This is a list of the best crime TV series and detective shows. Many people likely get their original inspiration to become a private investigator, detective, police officer, or forensic specialist from watching their favorite crime series and detective shows on TV.
Although Hollywood’s depiction of the investigation and crime scene work performed by police officers and private investigators often over-glamorizes the professions, the wide variety of high-quality series helps position it as an exciting and interesting career.
Usually, TV crime shows involve fictional characters. However, many of the plot lines come straight from newspaper headlines of the time.
List of the Best Crime TV Series and Detective Shows
Following is an ever-evolving list of the best crime TV series. Most season episodes are available on DVD and to stream on Amazon Video. State a Free Trial on Amazon Prime Watch thousands of movies and TV shows anytime.
The series stars Kiefer Sutherland. It uses a unique storytelling approach, with each episode covering 24 hours in the life of Jack Bauer. Also, each season has 24 episodes.
Baretta is an American detective television series on the ABC television network from 1975 to 1978. Baretta is the evolution of a show called Toma. Toma starred Tony Musante as a chameleon-like, real-life New Jersey police officer named David Toma. While the original Toma program was popular, it received much criticism. The criticism was due to its realistic and frequent depiction of police and criminal violence. When Musante left the series after a single season, the concept became Baretta, with Robert Blake starring in the title role.
The show went on to become one of the classic ’70s police crime dramas and is still popular today. Like other gritty police dramas of the era, you’ll get time-relevant plot lines, interesting characters, and solid performances. If you long for “the good ole days” of police and detective crime series, this one will never disappoint.
Baretta is a classic gritty, undercover cop who butts heads with his superior officers. His character lives in a run-down motel with his pet cockatoo bird. If you’re a fan of ’70s police dramas, you will surely enjoy a nostalgic return to Baretta.
The TV series Barney Miller is a comedy show about a fictional police station in New York City. Captain Miller (Hal Linden) struggles to keep control of the wit and sarcasm of one of the funniest groups of police detectives on TV.
The show brought us popular characters like Fish, Wojo, and more.
Even today, it remains one of the best comedy crime TV series.
Boston Legal – Boston Legal is a legal comedy/drama by David E. Kelley. Examples of his work include The Practice, Alley McBeal, and Picket Fences. The show follows the personal and professional lives of a Boston Law firm’s brilliant and emotional attorneys.
The show’s primary stars are James Spader and William Shatner, who both won Emmys for their performances.
Burn Notice is an American television comedy-drama series by Matt Nix. The show stars Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell, and Sharon Glass. Initially, the program premiered on June 28, 2007, on the USA Network. The show’s taglines are, “Spies don’t get fired, they get burned” and “Sun. Surf. Espionage.” The show’s premise involves a formerly blacklisted spy who uses his unique skills to help people in need. The main character works with a team of ex-intelligence specialists whose skills range from technical to tactical. Cast includes:
- Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan)
- Ex-girlfriend (Gabrielle Anwar)
- Goofy sidekick (Bruce Campbell)
- Meddling mom (Sharon Gless, Cagney & Lacey)
Cagney & Lacey
Cagney & Lacey is an American television series aired on the CBS television network in 1982. It ran for a total of seven full seasons from 1982 to 1988. Cagney and Lacey was American television’s first serious police crime drama series with two female leads. A ground-breaking achievement for the early ’80s.
As a typical police and law enforcement procedure-type series, the show stars Sharon Gless and television actress Tyne Daly as two New York City police detectives with very different lives. Christine Cagney (Gless) was a single, career-minded woman, while Mary Beth Lacey (Daly) was a typical married but working wife and mother. Although they both lead very different lifestyles, they are still successful police detectives.
The program is set in a fictional version of a Manhattan police precinct. This particular show was set in real life in Manhattan’s 14th Precinct (Midtown South), at 357 West 35th Street.
A groundbreaking show featured three beautiful women working for a private investigation agency. Charlie’s Angels is a television series about three beautiful women who work for a private investigation agency. It was one of the first TV shows to showcase women in starring roles traditionally reserved for men.
Charlie’s Angels was broadcast on the ABC Television Network from 1976 to 1981. It was one of the most successful TV series of the 1970s. Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts created the series. Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg were the producers. In addition, the show was well-known for portraying beautiful women in action. As a result, the show has a following due to its credible action sequences and the relationship shared between the three angels, Charlie and Bosley. In addition, two hit movies spun off from the series – Charlie’s Angels and Full Throttle.
