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.
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. Start a Free Trial on Amazon Prime. Watch thousands of movies and TV shows anytime.
The 24 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 a classic 1970s crime drama following Tony Baretta, an unorthodox undercover cop in gritty 1970s Los Angeles. Portrayed by Robert Blake, Baretta uses street smarts and unconventional methods to tackle various cases, from drug rings to organized crime. The show balances intense action with Baretta’s struggles, compellingly blending crime-solving and character development. With its iconic theme song and memorable characters, “Baretta” remains a celebrated entry in the era’s television landscape.
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.
Bones – “Bones” is a popular TV series that aired from 2005 to 2017. Created by Hart Hanson, it revolves around Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist portrayed by Emily Deschanel, and FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth, played by David Boreanaz. Together, they solve complex murder cases by examining human remains. Driven by scientific rigor and intuition, the duo’s dynamic blends wit, humor, and a touch of romance. The show’s ensemble cast, including T.J. Thyne, Michaela Conlin, and Tamara Taylor, adds depth to the narrative. “Bones” expertly combines crime procedural elements with character-driven storytelling, captivating audiences for twelve successful seasons.
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. The series was 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 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.
Columbo is a groundbreaking American crime TV series featuring Lieutenant Columbo, played by Peter Falk, a seemingly absentminded homicide detective. Unlike typical crime shows, it reveals the culprit upfront, focusing on how Columbo cleverly exposes and arrests them. Despite his unassuming appearance, Columbo’s keen eye for detail and insightful questioning lead to his success.
Cops was a groundbreaking reality TV series that aired from 1989 to 2020. It provided an unfiltered and often intense look into the daily lives of police officers across various U.S. cities. The show followed officers responding to emergencies, conducting arrests, and navigating law enforcement challenges. “Cops” gained popularity and controversy for its raw portrayal of police work. It sparked discussions on policing and influenced the reality TV genre, leaving a significant mark on television history.
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, 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 spin-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.
Dragnet, also known as Badge 714, was a pioneering radio and TV series centered on Sergeant Joe Friday, an LA detective, and his police team. It significantly improved the public perception of police officers. Jack Webb, the show’s driving force, portrayed Friday and produced the series. Webb aimed for an authentic depiction of police work in mid-20th century LA, showcasing the mundane and dangerous aspects. Dragnet’s meticulous realism, drawing from real LAPD cases, set it apart. The show addressed social issues, contributing to a positive shift in how law enforcement was viewed. Its legacy is evident in subsequent police procedurals.
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 highly influential on serious dramatic television series.
“Hunter” is a popular crime drama series starring Fred Dryer as tough LAPD detective Rick Hunter and Stephanie Kramer as his equally formidable partner, Sgt. Dee Dee McCall. Together, they combat crime and navigate the complexities of the justice system. The show, known for its action-packed episodes, ran for seven successful seasons, with 152 episodes. It also featured a notable roster of guest stars, including George Clooney, Eric Estrada, and Sammy Davis Jr.
JAG (Judge Advocate General)
JAG (the American Military acronym for Judge Advocate General) is an American adventure and legal drama television. Belisarius Productions produced the series in association with Paramount Network Television. NBC Productions produced the first season.
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 outrageous acts 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 once admitted that he smoked too much and sucked on lollipops daily except on Sundays. The show was revived in 2005 with Ving Rhames in the starring role. It’s a reasonable effort, but it falls 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 Law & Order franchise shows. 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 a classic action-adventure TV series that originally aired from 1985 to 1992. It follows the resourceful and ingenious Angus MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson, who works as a secret agent for the Phoenix Foundation. MacGyver is known for his unique ability to solve complex problems using everyday items, avoiding violence whenever possible. The show’s blend of clever problem-solving, action sequences, and MacGyver’s trademark improvisation garnered a devoted fanbase and made it an enduring pop culture icon.
It’s one of the best crime TV series of all time. A former Naval Intelligence officer, 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 is a classic detective TV series that aired from 1967 to 1975. The show centers around Joe Mannix, a rugged private investigator portrayed by Mike Connors. Operating his own agency, Mannix tackles a range of cases, often involving crime and espionage. Known for its action-packed sequences and Mannix’s resilient persona, the series garnered a dedicated following. With its blend of thrilling mysteries and charismatic lead, “Mannix” remains a memorable entry in the detective genre.
