Period dramas have a rep for not being able to stay on air very long, especially on non-premium networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, etc. The majority of period dramas are going to be found on big networks like HBO, STARZ, Netflix, and Showtime. They have the budget for it, and they know how to make them at their best.
I love history, even if it's not always portrayed accurately. I've seen just about every single period drama TV show out there. It's a lot, but no nearly enough at the same time. So whether you're just dipping your toes into the genre, or already adore the genre and came here looking for some recs... here are 7 of my favorite period dramas on television.
Sidenote: This list won't include any period drama fantasy shows. I love those shows, but I think they kind of occupy a sub-category within the genre. They're mostly set in a fictional world where being a "period drama" is simply one of the characteristics of that world. Although one of the shows on this list does have magical elements, and could be categorized as Fantasy or Sci-Fi, I wanted to focus on shows that revolve around their time period and its history. In other words, Game of Thrones can't be on this list.
My second favorite show of all time, and one of the best period dramas to ever air. Yes, it is has a time-traveling element, but it focuses on the location and raging war between Scotland and England in the 1740s. This show's storyline revolves heavily around the history of its time, and one of the main threads is that the characters are attempting to alter it. Aside from the history, the next big theme in Outlander is the love stry. A married English woman from the 1940s accidentally travels back in time to 1740s Scotland... and falls in love with a Highlander. The characters are amazing. The costumes are exquisite. The storyline is compelling. And you'll want to listen to the score on repeat. Out of all of the shows on this list, I recommend this one the most.
2. Black Sails
Unlike Outlander, this show has recently concluded, so you can watch all the seasons in one glorious binge. It's one of the more violent shows, so beware if you squeamish about blood and battles. One of my favorite themes in period dramas is pirates. It might be because of my love for Pirates of the Caribbean, but I love anything with pirates. Black Sails fully delivers on that front. It's not a full set of completely new characters either. There are plenty of familiar names if you know anything about pirate history... or read Treasure Island (or saw Treasure Planet). This show is a prequel to the events in Robert Louis Stevenson's epic novel.
3. The White Queen
This show is a mini-series made up of 10 episodes. It covers one of my favorite historical topics: The War of the Roses. To give you an idea of the timeline... It begins with Elizabeth Woodville meeting King Edward and ends with the Battle of Bosworth. This is one of the only period dramas that I've watched more than once (three times so far), and I'll probably watch it again soon. It's an insane unraveling of events, and one of my favorite dramas to watch unfold on-screen. Also notable, "The White Queen" may refer exclusively to Elizabeth Woodville, but the show itself focuses on three harrowing women of the time. This allows the show to depict the conflict and events from three different perspectives. The other two women we focus on are Anne Neville and Margaret Beaufort.
4. Downton Abbey
How could you possibly have a period drama list and not mention the iconic Downton? This show definitely ranks in my Top 10 of all time favorite shows. It's so alluring and well-written that I couldn't believe I waited as long as I did to watch it. There is absolutely nothing violent or action-packed about Downton, so if you prefer blood and battles than this is not the show for you. However, if you prefer engaging dialogue, interesting characters, and more "soapy" drama... then this is exactly what you need to watch. There's a reason Downton garnered so many awards. It really does live up to the hype.5. Poldark
You may not have head of this one, but it's one of the best. It's a British production, so it doesn't actually air in the US. However, you can find it online. It's a lot like Downton in the 1700s Cornwall, England. The show is very focused on its setting. Cornwall is like a character of its own. This series is also based on a famous book series by Winston Graham.
One of the most mainstream period dramas to emerge in recent times... Why? Because it's a CW show. It definitely has that CW tint, which breaks away from the authenticity of the other shows I've listed. It's also the least historically accurate, which did annoy me at times. That being said, it's a fun show that any period drama will love. Megan Follows and Adelaide Kane are especially amazing in their Queenly roles. The whole cast is absolutely amazing, and it's the kind of show you can watch when you just want to relax and escape for a bit.
The History Channel's lower budget version of Game of Thrones (except loosely based on real history/myth). I've been watching this show since 2013. It's a consistent thread in my life. My roommate named her cats Loki and Ivar because of this show.
Honestly, the plot can get a bit muddled and confusing. It's the character that truly makes Vikings shine. I'll never stop watching as long as my faves are still forming shield walls and conquering the world together.