Top 10 TV Shows Based On True Stories

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Top 10 TV Shows Based On True Stories

VOICE OVER: Callum Janes WRITTEN BY: Cassondra Feltus
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 TV Shows That Are Based On True Stories. For this list, we'll be looking at television series inspired by real events. We will include miniseries, but will be excluding documentaries and reality TV. Out countdown includes "Chernobyl" (2019), "The Crown" (2016-), “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (2016), “Selena: The Series” (2020-21), and more!
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#10: “Chernobyl” (2019)


The five-part HBO miniseries is a dramatization of the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster. It revolves around the catastrophic nuclear accident and the events that followed, including the attempted cover-up, those involved in the massive cleanup efforts, and the many deaths. The series provides a painfully realistic depiction of the horrific effects of radiation poisoning. Showrunner Craig Mazin consulted Svetlana Alexievich’s book, “Voices from Chernobyl,” which consists of the recollections of Pripyat locals. The tragic story of Soviet firefighter Vasily Ignatenko and his wife, Lyudmilla, comes from the book.

#9: “Dickinson” (2019-)


“Dickinson” is a fictionalized version of the poet’s life. The modern slang and music ground her in our reality, showing how Emily was ahead of her time. The show explores her secret relationship with her best friend and brother’s wife, Sue. Some of the most heartbreaking moments of the series are of the two young women struggling to grapple with their feelings for one another. We also see the rampant misogyny she dealt with, especially from her father. Whether she’s conjuring spirits, taking carriage rides with Death, or dancing with a bee, Emily Dickinson’s wild imagination could not be taken away from her.

#8: “The Act” (2019)


This deeply disturbing miniseries is based on the real murder of Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard in 2015. Her daughter, Gypsy Rose, allegedly orchestrated her murder with her secret online boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn. Since Gypsy was born, Dee Dee told everyone that her daughter suffered from a myriad of illnesses including leukemia, epilepsy, paraplegia, and many more. She used a wheelchair and underwent various unnecessary medical procedures. It’s believed Dee Dee had Munchausen syndrome by proxy and faked her daughter’s illnesses, accepting donations and appearing as a caring mother. Habitat for Humanity even built them a house in Springfield, Missouri. Gypsy and Nick were apprehended in Wisconsin shortly after the murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, while she was given 10 years.

#7: “Orange Is the New Black” (2013-19)


This award-winning Netflix series is loosely based on Piper Kerman’s 2010 memoir “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.” The first season of the show centers around Piper Chapman, beginning her 15-month sentence at Litchfield Penitentiary. As the series goes on, we get to know more about all the women at Litchfield. Showrunner Jenji Kohan describes Piper as a “trojan horse” for telling these stories of underrepresented groups such as transgender, lesbian, and women of color. The show has been praised for its diverse characters and humanized portrayals of female inmates, earning a slew of accolades over its seven-season run.

#6: “Selena: The Series” (2020-21)


“Selena: The Series” chronicles the rise of the Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla-Pérez from childhood to her untimely death. The 1997 film “Selena,” starring Jennifer Lopez, is a classic, but with this 18-episode series, we get to spend more time with the Quintanilla family, digging deeper into her strong bond with siblings, A.B. and Suzette. Despite some criticism, Christian Serratos, known for her work on “The Walking Dead,” did an amazing job capturing the essence of Selena, according to her sister Suzette. And yes, the ending is just as heartbreaking as the movie.

#5: “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (2016)


Ryan Murphy’s first season of this anthology series is about one of the most sensationalized cases in history. A star-studded cast took on the roles of infamous key players of the captivating trial, including “AHS” alum Sarah Paulson. Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, and Sterling K. Brown each earned Emmys for their roles as Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran, and Chris Darden, respectively. Since its critically acclaimed first season, Murphy has produced two more installments. Season 2 followed Andrew Cunanan and his assassination of fashion mogul Gianni Versace. Darren Criss won an Emmy for his chilling portrayal of Cunanan. Season 3 is about the scandal surrounding Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton.

#4: “The Crown” (2016-)


The British royal family has always been a hot topic in pop culture, so it’s no surprise that Netflix’s historical drama “The Crown” is wildly popular. The inaugural season begins with the newly appointed queen of England after the passing of her father. Claire Foy stars as the first incarnation of Queen Elizabeth II, with Matt Smith as her husband Prince Philip. As the series progresses, new actors step in to play the characters at different ages. The show cleans up during awards season, with several nominations and wins. Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle admitted to watching the series before. Other members of the royal family have also reportedly seen the series, expressing various reactions.

#3: “When They See Us” (2019)


In 1989, five Black and Latino teenagers, dubbed the “Central Park Five,” were wrongfully convicted of the assault of a white female jogger in Central Park. Ava DuVernay’s critically acclaimed limited series tells their harrowing story and how they were violently coerced into giving false statements and confessing to a crime they didn’t commit. The four-episode series follows the boys’ arrests and convictions up to their exoneration in 2002. It received several award nominations, with Jharrel Jerome winning an Emmy for his portrayal of Korey Wise. Jerome dedicated his award to the five adult men, now appropriately known as the “Exonerated Five,” earning them a standing ovation.

#2: “Narcos” (2015-17)


Netflix’s gritty and intense crime drama, “Narcos,” is based on the reign of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel. The first two seasons follow American DEA agents Steve Murphy and Javier Peña as they go on a manhunt for Escobar and his sicarios throughout Columbia. The real Murphy and Peña served as consultants on the series. Production took place in Medellín, some scenes in the real locations where Escobar lived and died. Season 3 is told from Peña’s perspective, as he takes down the powerful Cali Cartel.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Waco” (2018)

Explores the Siege in Texas Against the Branch Davidians

“Unorthodox” (2020)

The True Story of a Young Jewish Woman Escaping an Arranged Marriage & Living a Secular Life

“I Am the Night” (2019)

A Girl Looking for Her Mother Finds Herself Connected to the Black Dahlia Murder

“Boardwalk Empire” (2010-14)

Crime in Prohibition Era Atlantic City

“Call the Midwife” (2012-)

Chronicles the History of Midwifery in 1950s & ‘60s East London

#1: “Mindhunter” (2017-19)


David Fincher’s “Mindhunter” is based on the true-crime book of the same name, written by FBI agents John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Douglas inspired the character of Holden Ford, a Special Agent who takes an interest in using criminal psychology to apprehend serial killers. Bill Tench, Head of Behavioral Science, based on FBI profiler Robert Ressler. They enlist the help of psychologist Dr. Wendy Carr to add structure to their research. Dr. Carr is inspired by Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, a researcher who studied the connection between violent offenders and past trauma. The agents profile infamous serial killers, including Edmund Kemper, Richard Speck, and David Berkowitz.
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