Primary production in freshwater ecosystems is largely a function of light and nutrient availability, both of which have been changing in many lakes and reservoirs in response to anthropogenic pressures. Recent studies focusing on natural lakes have found a hump-shaped response of primary production (sometimes measured as chlorophyll-a) to dissolved organic matter (DOM, measured as dissolved organic carbon, DOC), which has both light-absorbing chromophoric properties and DOM-bound nutrients. We used the United States National Lakes Assessment dataset to integrate reservoirs into this paradigm in comparison with natural lakes and assessed the relative differences in the predicted response’s model structure, regression parameter values, and drivers of the chlorophyll-a residuals. We found that chlorophyll-a in reservoirs exhibited a hump-shaped response to DOC, while natural lakes from this dataset were better fit with a linear response, differing from previous studies focused on boreal lakes. Despite this, reservoirs had a greater maximum chlorophyll-a response compared to natural lakes in this study (45.5 versus 33.8 μg L−1), which occurred at a lower DOC concentration threshold (18.3 versus 26.4 mg L−1) when compared using quadratic models. Reservoirs had lower median light:nutrient values compared to natural lakes, and greater median surface area and total phosphorus (TP), that can all influence the light environment and the peak chlorophyll-a responses. In both reservoirs and natural lakes, chlorophyll-a residuals were most strongly influenced by TP, where TP < 25–30 µg L−1 suppressed chlorophyll-a residuals and higher TP amplified them. Light:nutrient values were somewhat important predictors, and patterns with chlorophyll-a residuals supported previous work showing low light:nutrient values amplified chlorophyll-a responses and higher values suppressed them. Quantifying the shape of the response of primary production to DOM quantity and quality as well as the drivers of the residuals, namely TP for lakes and reservoirs in this dataset, will be important for understanding the effects that changes in water quality may have on primary production and freshwater ecosystem processes.