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Late summer and fall 2021 documentary TV schedule and guide

Welcome to a new reality blurred feature: a quarterly guide to documentary films and nonfiction specials on TV. If you’d like to see what’s ahead, scroll down and browse by month and week.

First, a little backstory: In my quest to keep you updated on the nonfiction television, I’ve decided to retire my weekly “This week on reality TV” stories, replacing it instead with a redesigned reality TV schedule and this new documentary guide. I keep updating my quarterly schedules constantly, and for the “this week” stories, found myself spending several hours every week rewriting those lists—and then being frustrated by how quickly my “this week” story could be out of date, like when a network or streaming service announced a premiere a day or two before an actual premiere.

In this new documentary guide, and the redesigned reality TV premiere guide, I’ve now divided the list visually by both months and weeks—and can link directly to the current week. So you’ll be able to see what’s premiering that week, and I’ll keep it updated even as new information comes in. Just look for the links on’s front page. Meanwhile, I’ll still publish occasional “this week” guides when there’s a particularly notable or exciting week.

Things you should know

This guide includes feature documentaries that are premiering on broadcast, cable, premium, and streaming TV services, from PBS to HBO, Netflix to Hulu, Discovery+ to Disney+. Some of those premieres are theatrical films making their television debuts, while others are original to television.

This list does not include documentary series—which I define, somewhat arbitrarily, as documentaries that have multiple episodes airing over multiple weeks or nights. Documentary series will always be listed on my reality TV schedule and guide.

In this guide, all times listed are in ET/PT, and were accurate at the time of publication. I frequently update this list, but since TV networks and streaming services sometimes change their schedules, make sure to check your guide or other TV listings (and please do let me know if you see something that’s changed).

Program descriptions in quotation marks indicate text that has come directly from network press releases, the show’s website, or other official materials.

I welcome any additions or changes to this list, especially because I want this to be as comprehensive and accurate a list as possible. If you have any updates, additions, or corrections, please e-mail me. Thank you!

Late summer and fall 2021 documentary premieres on TV

August | September | October | November | December

August 2021

Week of Aug. 15, 2021

Untold: Deal with the Devil (Netflix, Tuesday, Aug. 17). “boxer Christy Martin opens up about her battles in and out of the ring.”

Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes (Netflix, Wednesday, Aug. 18). “British serial killer Dennis Nilsen narrates his life and crimes via a series of chilling audiotapes recorded from his jail cell”

In the Same Breath (HBO, Wednesday, Aug. 18, at 9). “recounts the experiences of people on the ground in the earliest days of the novel coronavirus and the way two countries dealt with its initial spread”

The Smartest Kids in the World (Discovery+, Aug. 19). follows four American teenagers who go abroad to study in the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, and South Korea – nations that dramatically outperform the US in education”

Eyes on the Prize: Hallowed Ground (HBO Max, Thursday, Aug. 19). “honors Henry Hampton’s masterpiece Eyes on the Prize (1987-1990)” that “explores the profound journey for Black liberation through the voices of the movement”

Week of Aug. 22, 2021

Bring Your Own Brigade (Paramount+, Friday, Aug. 20). “An investigation into our landscape’s hidden fire stories and on-the ground experiences of firefighters and residents struggling through deadly fires

Mr. SOUL! (HBO Max, Aug. 22). Explores “the first national variety show to provide expanded images of African Americans on television” that offered “an unfiltered and uncompromising celebration of music, politics, dance, Black literature, and poetry”

Hitler’s Secret Bomb (Science Channel, Sunday, Aug. 22, at 8). “During WWII, US, German and Japanese scientists embarked on a frantic race to unlock the secrets of nuclear fission and create the world’s first nuclear bomb”

Cold Blooded Alaska (Discovery+, Aug. 24). “uncovers Alaska’s most disturbing crimes and unpacks the extraordinary lengths law enforcement working in the Last Frontier must take to bring killers to justice”

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed (Netflix, Wednesday, Aug. 25): “The never-before-seen story behind the prolific landscape artist and host of The Joy of Painting, Bob Ross”

John of God: The Crimes of a Spiritual Healer (Netflix, Wednesday, Aug. 25): “medium João Teixeira de Faria rises to international fame before horrifying abuse is revealed by survivors and prosecutors”

Lily Topples the World (Discovery+, Thursday, Aug. 26). “follows 20-year-old sensation Lily Hevesh – the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only girl in her field – as she rises as an artist, role model, and young woman”

