Based on a True Story: The Best TV Created from Real-Life Events

Spoilers

Inspiration can strike at any time and from any source. For some TV, the idea comes from true events throughout history.

While the storyline may get dramatized or include events that didn’t occur, the true parts can be enough to inspire a story fit for entertainment.

We’ve found our favorite 11 TV shows based on real-life events. Find out about each story’s truth, the actors who made it awesome, and where you can watch each piece.

American Crime Story (2016-ongoing)

Where to watch: Hulu subscription

American Crime Story is an anthology series focusing on criminals and crimes throughout the U.S.

This series has portrayed some of the biggest criminal cases fought in the American court system, starting with the trial of OJ Simpson in American Crime Story Season 1.

Cuba Gooding Jr as O. J. Simpson

Other high-profile cases covered in this award-winning series include the death of popular clothes designer Gianni Versace and the affair between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

We’ve seen some of our favorite celebrities lend their talents to this true crime series, including Cuba Gooden Jr. as OJ Simpson, David Schwimmer, John Travolta, Courtney V. Vance, Edie Falco, Kenneth Choi, and Beanie Feldstein.

Chernobyl (2019)

Where to watch: Max subscription

Chernobyl is a Max five-episode miniseries that recounts the worst nuclear event in world history and the chaos it’s still generating.

The series follows the Soviet Union’s nuclear power plant failure in 1986, with the first episode portraying the chaos as the power plant failed. 

Civilians watch as an explosion happens

The final four episodes depicted all the brave people who risked their lives to contain the nuclear explosion.

Along with the tragic deaths and illnesses of hundreds of people, viewers also experienced anger at the failure of the people who ran Chernobyl and of the government who tried to downplay the severity of the accident.

Emily Watson, Jared Harris, and Paul Ritter were cast members in this gripping true documentary drama, which won numerous awards for both the writing and the acting.

I Am the Night (2019)

Where to watch: Google Play movies

I Am The Night is a six-episode series based on the memoir of Fauna Hodel, the granddaughter of suspected Black Dahlia killer George Hodel.

India Eisley plays Fauna Hodel

From the horrific mutilation of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short to the awful claims of having sex with his 14-year-old daughter, Tamar, George seemed to be a bad guy all around.

Not that anyone ever proved it.

I Am the Night follows Fauna as she sets out to discover the truth of her blood family and instead uncovers a web of horrors and family secrets.

India Eisley portrays Fauna, who grew up thinking she was biracial, only to discover she has relations to one of the most infamous murders in modern history.

Chris Pine lent his talents as Jay Singletary, an L.A. journalist who helps Fauna search for her biological family. S

ingletary investigates George Hodel for the death of the young actress nicknamed Black Dahlia.

Chris Pine as Jay Singletary

Despite everything known about the crime, a suspect has never been arrested for the gruesome and terrifying L.A. murder.

Narcos (2015-2017)

Where to watch: Netflix

Anyone obsessed with true crime in the United States knows the infamous Pablo Escobar, expertly played by Wagner Moura in this three-season series.

Known as the most notorious drug kingpin in the US, Escobar made billions of dollars between the 1970s and his capture in the 90s.

Narcos is a crime drama series depicting Pablo’s many years of criminality as one of the biggest cocaine dealers in the history of the U.S.

Wagner Moura plays Pablo Escobar

From high-stakes drug deals to conflicts between kingpins and government officials, Narcos gives viewers an inside look at life as the leader of the Medellin Cartel.

The final season shows the aftermath of Escobar’s reign as the DEA tried to stop the growth of the Cali Cartel.

Wagner Moura plays the famous drug kingpin, and Steve Murphy, Alberto Ammann, and Paulina Gaitan co-star.

We Own This City (2022)

Where to watch: Max Subscription

We Own This City gives viewers a sensationalized recounting of the corruption of the Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force police before its disbandment.

Pleading the case for police ruffness on deaf ears

Multiple members of the GTTF faced charges in 2017 after years of improper behavior by police officers, leading to a gripping six-episode drama series that gave us a first-hand view of the wrongdoings.

Starring big names like Jamie Hector, Jon Bernthal, and Josh Charles, fans will face the horrors of bad policing and the aftermath of corruption in an entire police department and city.

