favourite shows and not best shows as mine would read very differently. Stuff like Newsnight I regularly watch, World at War I have seen and appreciate. The latter is something I can clearly identify the quality and value of, however it's not something I hold particularly dearly to heart.

I think most of all though is there's got to be some really hard hitting, massive expose pieces that I'm missing through bad memory. Right now all I can think of are film adaptations of said themes and actual documentaries that where committed to a theatrical release rather than TV.

My list is very much influenced by the fact I love history, most of the books I read are about it and most of the TV shows I love are about it. I can watch something like The World at War again and again, whereas I can't do that with pretty much anything else. I love total crap as much as the next man, but I wouldn't see anything like Hollyoaks for instance as my favourite TV programme, even though it is a guilty pleasure.

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Probably the most casual list in the thread, and yes I'll even admit to watching and enjoying number twenty on the list.

1. Tour de France (Ch4/ITV coverage)

2. Around the World in 80 Days

3. Match of the Day

4. Top Gear

5. The Apprentice

6. Pole To Pole

7. The World at War

8. Full Circle

9. Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends

10. Masterchef

11. Sky Sports Super Sunday

12. Great British Menu

13. Man Vs Food

14. NFL (ch4/Sky coverage)

15. BBC Olympics coverage

16. Floyd on France

17. Megastructures

18. Jamie's School Dinners

19. Grand Designs

20. I'm a Celebrity Get Me out of Here

1. Tour de France: I started watching this the year channel 4 launched and started broadcasting it. I've been hooked ever since. As a kid I got away with watching it as my mum liked the scenery! I was engrossed in Lemond vs Hinualt, Fignon, Delgado, Roache, Kelly and (as a young Scottish kid) Robert Millar attacking in the Pyrenees. From those days throgh Indurain, the tragic Pantani, more scandals than the average soap and of course the Blue Train years of Armstrong. For many it's a bunch of lads on a bike, to me it's an amazing feat of endurance and tactical battle over stunning terrain. Always brought home by the wonderful Phil Liggett.

2. Around the World in 80 Days: Palins first and best. I think this was filmed at the perfect time and Palin really brought a charm to it all. The lack of current day gadgets gives it an old feel of adventure despite the fact it's not that old, while Palin delivered on fitting in with anything

thrown at him and just the right amount of tension over the outcome of his race against time.

3. Match of the Day: Football highlights, but I'll admit I never miss it. Decent pundits, well edited highlights and more often than not an enjoyable 90 minutes on a Saturday night.

4. Top Gear: More specifically the relaunch, as I never did watch it in it's old format. Car show, meets idiots larking around, crossed with some crazy ideas.

Must see viewing for a Sunday evening.

5. The Apprentice: In theory I thought I'd hate this show, no actually I thought I'd loathe it. Truth be told I'm hooked by it. Take a bunch of people who believe their own hype far too much, add a task that in most cases shouldn't be that difficult, sit back and watch them self destruct often in highly comical ways, get involved in bitch fights and use the word business far, far too often.

6. Pole To Pole: Another Palin offering. Once again a great adventure, and one that inspired me to visit the town of Tromso of all places. From Norway, through the old USSR only days before it collapse and more. Riviting viewing.

7. The World at War: One of those things you feel everyone should watch. Already summed up by others much better than I could.

8. Full Circle: Mr Palin appears again. Great trip around the Pacific rim, and some great views of a China that was once even more closed off from our eyes.

9. Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends: Credit where it's due but Louis has a skill for getting the best out his subjects. Often it would be easy to go in all guns blazing

and do a lynch job on the subject matter. His style at least gives a more open view of things, and more often than not just let's the people at hand put their own foot in it.

10. Masterchef: Despite not being a fan of the new format this show has been a fixuture for me for a number of years. From back in the day and it's original format, Sunday teatime slot to the latest version. I've watched them all. No matter if it's John & Greg, or Roux I find myself getting drawn in and inspired. I love food. I love the simple concept of take some ingredients and use your skills to make something wonderful.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Okay, list finalised and some words added, with more to follow after work tonight:

1. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

2. Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe

3. World at War

5. Kenneth Clark's Civilisation

6. Walking With Dinosaurs

7. Andrew Marr's History of Modern Briatin

6. Countdown

7. Come Dine With Me :ph34r:

8. Wonders of the Solar System

1. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

Carl Sagan's awe-inspiring masterpiece about the Universe, and the people behind our understanding of it. It is humbling, moving, and carries a potent humane message at its core. Just listening to Sagan's mesmerising voice is a delight, but when he enthuses with such passion about subjects as diverse as the history of Feudal Japan, or on the nature of the Big Bang, it's impossible not to be infected by an insatiable bug of curioisty about the cosmos. A great man, and a great show.

2. Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe/Newswipe

In essence, a fairly standard TV round-up show that ran from 2006-08, followed by a few one-off specials. In it, Brooker highlights some of the week's key releases, tells us if they're good or bad, and then spends some time illuminating a particular aspect of TV production. What makes this show great is Brooker himself - witty, scathing, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable, Screenwipe is consistently hilarious and every episode left me feeling that little bit more knowledgeable.

The follow-up show, Newswipe, is a wonderful extension of one of the Screenwipe episodes and has run for two seasons so far. It's a biting insight into the workings of the news media, and everything that's wrong with the whole news circus. I imagine most of you have seen Brooker in action, but if you haven't then his latest show, How TV Ruined Your Life, is quite easy to find on the web.

3. Planet Earth

This will have to be a stand-in for all Attenborough shows as I'm too young to properly remember things like Life in the Freezer, all I remember is thinking that his voice was wisdom and his shows engrossing and Planet Earth brought all this back. I can't disagree that it seems to focus more on the wow factor than on imparting knowledge, but, coupled with the behind-the-scenes clips of bloody nutters seeking footage, it was an experience like no other on television and I'm so glad Attenborough is still making great shows.

Edited by OMGJones
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1. Blue Planet

2. Planet Earth

3. The Life of Mammals

4. Charlie Brooker's Newswipe

5. The Secret Life of the Motorway

6. The Secret Life of the Airport

7. Comics Britannia

8. Howard Goodall's How Music Works

9. Top Gear

10. Comedy Connections

11. The Sky at Night

12. The Trap

13. Classic Albums series

14. Later with Jools Holland

15. Derren Brown: Trick of the Mind

16. University Challenge

17. Mastermind

I haven't come close to seeing all the series Attenborough's ever done, but of the ones I have seen, topping the list are the three I found most memorable.

I was very close to fitting Screenwipe on my comedy list, but it just got edged out by South Park. So as a consolation I've put another, equally good, Brooker programme on this list instead.

The Secret Life of the Motorway and its Airport and National Grid sequels are some of the best examples of BBC4's wonderful (if

) habit of producing documentaries about the most obscure or mundane of subjects and making them utterly fascinating. :wub:

When I was a kid I had a couple of years of keyboard lessons, but although it taught me the basics of reading sheet music, I couldn't say I ever learned much theory from it (for example, it was never made clear to me what the point of chords was - my attitude was, why should I care about them when the right-hand melody's the bit you hum, right?). Howard Goodall's How Music Works made it all a lot clearer! Viewing that series should be part of the National Curriculum - I for one learned more in those four hours of TV than I did in all my music classes at secondary school!

The Trap doesn't generally seem to be regarded as Adam Curtis' best, but I'm afraid it's still the only one of his series I've seen in full... :mellow:

Obviously the appeal of Classic Albums and Later with Jools Holland will depend on how much you care for the musicians featured in any given instalment. But the formats are solid: Classic Albums programmes are pretty consistently some of the best music documentaries around.

And what Classic Albums is to music, Comedy Connections is to TV comedy: a consistently well-researched, well-presented retrospective look behind the scenes, usually with decent interviews and rare archive clips. Sometimes those clips are from programmes that have never been repeated since first broadcast - yes, often with good reason, but still interesting to see!

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Only 16, I decided against putting sports (televised, not for television), too many Dutch things (bit meaningless here), and all of Attenborough's (one program, sort of) stuff in.

  1. Blue Planet
  2. Life in the Undergrowth
  3. First Life.
  4. Louis Theroux Weird Weekends.
  5. Mythbusters
  6. Horizon.
  7. Power of nightmares.
  8. Pandora’s box.
  9. Terry Jones’ medieval life.
  10. Tour de France.
  11. James May’s Toy Stories.
  12. Keuringsdienst Van Waarde
  13. Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press.
  14. Top Gear.
  15. Planet Earth.

  1. Blue Planet
  2. Life in the Undergrowth
  3. First Life. Seeing as the Attenboroughs get split up, I’ll do the same. I love them all but have selected the ones that introduced the strangest worlds. Chimps and the like are very nice of course, but I knew them. Some of the things from these series were nothing short of amazing.
  4. Louis Theroux Weird Weekends. His best, combining laughs, amazement, and some thoughts about what make people tick.
  5. Battlefield. Reasonably accurate documentaries on the crucial battles of WWII. Moved at a pleasantly slow pace without repeating itself and didn’t skimp on the details.
  6. Mythbusters, despite the fitting of 20 minutes in a 40 minutes show, as well as the many dodgy myths, I do really like the scientific approach to the thing. See them
    this debate:
  7. Horizon. Consistently decent science programme, deserves some credits.
  8. Power of nightmares. Curtis makes good, provocative arguments.
  9. Pandora’s box. Watch this one here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2011/03/a_is_for_atom.html
  10. Terry Jones’ medieval life. Has some decent medieval history by looking at stereotypes against actual medieval society. Terry’s narration is great. Somewhat cheap visuals though.
  11. Tour de France. I watch this religiously, and not only for the sports part. Summer begin when a brightly coloured mass moves through the French countryside and the Dutch commentators are chatting about chateaux (usually when interesting things are happening in the race). The meandering is interrupted by great drama, such as in the 2003 Armstrong v. Ullrich battle.
  12. James May’s Toy Stories. Nostalgia meets a passionate presenter.
  13. Keuringsdienst Van Waarde, Dutch show that tests dodgy food claims (“authentic” and the like). Witty and very informative.
  14. Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press. History, printing, and typography are all interests (work) of mine.
  15. Top Gear. It used to be thoroughly entertaining.
  16. Planet Earth. Also gets a mention for the sheer prettiness of it all.