Week of Aug. 29, 2021

The Price of Freedom (CNN, Sunday, Aug. 29, at 9). “explores gun violence in America and the history of the National Rifle Association (NRA)”

The Song of the Butterflies (El canto de las mariposas) (PBS, Monday, Aug. 30, at 10). “follows Rember Yahuarcani, an Indigenous painter from the White Heron clan of the Uitoto Nation in Peru” who returns home and “confronts the horrors his community faced as a result of the rubber boom in Peru, immersing himself in the past so that he can rediscover his own creativity”

Generation 9/11 (PBS, Tuesday, Aug. 31, at 9). “focuses on the stories of seven children whose fathers died that day, and reveals how an entire generation was shaped by the tragedy and its aftermath”

September 2021

9/11: Inside the President’s War Room (Apple TV+, Sept. 1). “explores the events of September 11, 2001 through the eyes of President Bush and his closest advisors”

Doctor’s Orders (Discovery+, Sept. 3). “wanders into the wild world of motorcycle gangs to explore the sordid truth behind a woman’s planned murder, orchestrated by a husband who believed he was too powerful to get caught”

Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James (Showtime, Friday, Sept. 3, at 9). “an intimate yet propulsive look at Rick James, one of rock, funk and R&B’s most legendary and often underappreciated figures”

Yannick—An Artist’s Journey (PBS, Friday, Sept. 3, at 9). “the music director of the Metropolitan Opera’s meteoric rise to become one of the most acclaimed and sought-after music directors of his generation”

Week of Sept. 5, 2021

CIA vs. Bin Laden: First In (Reelz, Sunday, Sept. 5, at 8). “features interviews with 18 people including senior CIA leaders who played critical roles in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, many of whom have accounts that have never been told until now”

The Chameleon Killer (ID, Sunday and Monday, Sept. 5 and 6, at 9). “detectives take viewers through a convoluted case that led to the capture of an evasive serial killer”

Ten Steps to Disaster: Twin Towers (Smithsonian, Monday, Sept. 6, at 9). “the ten steps that led to the Twin Towers disaster and what America needs to do to confront future threats”

Changed Forever 9/11 (WORLD, Monday, Sept. 6, at 9:30). “offers three storytellers who reveal how 9/11 changed their lives and the world itself”

Rebuilding Hope: The Children of 9/11 (Discovery+, Sept. 7). “Four families with children who were born after their fathers were killed on 9/11 share their stories of bravery and inspiration”

America After 9/11 (PBS, Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 9). Frontline’s look at “how four presidents responded to that fateful day and the fear it unleashed”

The Women of 9/11 (ABC, Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 9). “Four inspiring women who survived trauma and loss on 9/11 share their stories of finding purpose and peace after two decades”

Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11 (Vice, Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 9). “explores how stand-up comedians, Broadway performers, late-night hosts, Saturday Night Live cast members, The Onion staffers and a plethora of performers managed to help their audience laugh even in the darkest of days”

Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11 (MSNBC, Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 10). “In the wake of 9/11, hundreds of people recorded their stories. 20 years later, these same voices return”

Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali (Netflix, Sept. 9). “Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali’s extraordinary bond cracks under the weight of distrust and shifting ideals”

The Women and the Murderer (Netflix, Sept. 9). “follows a police chief and a murder victim’s mother in their unflagging efforts to find and prosecute a serial killer in 1990s Paris”

9/11: The Legacy (History, Friday, Sept. 10, at 7). “an intimate look into the profound impact and legacy this tragic day had on America’s children through the subsequent days and 20 years that followed”

Rise And Fall: The World Trade Center (History, Friday, Sept. 10, at 8). “a chronological look at the conception, construction and destruction of the World Trade Center towers”

Return of the Taliban (Showtime, Friday, Sept. 10, at 8). “a deeper look at the militant group that seized control of the country in 11 days, following the U.S. military withdrawal”

Detainee 101 (Showtime, Friday, Sept. 10, at 9). “unpacks the mysteries surrounding John Walker Lindh, the young American found on the battlefield in Afghanistan alongside the people who were supposed to be his enemy”

9/11: Four Flights (History, Saturday, Sept. 11, at 8). “tells the riveting and emotional human stories of those aboard each doomed jetliner”

9/11: I Was There (History, Saturday, Sept. 11, at 10). “an intimate portrayal of the events of September 11 captured by ordinary people who chose to pick up their video cameras that day”

Week of Sept. 12, 2021

Desert One (History, Sunday, Sept. 12, at 8). “tells the story of the failed US rescue attempt of American hostages being held at the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran in 1980”

Sandra Day O’Connor: The First (PBS, Monday, Sept. 13, at 9). American Experience’s profile of “the Supreme Court’s first female justice” 

You vs. Wild: Out Cold (Netflix, Sept. 14). “Bear Grylls is back for another exciting interactive movie”

Once Upon a Time in Queens (ESPN and ESPN2, Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 14 and 15, at 8). “traces the origins of the 1986 team back to the late 1970s, when the Mets were a listless, struggling franchise – and New York City was nearly bankrupt.”