CHiPs is a television drama series by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (now Turner Entertainment) that initially aired on the NBC television network from 1977 to 1983. The program followed two motorcycle police officers of the California Highway Patrol as they patrolled the California highways and streets, looking for criminals and solving crimes. The successful series ran for 139 episodes over six seasons.
The show was known primarily for its highway action, with plenty of car wrecks and interstate pile-ups in every episode. It was also known for its comedic elements amid drama and action. The show’s primary actors and actresses included Larry Wilcox (Jon), Erik Estrada (Ponch), Robert Pine, and Tom Reilly. Of course, Erik Estrada was the show’s breakout star.
A classic, timeless detective show.
Crime Scene Investigation (CSI)
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is an American crime drama television series. It premiered on the CBS network on October 6, 2000, and ran for nine seasons. Anthony E. Zuiker created the series, and Jerry Bruckheimer produced it. Filming was primarily at Universal Studios in Universal City, California. CSI follows the investigations of a team of Las Vegas forensic scientists and crime scene specialists as they uncover the circumstances behind mysterious and unusual deaths and other types of crimes.
CSI was the top show on the network several different times. However, it was criticized for inaccurately portraying the actual process of law enforcement investigations. In addition, it was criticized for excessive violence. Yet, CSI has received numerous nominations for industry awards and has won nine awards during its history. In addition, the success of the television program led to the two spins offs.
Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Miami
CSI – Crime Scene Investigation – Miami – Another popular series in the CSI franchise.
Dog the Bounty Hunter
Dog the Bounty Hunter – Offers an exciting view into bounty hunting. Watch as Dog, and his team apprehend criminals and bring them to justice.
The Dragnet TV series, syndicated as Badge 714, was a radio and television crime drama about the criminal cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his police partners.
The Dragnet television show takes its name from an actual police term, a “dragnet.” The term means a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects. The series is considered one of the most influential police dramas, as it helped improve the public image of police officers.
The Dragnet TV program gave millions of audience members a feel for the monotony, boredom, and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism involved in true police work. Dragnet earned high praise from critics and audiences for improving the general public opinion of police officers.
Actor and producer Jack Webb’s goals for the Dragnet show were to portray a realistic, true-life picture of police officers and their day-to-day lives. He achieved both, and the show continued to influence subsequent police TV crime dramas for many years.
Get Smart is an American television comedy series that satirizes the secret agent genre. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created the series. The show starred actor Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, known as “Agent 86”, and Barbara Feldon as “Agent 99”. The duo worked for CONTROL, a secret American government agency focused on counter-espionage.
The show ran for 138 episodes and continues to run in syndication. The Get Smart series was nominated for fourteen Emmy Awards and won another seven. In addition, the show won two Golden Globe Awards.
Hart to Hart
The American television series Hart to Hart stars actor Robert Wagner and actress Stefanie Powers. Sidney Sheldon created and wrote the series, and Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg produced it. The show ran on the ABC television network from 1979 to 1984.
Robert Wagner plays Jonathan Hart, a self-made millionaire and the Chief Executive Officer of Hart Industries. Stephanie Powers plays his wife, Jennifer, a beautiful freelance writer. The two were a wealthy couple who led a glamorous lifestyle but always worked as detectives investigating and solving crimes in which they became involved. Wagner and Powers had great on-screen chemistry, one of the main reasons the show worked so well. Their servant, Max, also helped the couple solve many cases.
Hawaii Five-O is a series about a police force in Hawaii. The series includes action-packed episodes of Steve McGarrett and his team. The team of detectives investigates crimes and tracks down criminals.
Each show ends with McGarrett’s famous line, “Book ’em, Dan-O”!
Hill Street Blues
Hill Street Blues is a police drama show aired on the NBC television network in 1981. The series ran for 146 episodes. Similar to many other police crime dramas, the television series chronicles the lives of the staff of a fictional police precinct in an unnamed American city. Hill Street Blues received high critical acclaim, and its innovations proved to be highly influential on serious dramatic television series.
JAG (Judge Advocate General)
JAG (the American Military acronym for Judge Advocate General) is an American adventure and legal drama television show produced by Belisarius Productions in association with Paramount Network Television and, for the show’s first season only, NBC Productions.
The program aired on NBC in 1995 but was canceled in 1996 due to low ratings. The CBS network picked up the series in 1997, and the show continued to air for another nine successful seasons. The show aired for ten seasons and continues to run in syndication.