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Still time?!

1. Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends

2. Places That Don't Exist

3. Meet the Stans

4. When Louis Met...

5. Newsnight

6. Life on Earth

7. Michael Palin Around the World in 80 Days

8. Louis Theroux BBC2 Specials

9. Holidays in the Axis of Evil

10. The State of Russia

I need to see more documentaries, as I'm struggling here. Somehow I've missed Planet Earth, Blue Planet, the Adam Curtis docs and many others so thanks to people's lists here for reminding me to see them sometime. I'm not great at analysis but:

1. Weird Weekends - As said, he's great at letting people expose themselves with some hilarious or sad results. The Gangsta Rap episode is probably my favourite.

2. Places That Don't Exist + 3. Meet the Stans - These travel docus with Simon Reeve are great. The locations were interesting and although he's dealing with some serious issues of conflict he can be pretty funny as a presenter too - just a guy hanging out in dangerous places, meeting people and pointing out odd things. I haven't seen his more recent shows yet, but hopefully they're just as good.

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Results are in! Unfortunately due to the low turnout the results aren't as meaningful as they could have been but if all the Attenborough documentaries were grouped together they would have been the clear winner.

1 . Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends [ 68 | 5 ]

2 . Planet Earth [ 64 | 5 ]

3 . Blue Planet [ 56 | 3 ]

4 . Life on Earth [ 52 | 3 ]

5 . Top Gear [ 49 | 4 ]

6 . The Power Of Nightmares [ 45 | 3 ]

7 . Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe [ 38 | 2 ]

8= . The Apprentice [ 35 | 2 ]

8= . Walking with Dinosaurs [ 35 | 3 ]

10 . The World at War [ 34 | 2 ]

11= . Life In The Undergrowth [ 33 | 2 ]

11= . Life of Mammals [ 33 | 2 ]

11= . Match of the Day [ 33 | 2 ]

14 . Tour de France [ 31 | 2 ]

15 . Countdown [ 27 | 2 ]

16 . When Louis Met [ 26 | 2 ]

17 . The Trap [ 25 | 2 ]

18 . Later With Jools Holland [ 23 | 2 ]

19= . James May Toy Stories [ 22 | 2 ]

19= . Newsnight [ 22 | 2 ]

19= . The Crystal Maze [ 22 | 2 ]

22 . Around the World in 80 Days [ 21 | 2 ]

23= . BBC Wildlife Special [ 20 | 1 ]

23= . Cosmos: A Personal Voyage [ 20 | 1 ]

23= . QI [ 20 | 1 ]

26= . Civilization [ 19 | 1 ]

26= . Places That Don't Exist [ 19 | 1 ]

26= . Trials Of Life [ 19 | 1 ]

29= . First Life [ 18 | 1 ]

29= . Life In The Freezer [ 18 | 1 ]

29= . Meet the Stans [ 18 | 1 ]

29= . The Ascent of Man [ 18 | 1 ]

29= . The Life of Mammals [ 18 | 2 ]

29= . The Mole [ 18 | 1 ]

29= . University Challenge [ 18 | 2 ]

29= . World at War [ 18 | 1 ]

37= . Charlie Brooker's Newswipe [ 17 | 1 ]

37= . Only Connect [ 17 | 1 ]

37= . Private Life Of Plants [ 17 | 1 ]

37= . Wonders of the Solar System [ 17 | 2 ]

41= . Kenneth Clark's Civilisation [ 16 | 1 ]

41= . Life of Birds [ 16 | 1 ]

41= . Mythbusters [ 16 | 1 ]

41= . The Secret Life of the Motorway [ 16 | 1 ]

45= . Horizon [ 15 | 1 ]

45= . Pole To Pole [ 15 | 1 ]

45= . TFI Friday [ 15 | 1 ]

45= . The Secret Life of the Airport [ 15 | 1 ]

49= . Andrew Marr's History of Modern Briatin [ 14 | 1 ]