Boeing’s Fatal Flaw (PBS, Tuesday, Sept. 14, at 9). “tells the inside story of the fastest selling jet in Boeing history, how a software system that was supposed to keep people safe led to their deaths, and how intense market pressure and flawed oversight contributed to a catastrophic crisis”

Schumacher (Netflix, Sept. 15). “The life of Michael Schumacher, who rose to a Formula One icon thanks to a daring and defiant spirit, is explored in this insightful documentary”

Bat Superpowers (PBS, Sept. 15, at 9). “NOVA meets the scientists who are decoding the superpowers of the bat”

My Heroes Were Cowboys (Netflix, Sept. 16). “Robin Wiltshire, an immigrant inspired by the iconography of the Hollywood western, finds meaning and redemption through the art of horse training”

Move Fast and Vape Things (FX and Hulu, Friday, Sept. 17, at 10). “How did the founders of Juul lose their way and end up accused of addicting a whole new generation?”

Black Power: A British Story of Resistance (Amazon, Sept. 17). “examines how the Black Power movement came into being in the UK in the late 1960s and fought back against police brutality and racism, challenging the British establishment and helping to shape a new political and cultural landscape in the UK”

Subnormal: A British Scandal (Amazon, Sept. 17). focuses on “one of the biggest scandals in the history of British education, where Black children in the 1960s and ‘70s were disproportionately sent to schools for the so-called ‘educationally subnormal'”

Week of Sept. 19, 2021

Voices Magnified: Mental Health Crisis (A&E, Monday, Sept. 20, at 10). “showcases honest and personal stories of Americans from across the country highlighting the critical issue of mental health in America”

Heval (Curiosity Stream, Sept. 23). “explores the gripping real-life story of British-born actor Michael Enright, who abandoned his Hollywood career to volunteer for the fight against ISIS in Syria”

The Toolbox Killer (Peacock, Sept. 23, then Oxygen, Oct. 3). “America’s most sadistic serial killer, Lawrence Bittaker, describes his 1979 killing spree”

The Show (Showtime, Friday, Sept. 24, at 9). “chronicles the massive undertaking behind one of the most iconic musical performances of the year”: “the making of the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show”

Week of Sept. 26, 2021

Escaping Captivity: The Kara Robinson Story (Oxygen, Sunday, Sept. 26, at 7). “a gripping first-hand account of a teenager’s tenacious will to survive a serial killer”

Citizen Hearst (PBS, Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 27 and 28, at 9). American Experience’s profile of “William Randolph Hearst, who, by the 1930s, controlled a vast media empire, achieving unprecedented power”

Voices Magnified: Youth Digital Crisis (A&E, Monday, Sept. 27, at 10). “examines at how the digital world is impacting the mental health of America’s youth”

In Their Own Words: Jimmy Carter (PBS, Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 8). “the inspiring story of a long-shot outsider who fought his way to the top office in the world, beat the odds against him again and again”

In Their Own Words: Elon Musk (PBS, Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 8). “how Musk went from bullied boy to young innovator to self-taught rocket scientist, ultimately becoming one of the richest men in the world”

The Cannabis Question (PBS, Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 9). “a new film exploring our relationship with cannabis, uncovering what scientists have discovered about the plant’s effects on the body and brain, including its potential risks and medicinal benefits, and the demonization and criminalization that has disproportionately harmed communities of color”

October 2021

A Sinister Sect: Colonia Dignidad (Netflix, Oct. 1). “A colony of German Christians with a charismatic and manipulative leader establishes itself in Chile and becomes instrumental to the dictatorship”

The Most Magical Story on Earth: 50 Years of Walt Disney World (ABC, Friday, Oct. 1, at 8). “will take viewers through Walt Disney World’s humble beginnings in the swamplands of Florida and its evolution into a cultural phenomenon”

Week of Oct. 3, 2021

The Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet (Discovery Channel, Sunday, Oct. 3, at 4 p.m., and Discovery+, Oct. 3). Earthshot Prize Council members “showcase the environmental challenges facing our planet as well as introduce us to inspiring leaders who are working to provide vital real world solutions to repair our planet.”