Genius (2017 – Ongoing)

Where to watch: Rent on Apple T.V.

Genius is an anthology series that gives viewers an in-depth exploration of some of the greatest minds of our time.

Season 1 focused on one of the smartest men in the world, Einstein, capturing everything from his early years up until he discovered the theory of relativity as a renowned physicist.

Geoffery Rush as an Older Einstein

Geoffrey Rush played an older Einstein, while Johnny Flynn portrayed the young Einstein.

In Season 2, we explored the life of Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest painters of all time and possibly the most troubled.

Antonio Banderas gave a captivating portrayal of the infamous mad painter.

Season 3 depicted the life and work of famous singer Aretha Franklin, played by Cynthia Erivao.

From her childhood pregnancy at the tender age of 12 to her success as one of the best female singers of the century, there truly is no one like her.

We also get to journey through some of the greatest political activists in history, with Season 4 focusing on Martin Luther King Jr. (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Malcolm X, played by Aaron Pierre.

Aaron Pierre plays Malcolm X

Band of Brothers (2001)

Where to watch: Netflix, Hulu, Max Subscriptions

You’ll recognize some big names among the Band of Brothers cast, as many of the actors have since gone on to become successful movie stars.

This war drama miniseries, based on the Band of Brothers nonfiction novel, was the vision of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.

The series won Golden Globe and Emmy awards.

The ten-episode series follows a military outfit named Easy Company, a group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division – 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

David Schwimmer portrays a WWII soldier

Each episode of Band of Brothers features Easy Company throughout World War II, from their training to the U.S.’s invasion of Germany to the end of the war.

The show focused on an individual character every week, providing real-life recounts from severe injuries to deaths.

The series’ stars included David Schwimmer, Scott Grimes, Ron Livingston, Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, Nicholas Aaron, and Doug Allen.

Inventing Anna (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Netflix released the single-season miniseries Inventing Anna in 2022.

The series focused on the true retelling of Anna Sorokin, a fraudulent socialite who scammed nearly $300,000 out of New York City businesses.

Julia Garner as Anna Delvey

Sorokin claimed to be a German heiress from 2013 to 2017, giving her access to some of the most elite and exclusive locations and scenes.

Her name was Anna Delvey, and she was from Russia, played by Julia Garner. Vivian Kent played Anna Chlumsky, the journalist who reported on the fake heiress.

Inventing Anna is the vision of Shonda Rhimes, the mind behind Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19.

Orange is the New Black (2013-2019)

Where to watch: Netflix subscription

Orange is the New Black hooked viewers with its comedic portrayal of life in a women’s prison.

Waiting for the Bus - Orange is the New Black

While dramatized, the storyline and main character were based on real events.

The idea came from Piper Kerman’s 2010 memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.

In the series, Piper Chapman — played by Taylor Schilling — is a 33-year-old female with a 15-month prison sentence due to unknowingly transporting drug money for her ex-girlfriend Alex Vause, played by Laura Prepon.

This Netflix dramedy reached peak popularity, resulting in seven seasons by the time it went off the screen in 2019.

It’s the work of showrunner and creator Jenji Kohan, the mind behind the Showtime series Weeds.

Other significant names that joined the Orange is the New Black cast include Taryn Manning, Danielle Brooks, Uzo Aduba, and Natasha Lyonne.

Waiting in Line - Orange is the New Black

The Crown

Where to watch: Netflix

Netflix aired The Crown, a six-season historical drama depicting six decades of life as British royalty.

The series is the work of Peter Morgan, a playwright and screenwriter known for his 2005 work Frost/Nixon.

The first two seasons of the deep dive into royalty achieved major success, though the following four seasons were somewhat less captivating.

The Crown follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II, starting in 1947 before she married Prince Philip and continuing through 2005 when her son Prince Charles married Camilla.

A young Queen Elizabeth II played by Claire Foy

We saw Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, and Imelda Staunton lend their talents as the queen in various decades, Gillian Anderson in Season 4 as Margaret Thatcher, and portraying the role of Princess Diana in Season 4 as Emma Corrin.

Although we’ve only listed 11 of our favorite series based on a true story, there are many more.

So we’ll turn the dialogue over to you.

What’s your favorite TV show based on real-life events?

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Sara Trimble is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow her on X.

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