49= . Come Dine With Me [ 14 | 1 ]

49= . Comics Britannia [ 14 | 1 ]

49= . Cutting Edge - Graham Taylor at the World Cup [ 14 | 1 ]

49= . Gamesmaster [ 14 | 1 ]

49= . Michael Palin Around the World in 80 Days [ 14 | 1 ]

49= . We Need Answers [ 14 | 1 ]

56= . Full Circle [ 13 | 1 ]

56= . Howard Goodall's How Music Works [ 13 | 1 ]

56= . Louis Theroux BBC2 Specials [ 13 | 1 ]

56= . Pandora’s box [ 13 | 1 ]

56= . The Living Planet [ 13 | 1 ]

56= . Whose Line Is It Anyway? [ 13 | 1 ]

62= . Alistair Cooke’s America [ 12 | 1 ]

62= . Holidays in the Axis of Evil [ 12 | 1 ]

62= . Terry Jones’ medieval life [ 12 | 1 ]

62= . The Up Series [ 12 | 1 ]

66= . Comedy Connections [ 11 | 1 ]

66= . Masterchef [ 11 | 1 ]

66= . The Civil War [ 11 | 1 ]

66= . The State of Russia [ 11 | 1 ]

70= . Arena [ 10 | 1 ]

70= . Private Life of a Masterpiece [ 10 | 1 ]

70= . Robot Wars [ 10 | 1 ]

70= . Sky Sports Super Sunday [ 10 | 1 ]

70= . The Sky at Night [ 10 | 1 ]

75= . Great British Menu [ 9 | 1 ]

75= . Keuringsdienst Van Waarde [ 9 | 1 ]

75= . Sky Cricket coverage [ 9 | 1 ]

78= . Blood on the Carpet [ 8 | 1 ]

78= . Classic Albums series [ 8 | 1 ]

78= . Gladiators (Original ITV with Fashanu) [ 8 | 1 ]

78= . Grand Designs [ 8 | 2 ]

78= . Man Vs Food [ 8 | 1 ]

78= . Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press [ 8 | 1 ]

78= . The Magnetic North – Jonathan Meades [ 8 | 1 ]

85= . BBC US Masters coverage [ 7 | 1 ]

85= . NFL (ch4/Sky coverage) [ 7 | 1 ]

85= . Sky Sports Soccer Saturday [ 7 | 1 ]

88= . BBC Olympics coverage [ 6 | 1 ]

88= . Derren Brown: Trick of the Mind [ 6 | 1 ]

88= . Parkinson [ 6 | 1 ]

91= . Animation Nation [ 5 | 1 ]

91= . Floyd on France [ 5 | 1 ]

91= . Simon Schama’s History of Britain [ 5 | 1 ]

91= . Space [ 5 | 1 ]

95= . 15 to 1 [ 4 | 1 ]

95= . Lost [ 4 | 1 ]

95= . Mastermind [ 4 | 1 ]

95= . Megastructures [ 4 | 1 ]

99= . Connections [ 3 | 1 ]

99= . Human Planet [ 3 | 1 ]

99= . Jamie's School Dinners [ 3 | 1 ]

99= . The RKO Story [ 3 | 1 ]

103= . Life [ 2 | 1 ]

103= . The Ascent of Money – Niall Ferguson [ 2 | 1 ]

105= . 102 Minutes That Changed America [ 1 | 1 ]

105= . I'm a Celebrity Get Me out of Here [ 1 | 1 ]

105= . The Cook Report [ 1 | 1 ]

20110421145232.jpg

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Still time?!

1. Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends

2. Places That Don't Exist

3. Meet the Stans

4. When Louis Met...

5. Newsnight

6. Life on Earth

7. Michael Palin Around the World in 80 Days

8. Louis Theroux BBC2 Specials

9. Holidays in the Axis of Evil

10. The State of Russia

I need to see more documentaries, as I'm struggling here. Somehow I've missed Planet Earth, Blue Planet, the Adam Curtis docs and many others so thanks to people's lists here for reminding me to see them sometime. I'm not great at analysis but:

1. Weird Weekends - As said, he's great at letting people expose themselves with some hilarious or sad results. The Gangsta Rap episode is probably my favourite.

2. Places That Don't Exist + 3. Meet the Stans - These travel docus with Simon Reeve are great. The locations were interesting and although he's dealing with some serious issues of conflict he can be pretty funny as a presenter too - just a guy hanging out in dangerous places, meeting people and pointing out odd things. I haven't seen his more recent shows yet, but hopefully they're just as good.

The State of Russia you mention, is that the one that was on Channel 4?

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Yeah C4/More4. It was a season of different shows though so maybe I should have just listed the first one, Death of a Nation. I think I got it from UKNova at the time, and I can't find much info about it now but it's on youtube.

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