Knight Rider is an American television series from 1982 to 1986. Knight Rider was broadcast on the NBC television network.
Michael Knight, played by David Hasselhoff, drove a talking car named Kit (a tricked-out, futuristic black Firebird that was quite popular at the time) powered by artificial intelligence.
The show was conceived and produced by Glen A. Larson and was an instant sensation.
Kojak is an American television series starring Telly Savalas as the charismatic, bald New York City Police Department Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak. The detective series aired on the CBS television network from October 24, 1973, to March 18, 1978. The show was well-regarded for its accurate depiction of police work and did not rely on the outrageous act of violence. The show had intelligent plots that were well-delivered by the main character. This helped attract many famous guest stars and helped the series run for five great seasons.
Telly Savalas used a lollipop to help cut back on smoking. His character Kojak admitted once that he smoked too much and sucked on lollipops every day except on Sundays. The show was revived in 2005 with Ving Rhames in the starring role. A reasonable effort, but it falls way short of the original classic.
Law & Order
Law & Order is an American police procedural and legal drama television series created by Dick Wolf. It has been broadcast on NBC since its debut on September 13, 1990. Set in New York City, the series follows the professional lives of several police officers and prosecutors who represent the public interest in the criminal justice system.
The series’ success led to the creation of additional shows within the Law & Order franchise. The program is the longest-running primetime drama currently on American television. The show was recently renewed for the twentieth season, which will tie it with Gunsmoke as the longest-running prime-time drama in American television history. See also Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
MacGyver is always ready and able to figure out how to make things work with what he has available.
One of the best crime TV series of all time. A former Naval Intelligence officer named Thomas Magnum resigned his Navy commission to become a private investigator on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Magnum P.I. made being a private investigator cool and led many to pursue a career in the field.
Mannix – starring Mike Connors as Joe Mannix and Gail Fisher as Peggy Fair.
Matlock is an American television legal drama that stars Andy Griffith in the title role of Ben Matlock. On the popular legal show, Andy Griffith plays an Atlanta defense lawyer who charges $100,000 per case to defend clients by finding the real killer.
Miami Vice is an American television series that Michael Mann produced for the NBC network. The Miami Vice television show became noted for its heavy integration of music and visual effects to aid in telling the story. Miami Vice starred actors Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas as two Metro-Dade Police detectives working undercover in Miami. Miami Vice ran for a total of five seasons on NBC. Music was an integral part of the show’s vibe and often included hit songs from various artists, many of whom guest-starred on the popular show. Jan Hammer performed the program’s catchy theme song.
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, which stars actor Stacy Keach in the show’s title role, is a television series that originally aired on the CBS television network from January 28, 1984, to January 12, 1985. The detective TV series consists of 24 sixty-minute episodes.
The show followed the adventures of Mike Hammer, the fictitious private detective created by crime writer Mickey Spillane, as he tracks criminals on the streets of New York City. The series ran for 26 episodes. Critical reviews were mixed due to the violence.
- Mike Hammer, played by actor Stacy Keach
- Don Stroud as Captain Pat Chambers
- Lindsay Bloom as Hammer’s secretary Velda
- Kent Williams as Assistant District Attorney Lawrence D. Barrington
Mission: Impossible is an American television series created and initially produced by Bruce Geller. The series chronicles the missions of a team of secret American government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). The leader of the group was Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves. A hallmark of the Mission Impossible television series shows Phelps receiving his instructions on a tape that then self-destructs. The scene is accompanied by music composed by Lalo Schifrin, which is widely considered one of the most iconic television music themes.
The Mission Impossible series aired on the CBS network from September 1966 to March 1973. It returned to television, as a revival, for two seasons on ABC from 1988 to 1990.
The Mod Squad
Moonlighting is the series that launched the acting career of Bruce Willis.
Murder She Wrote
Murder, She Wrote is an American television mystery series starring Angela Lansbury, who plays mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher. The show aired for twelve seasons from 1984 to 1996 on the CBS television network. The series also had four TV films and a spin-off, The Law & Harry McGraw. It earned 41 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and 16 Golden Globe nominations during its many years of broadcast.
NCIS – Naval Criminal Investigation Service is one of the best crime TV series.
NYPD Blue is an American police drama series set in New York City that ran on the ABC network from 1993 to 2005. The show ran for a total of twelve seasons, which included 261 episodes. It was created by Steven Bochco and David Milch and inspired by Milch’s relationship with Bill Clark, a former member of the New York City Police Department. He eventually became one of the show’s producers.
