This article provides a list of the best crime TV series and detective shows. Many people develop their original interest in becoming a private detective, police officer or forensic specialist from watching their favorite crime series and detective shows on TV.
We were inspired by characters like Thomas Magnum cruising the island of Hawaii in a sleek red Ferrari. Or, watching James Garner outsmart the criminals on the Rockford files. And some of us may even quote famous lines like “Just one more thing” from Colombo or “Just the facts ma’am” from Dragnet.
Although Hollywood’s depiction of investigation and crime scene work performed by police officers and private investigators often over-glamorizes the professions, the wide variety of high quality series help position it as an exciting and interesting career.
TV crime shows are usually built around fictional characters, but many of the plot lines are pulled straight from newspaper headlines of the times.
List of the Best Crime TV Series and Detective Shows
Following is an ever-evolving list of the best crime TV series. Most of the season episodes are available on DVD and to stream at Amazon Video:
A Former Naval Intelligence officer named Thomas Magnum resigns his commission in the Navy to become a private investigator on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Magnum P.I.
Rockford Files with James Garner
6Law & 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 success of the series led to the creation of additional shows within the Law & Order franchise. The series is the longest-running prime-time drama currently on American television. The show was recently renewed for a 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.
NCIS – Naval Criminal Investigation Service is one of the best crime TV series of all time.
8The Streets of San Francisco
Baretta is a American detective television series that ran on the ABC television network from 1975 to 1978. Baretta was a modified version of a previous show, Toma. Toma starred Tony Musante as chameleon-like, real-life New Jersey police officer named David Toma. While the original Toma series was actually popular, it received a great deal of criticism at the time for its realistic and frequent depiction of police and criminal violence. When Musante left the series after a single season, the concept was remade as Baretta, with Robert Blake starring in the title role.
The show went on to become one of the classic 70’s police crime dramas and is still popular today. Similar to 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 70’s police dramas, you’re sure to be satisfied with a nostalgic return to Baretta.
10Simon & Simon
11Starsky & 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. Starsky & Hutch was created by William Blinn and produced by Spelling-Goldberg Productions. The hit television series ran from 1975 to 1979 on the ABC television network. It was distributed by Columbia Pictures Television in the United States and, originally, Metromedia Producers Corporation in Canada. Sony Pictures Television is now the worldwide distributor for the series.
Much more than a typical 1970’s buddy cop show, Starsky and Hutch was noted for its sometimes envelope-pushing violence, extreme physicality, serious story lines, 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 were detectives and not police officers, 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 was hearing from his connections, which often provided helpful leads that led to solving the case.
Knight Rider is an American television series that originally ran 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 black Firebird which 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.
A groundbreaking show that 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. Charlie’s Angels was one of the first TV shows to showcase women in starring roles that were traditionally reserved for men.
Charlie’s Angels was broadcast on the ABC Television Network from 1976 to 1981 and was one of the most successful TV series of the 1970’s. The series was created by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts and produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg. In addition for being well-known for its portrayal of beautiful women in action, the show developed a following due to its credible action sequences and the relationship shared between the three angels, Charlie, and Bosley. There were also two hit movies that continued the series – Charlie’s Angels and Full Throttle.
14Hill Street Blues
Hill Street Blues is a police drama television show that aired on the NBC television network in 1981. The series ran for a total of 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.
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 a total of 98 Emmy Award nominations. The show ran for a total of 146 episodes over the course of seven seasons.
15Hart to Hart
Hart to Hart is an American television series starring actor Robert Wagner and actress Stefanie Powers. Hart to Hart was created by writer Sidney Sheldon and was produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg. 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 lead a glamorous lifestyle, but always ended up working as detectives who investigate and solve crimes in which they become involved with. Wagner and Powers had great on screen chemistry, which is one of the main reasons why the show worked so well. Their servant, Max, also helped the couple solve many of the cases.
Kojak is an American television series starring Telly Savalas as the charismatic, bald New York City Police Department Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak. Kojak aired from October 24, 1973 to March 18, 1978 on the CBS television network. The show was well-regarded for its true depiction of police work and did not rely on outrageous action of violence. The show had intelligent plots which were well-delivered by the main character. This helped attract plenty of popular 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 even 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 good effort, but falls way short of the original classic.
17The Mod Squad
CHiPs is a television drama series produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (now owned by Turner Entertainment) that originally aired on the NBC television network from 1977 to 1983. CHiPs 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 it’s highway action, with plenty of car wrecks and interstate pile-ups in every episode. It was also know for its comedic elements combined with drama. 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
20CSI – Crime Scene Investigation
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. The show was created by Anthony E. Zuiker and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The series was filmed 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, but was often criticized for inaccurately portraying the true process of law enforcement investigations. It was also criticized for excessive violence. CSI was nominated numerous times for industry awards and has won nine awards during its history. The success of the television program led to the two spin offs.
21Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Miami
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 to be one of the most influential police dramas, as it helped improve the public image of police officers.
The Dragnet TV series 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 both 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 to life, picture of a police officer and their day-to-day lives. He managed to achieve both and the show continued to be influential on subsequent police TV crime dramas for many years to come.
