18 Shows That Will Help Prevent Reality TV from Rotting your Brain

With summer's annual scripted-programming drought upon us—and a limit to how many hours of The Bachelorette we can take before we start to feel our IQs slipping—we decided to spend some time exploring TV's more educational side. Below, you'll find 18 shows (many of which you can watch here at TV.com) that will fill your head with useful (and fascinating!) factoids instead of numbing your brain with the sound of bickering crazy people. At the very least, they'll give you something interesting to talk about at the season's upcoming barbecues. Here's a sample syllabus:

Contemporary Arts and Aesthetics

In this course, we'll explore the role of the artist and filmmaker as integral players in political, economic, cultural, societal matters.

Art: 21 (find 16 full episodes on TV.com)
In each episode, a handful of artists like Matthew Barney, Jenny Holzer, and William Kentridge speak to a chosen theme with their work.

Independent Lens (find 14 full episodes on TV.com)
This series is a showcase for varying types and lengths of independent films, from short comedies to documentaries, currently hosted by indie darling Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Global Voices (find 17 full episodes on TV.com)
Dedicated solely to documentaries about people around the world, all of which are made by incredible international filmmakers.

Modern Day Heroes: Humans with Super Abilities

In this course, we'll investigate the societal influence of individuals who push the boundaries of being human.

Jean Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures (find 4 full episodes on TV.com)
Learn about the real life aquatic from the man who really lives it.

Man vs. Wild
Fake or not, Bear Grylls really does spout plenty of legit survival tips.

Dog Whisperer (watch 2 clips on TV.com)
Cesar Millan, a Dr. Doolittle of sorts, can tame the wildest and yappiest of dogs.

Gravity, Fire, and Robots: (Lab Credit)

In this course, we'll study the entertaining chemistry and physics experiments created by select TV science pros.

This incredible team of scientists, builders, and tinkerers works tirelessly to scientifically dispel urban legends.

Catch it Keep It
This game show invites contestants to save their prize from utter destruction. Each episode is a lesson in physics and anxiety management.

Wired Science (watch 10 episodes on TV.com)
Editors of Wired magazine investigate the newest discoveries in science and technology.

Psychology 301: Interests of the Adolescent Male

In this course, we'll investigate the motivations and interests of the teenage boy.

X Play on G4 (find 24 clips on TV.com)
This weekly series reviews newly released video games.

Web Soup (find 18 clips on TV.com)
Adolescents spend a lot of their time watching humorous videos on the internet. This series showcases those videos and may give us some insight into the teenage mind.

Paranormal TV (find 22 clips on TV.com)
This series explores another topic of fascination among many adolescents—ghosts!

Macro to Micro: A trippy approach to Biology

In this course, we'll focus on the workings of the world, from the tiniest of insects to the vastness of the galaxy.

Life (find 1 clip on TV.com)
Through this series, we'll learn the survival tactics and mating rituals of many plants and animals.

Planet Earth
This series reveals the inner-workings of the planet we call home.

Nova (find 23 full episodes on TV.com)
Through this series, we'll study the impact of monumental scientific discoveries.

Extreme Occupations 101 (Field Research Credit)

We'll attempt to gain some job experience by obvserving folks with extreme occupations while they work.

American Dragster (find 6 full episodes on TV.com)
Learn the ins and outs of drag racing from risk-seeking drivers.

Deadliest Catch
Travel the tumultuous Bering Sea during crabbing season with a crew of daring fisherman.

Crcodile Hunter
Learn from the late (great) animal lover Steve Irwin.

Comments (4)
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Jun 24, 2010
Nova is usually interesting.
Jun 23, 2010
I love MythBusters but that's it.
Jun 23, 2010
I LOVE this article. Shows the diverse range of content across the site. Much appreciated...thanks Ilana!
Jun 23, 2010
Is this a joke? Most of the time I hate it when people bad mouth these articles... but really... Deadliest Catch? Web Soup? X-Play? Dog Whisperer? These are the shows that are supposed to make us think?
The first category was really good.... then this article went extremely downhill.