The show explores the internal and external struggles of the fictional 15th precinct of Manhattan. Each NYPD Blue episode typically covers a day and intertwines several plots involving an ensemble cast. It received critical praise due to its realistic portrayal of life as a detective on the streets and in their off-duty life. Stars John Kelly (David Caruso and Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz).
Quincy – Medical Examiner
Rockford Files with James Garner is one of the best crime TV series for private investigators. Undoubtedly, Jim Rockford inspired many people to become private eyes.
Simon & Simon
Starsky & Hutch
The Starsky & Hutch television series consisted of a 90-minute pilot movie (originally aired as a television Movie of the Week) and 92 episodes consisting of 60 minutes each. The series was created by William Blinn and produced by Spelling-Goldberg Productions. It ran from 1975 to 1979 on the ABC television network. Columbia Pictures Television distributed it in the United States and, initially, Metromedia Producers Corporation in Canada. Sony Pictures Television is now a worldwide distributor.
Much more than a typical 1970’s buddy cop show, Starsky and Hutch was noted for its sometimes envelope-pushing violence, extreme physicality, serious storylines, outrageous style, and humor. The show was later made into a movie starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. The primary cast members on the show include:
- Dave Starsky (played by actor Paul Michael Glaser)
- Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (played by actor David Soul)
- Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas)
- Captain Dobey (Bernie Hamilton)
The show’s two main characters are detectives, so they weren’t required to drive the standard police patrol vehicle. Their red and white Ford Gran Torino went on to become a visual symbol that was strongly associated with the show. The two used an informant named Huggy Bear to obtain street-level information or to “get the word on the street.” Huggy provided inside information he heard from his connections, often offering valuable leads to solving the case.
The Streets of San Francisco
The first season of Hill Street Blues won an astounding eight Emmy awards; a record surpassed only by The West Wing. During its run, it received 98 Emmy Award nominations. The show ran for a total of 146 episodes over the course of seven seasons.
Remington Steele – Starring Pierce Brosnan.
The Closer television series is an American crime drama on the TNT television network from 2005 to 2012. The show ran for a total of 109 episodes. The series stars well-known actress Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson. Sedgwick plays a Georgia police detective who moves to Los Angeles, California. There, she leads the Priority Murder Squad (later renamed the Priority Homicide Division), which is a special police team that focuses specifically on high-profile murder cases.
The show received nominations for many awards, including Golden Globe Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Saturn Awards, Emmys, and many more. Kyra Sedgwick received nominations and won awards almost every season the show was on the air.
The A-Team is an American action-adventure television series about a fictional group of ex-United States Army Special Forces men who work as soldiers of fortune who are on the run from the military. They were on the run for a “crime they didn’t commit” while in Vietnam. The series debuted in 1983 and ran for five seasons on the NBC television network. Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell wrote and produced the series. Cannell. The members of the A-Team cast consist of:
- Lieutenant Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (George Peppard)
- Lieutenant Templeton “Face” Peck (Dirk Benedict)
- Seargent Bosco Albert (B.A. or Bad Attitude)
- Baracus (Mr. T)
- Captain H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz)
The Shield is an American drama series aired on the FX Network. The show was primarily known for its controversial portrayal of corrupt police officers and law enforcement officials. Originally, “Rampart” was the series’ name about the true life Rampart Division police scandal. Its Strike Team was loosely based upon the Rampart Division. Shawn Ryan and The Barn Productions created the show for Fox Television Studios and Sony Pictures Television.
Walker Texas Ranger
Walker Texas Ranger – Starring Chuck Norris
Best Crime TV Series DVD Packages and Boxed Sets
Many DVD sets include extras and bonus features such as interviews with the cast, crew, director, and producers, voice-over reviews with the director, bonus episodes and extra content, made-for-TV movies, promos, montages, and never before seen footage. Buying the physical set often comes with content you can’t find anywhere else. If you’re a die-hard fan of a particular show, actor, or actress, your best bet is to buy the complete package instead of trying to watch everything online. View a list of all TV Crime Series on DVD at Amazon.com.
Online Streaming Options
Many episodes and full-season reruns are available through online television services providers like Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix (see below). In addition, all of the police dramas and crime programs are available on DVD and video from Amazon.com.
With Amazon Prime, you can watch thousands of movies and TV shows anytime. We recommend this option if searching for a quick, easy, reliable way to cut the cable. Start an Amazon Prime (FREE Trial) now.
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