Get Smart is an American television comedy series that satirized the secret agent genre. The television series was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. 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 a total of 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.
24JAG (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.
JAG was originally aired on NBC in 1995, but was cancelled in 1996 due to low ratings. The CBS network picked up the series beginning in 1997, and the show continued to air for another nine successful seasons. Overall, the show aired for a total of 10 seasons and continues to run in syndication.
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 was produced by Michael Mann 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 a variety of artists, many of whom guest starred on the popular show. The program’s catchy theme song was performed by Jan Hammer.
Mission: Impossible is an American television series created and initially produced by Bruce Geller. Mission Impossible chronicles the missions of a team of secret American government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). The leader of the team 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 the Mission Impossible music composed by Lalo Schifrin, which is widely considered to be one of the most iconic television music themes.
Mission Impossible 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.
32Murder She Wrote
Murder, She Wrote is an American television mystery series starring Angela Lansbury who plays mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher. Murder She Wrote aired for twelve seasons from 1984 to 1996 on the CBS television network. The series also had four TV films and a spin-off series, The Law & Harry McGraw. It earned 41 Prime time Emmy Award nominations and 16 Golden Globe nominations during its many years of broadcast.
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 who 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 it’s realistic portrayal of life as a detective, both on the streets and in their off-duty life. Stars John Kelly (David Caruso and Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz).
35Walker Texas Ranger
Walker Texas Ranger – Starring Chuck Norris
The Closer television series is an American crime drama that aired 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, who plays a Georgia police detective who moves to Los Angeles, California to lead the Priority Murder Squad (later renamed to the Priority Homicide Division), which is a special police team that focuses specifically on high profile murder cases.
At the end of season four, the special police detective unit is reassigned to handle a range of crimes including fraud and kidnapping, and is then renamed the Major Crimes Division. James Duff and the Shephard Robin Company created the show association with Warner Bros. Television.
Other actors and actresses on the show include: J. K. Simmons, Corey Reynolds, Robert Gossett, G. W. Bailey, Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz, Phillip P. Keene, Mary McDonnell, Jon Tenney and Gina Ravera.
The show received nominations for a slew of awards including Golden Globe Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Saturn Awards, Emmy’s and many more. Kyra Sedgwick was nominated and won in almost every season the show was on air.
37The A Team
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 while being on the run from the military. They were supposedly on the run for a “crime they didn’t commit” while in Vietnam. The series debuted in 1983 as a prime-time series and ran for a total of five seasons on the NBC television network. It was created by writers and producers Frank Lupo and Stephen J. 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 team travels around Los Angeles in their famous black van and operate as soldiers who are available for hire. They always act in the interest of doing good, righting wrongs, and helping those who are being oppressed or mistreated in some way. The show almost always includes a famous quote from the band’s leader, Hannibal, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
The Shield is an American television drama series which aired on the FX Networks in the United States and played on other networks internationally. The show was primarily known for its controversial portrayal of corrupt police officers and law enforcement officials. The series was originally advertised as “Rampart” in reference to the true life Rampart Division police scandal. Its Strike Team was loosely based upon the Rampart Division. The series was created by Shawn Ryan and The Barn Productions for Fox Television Studios and Sony Pictures Television (formerly Columbia TriStar Television).
Burn Notice is an American television comedy-drama series created by Matt Nix and starring Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell, and Sharon Glass. The series 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 special 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)
42Cagney & Lacey
Cagney & Lacey is an American television series that first aired on the CBS television network in the year 1982. It ran for a total of seven full seasons from March 25, 1982 to May 16, 1988. Cagney and Lacey is considered to be American television’s first serious police crime drama series with two female leads. A ground-breaking achievement for the early 80’s.
As a typical police and law enforcement procedure-based series, the show stars Sharon Gless and television actress Tyne Daly as two New York City police detectives who led very different lives: Christine Cagney (Gless) was a single, career-minded type of woman, while Mary Beth Lacey (Daly) was a typical married, but working, wife and mother. Although they both led very different lifestyles, they were dedicated and successful police detectives.
The series is set in a fictionalized version of a Manhattan police precinct. This particular show was set in Manhattan’s 14th Precinct (Midtown South), which in real life is located at 357 West 35th Street. The show had a number of notable cast members, such as:
- Al Waxman co-starred as the cop’s supervisor, Lt. Bert Samuel
- Dan Shor joined the show’s cast from 1985 to 1986. He played detective Jonah Newman
- Dick O’Neill played a recurring role as Cagney’s alcoholic father, Charlie Cagney, a former NYPD officer who constantly showered her with stories of the old days; Christine battled alcoholism later in the show
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 a total of 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
45Dog the Bounty Hunter
Dog the Bounty Hunter – Offers an exciting view into the world of bounty hunting. Watch as Dog and his team apprehend criminals and bring them to justice.
TV Crime Show DVD Packages and Boxed Sets
Many of the DVD sets include extras and bonus features such as: interviews with the cast, crew, director and producers, voice-over review 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 that 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 full 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 service 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 at anytime. We highly recommend this option if you’re searching for a quick, easy and reliable way to cut the cable. Start an Amazon Prime (FREE Trial) now.
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