Fruits of Labor (PBS, Monday, October 4, at 10). POV says “Ashley, a Mexican American teenager, dreams of graduating high school, but increased ICE raids in her coastal California community threaten the family’s stability since her mother is undocumented”

Lights, Camera, Acciòn (PBS, Tuesday, Oct. 5). “a celebration of the incredible impact Latinos have made in Hollywood — past, present and future, with a focus on the exciting new wave of talent that is blazing their own trail in the industry”

Five Years North (World, Tuesday, Oct. 5, at 8). “the story of Luis, an undocumented Guatemalan boy who arrives in New York City with little support and many responsibilities, and Judy, a veteran ICE agent who must weigh the human cost of her work”

American Masters‘ documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It (PBS, Tuesday, October 5, at 9). “how Moreno defied her humble upbringing and racism to become one of a select group of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winners”

Among the Stars (Disney+, Oct. 6). “behind-the-scenes access to the critically important NASA mission of repairing a $2 billion science experiment, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), which aims to reveal the origins of the universe”

Particles Unknown (PBS, Oct. 6, at 9). “NOVA joins an international team of neutrino hunters whose discoveries may change our understanding of how the universe works

15 Minutes of Shame (HBO Max, Oct. 7). “examines social behavior by embedding with individuals from across the U.S. who have been publicly shamed or cyber-harassed”

Justin Bieber: Our World (Amazon, Oct. 8). “takes viewers backstage, onstage and into the private world of the global superstar as he prepares for a record-breaking New Year’s Eve 2020 concert.”

Jacinta (Hulu, Oct. 8). “follows a young woman who struggles to find stability amid years of addiction and reconnect with the daughter she left behind”

Week of Oct. 10, 2021

Cured (PBS, Monday, Oct. 11, at 10). Independent Lens’s documentary that “follows the psychiatrists and activists who fought to remove homosexuality from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in the early 1970s”

Convergence: Courage in Crisis (Netflix, Oct. 12). “spans eight countries and 9 individual stories … [and] follows everyday citizens across the globe as they rise to the challenges of this upheaval in extraordinary ways”

Making Malinche: A Documentary by Nacho Cano (Netflix, Oct. 12). “Join the creative process behind Nacho Cano’s new musical based on the love story of Malinche and Hernán Cortés and the merging of their two worlds”

American Reckoning (PBS, Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 9). “the killing of NAACP leader Wharlest Jackson in Natchez, Mississippi in 1967, a family’s search for answers, and the history and limits of a federal effort to right wrongs in our country’s past”

Arctic Drift (PBS, Oct. 13, at 9). “Join scientists on the biggest Arctic research expedition of all time”

The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+, Oct. 15). “shows just how the group became a cultural touchstone representing a range of contradictions”

Ready to Love (OWN, Oct. 15, Fridays at 8). “the real-life dating interactions of sexy, successful, and grown black men and women in their 30s and 40s who are each looking for lasting love and an authentic relationship”

La Frontera with Pati Jinich (PBS, Friday, Oct. 15 and 22, at 9). “acclaimed chef and James Beard Award-winning host Pati Jinich … experiences the region’s rich culture, people and cuisine”

Letters to Eloisa (PBS, Friday, Oct. 15, at 10). “tells the story of Cuba’s José Lezama Lima, an all but forgotten figure of the Latin American literary boom that included Gabriel García Márquez, Octavio Paz and Mario Vargas Llosa”

Week of Oct. 17, 2021

Newsworthy (WORLD, Monday, Oct. 18, at 9:30). “the behind-the-headlines stories of the people who bring us the news”

Becoming Helen Keller (PBS, Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 9). “Revisit Helen Keller’s rich career and explore how she perpetually put her celebrity to use to advocate for human rights in the pursuit of social justice for all, particularly women, the poor and people with disabilities”

Found (Netflix, Oct. 20). “After DNA tests reveal them to be cousins, three girls adopted by different American families travel to China in hopes of meeting their birth parents.”

My Garden of a Thousand Bees (PBS, Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 8). The 40th season premiere of Nature focuses on “Martin Dohrn, a veteran wildlife cameraman and a bee enthusiast, [who] embarked on a special challenge … to film all the bees he could find in his tiny urban garden”

Secrets of the Dead: Magellan’s Crossing (PBS, Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 10). “Five hundred years ago, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew set sail … laying the groundwork for colonization and globalization still felt today”

Introducing, Selma Blair (Discovery+, Oct. 21). “follows the singular actress as she reckons with the next chapter of her life after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis”

Flip a Coin: ONE OK ROCK Documentary (Netflix, Oct. 21). “Unable to tour in 2020, the members of ONE OK ROCK work for months to put on an online concert that matches the energy of their in-person shows”

Week of Oct. 24, 2021

Resilience (WORLD, Monday, Oct. 25, at 9:30). “features three Houston-based tellers sharing tales of difficult obstacles that helped them learn to bend, not break”

Things We Dare Not Do (PBS, Monday, Oct. 25 at 10). “In the small Mexican coastal village of El Roblito, 16-year-old Ñoño … works up the courage to tell his family he wants to live his life as a woman”

Sex: Unzipped (Netflix, Oct. 26). “Saweetie will be joined by sex experts, talking heads, and a crew of sex-positive puppets who are representative of the broad spectrum of sex and sexualities that exist in real life to help address and describe some of the biggest myths, misconceptions, and experiences when it comes to sex and identity”

Season of the Osprey (PBS, Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 8). “cameraman Jacob Steinberg has achieved unlimited access to an osprey nest and captured the struggles, failures and triumphs of a single osprey family”

The Motive (Netflix, Oct. 28). “Decades after a 14-year-old boy brutally killed his family in Jerusalem in 1986, this documentary revisits the horrifying crime”

Now Hear This: Beethoven’s Ghost (PBS, Friday, Oct. 29, at 9). “Scott Yoo and fellow musicians undertake a recording of Beethoven’s most personal music at a historic Berkshires manor to explore the composer’s brilliant career”

Week of Oct. 31, 2021

November 2021

The Co-Ed Killer: Mind of a Monster (Investigation Discovery, Monday, Nov. 1, at 9). “explore[s] Ed Kemper “The Co-Ed Killer” and Herbert Mullin, two serial killers who operated at the same time in Santa Cruz, California”

North By Current (PBS, Monday, Nov. 1, at 10). “Filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax returns to his rural Michigan hometown after the death of his young niece” and “examines family, faith, and trans identity”

Police on Trial (PBS, Tuesday, Nov. 2, at 10). “an extraordinary on-the-ground view of the trial of the Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd”

The Oratorio: A Documentary with Martin Scorsese (PBS, Friday, Nov. 5, at 9). “the long-forgotten story of the 1826 performance that brought Italian opera to New York City”

Week of Nov. 7, 2021

Ferguson Rises (PBS, Monday, Nov. 8, at 10). “the aftermath and protests following Michael Brown Jr.’s killing through a wide range of community members”

Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman (History, Nov. 9, Tuesdays at 10). “will reveal in detail history’s greatest escapes from some of the most notorious prisons in the world”

Born in the Rockies (PBS, Wednesday, Nov. 10 and 17, at 8). “Follow the lives of the courageous animal families struggling to survive in one of the most challenging habitats on Earth”

Kevin Garnett: Anything is Possible (Showtime, Friday, Nov. 12, at 9). “spotlights Garnett’s remarkable career and the progressive moments that defined it”

Week of Nov. 14, 2021

Storm Lake (PBS, Monday, Nov. 15, at 10). “A dogged family-run paper in Iowa gives citizens the scoop on forces threatening to overwhelm their precarious small-town existence”

American Exile (PBS, Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 10). “Brothers Manuel and Valente Valenzuela both volunteered and fought in Vietnam. Fifty years later, they are among thousands of veterans who are being deported”

Week of Nov. 21, 2021

Duty Free (PBS, Monday, Nov. 22, at 10). “After 75-year-old Rebecca is fired from her lifelong job, her son takes her on a series of bucket list adventures while reflecting on America’s plight of ageism and insecurity”

Home from School: The Children of Carlisle (PBS, Tuesday, Nov. 23, at 10). “dives into the history of the flagship federal boarding school and chronicles the modern-day journey of tribal members who seek to recover what remains of the Arapaho children more than 100 years after they perished”

The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+, Nov. 25, 26, and 27). Directed by Peter Jackson, “takes audiences back in time to the band’s intimate recording sessions during a pivotal moment in music history”

December 2021

Week of Dec. 6, 2021

Craft in America (PBS, Dec. 10, at 9 and 10). Harmony bridges art forms, exploring the power of music and craft,” while “Jewelry explores the artistry and impact of personal adornment.”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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