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 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, 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
The Mod Squad was a groundbreaking TV series from 1968 to 1973. It followed three reformed young criminals, Pete Cochran, Linc Hayes, and Julie Barnes, working undercover for the police. Portrayed by Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III, and Peggy Lipton, respectively, they infiltrated counterculture communities to solve crimes. The show addressed social issues of the era and was known for its progressive themes. “The Mod Squad” remains a cultural touchstone, blending crime-solving with a unique portrayal of youth culture.
Monk is a beloved TV series that aired from 2002 to 2009. Starring Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk, an eccentric but brilliant detective with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the show follows Monk’s quest to solve crimes while grappling with his personal challenges. With the help of his loyal assistant, Natalie Teeger, Monk unravels complex mysteries using his sharp observational skills. The series masterfully combines crime-solving with humor, offering a unique and endearing portrayal of a quirky yet brilliant detective.
Moonlighting was a groundbreaking TV series that aired from 1985 to 1989. Starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, it followed the quirky dynamics between a witty private investigator, Maddie Hayes, and her charming but irreverent partner, David Addison. The show skillfully blended detective cases with romantic tension, witty banter, and meta-humor. Known for its innovative storytelling and charismatic leads, “Moonlighting” left an indelible mark on television, influencing future dramedies and earning critical acclaim.
Murder She Wrote
Murder, She Wrote is an American television series starring Angela Lansbury, who plays mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher. The show aired on the CBS television network for twelve seasons from 1984 to 1996. The series also had four TV films and a spin-off, The Law & Harry McGraw. It earned 41 Primetime Emmy Awards and 16 Golden Globe nominations during its many years of broadcast.
NCIS – Naval Criminal Investigation Service is a long-running TV series that premiered in 2003. It revolves around the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, a team of elite agents led by Leroy Jethro Gibbs, portrayed by Mark Harmon. They investigate crimes involving Navy and Marine Corps personnel, often uncovering complex conspiracies. The ensemble cast, including Michael Weatherly, Cote de Pablo, and Pauley Perrette, adds depth to the show. Known for its blend of crime-solving, character development, and occasional humor, “NCIS” remains a fan-favorite procedural drama.
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 – “Quincy, M.E.” was a popular TV series that aired from 1976 to 1983. Jack Klugman starred as Dr. Quincy, a passionate and tenacious medical examiner who solved crimes while conducting autopsies. His unorthodox methods often clashed with authorities, reflecting social issues of the time. The show combined gripping mysteries with medical drama, addressing pressing matters of the era. “Quincy, M.E.” was a pioneer in the genre, leaving a lasting legacy in television history.
The 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
“Simon & Simon” was a classic American detective television series from 1981 to 1989. The show followed the adventures of two brothers, Rick (played by Gerald McRaney) and A.J. Simon (played by Jameson Parker), who ran a private detective agency in San Diego. The siblings had contrasting personalities – Rick was a laid-back, rugged ex-Marine, while A.J. was a polished and book-smart investigator. Their diverse approaches often led to comedic clashes but ultimately proved effective in solving cases. The series blended humor, action, and intriguing mysteries, making it a beloved fixture of ’80s television.Simon & Simon: Complete Series Seasons 1-8 DVD Collection with Bonus
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 1970s 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 for seven seasons.
Remington Steele was a captivating TV series that aired from 1982 to 1987. Starring Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt and Pierce Brosnan as the enigmatic Remington Steele, it followed a unique premise where a fictional male detective was created to attract clients. As their partnership evolves, Steele’s mysterious past unravels. The show combined witty banter, romance, and intriguing mysteries, creating a charming blend of detective drama and comedy that resonated with audiences.
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 aired.
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 was a hit TV series that aired from 1993 to 2001. Starring Chuck Norris as Cordell Walker, a martial arts expert and honorable Texas Ranger, the show followed his quest for justice. With his partner, James Trivette, played by Clarence Gilyard, they tackled crime in Texas. Known for its action-packed sequences, moral lessons, and strong character dynamics, the series became a cultural phenomenon, solidifying Chuck Norris’ status as an action hero.
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 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.
You can watch thousands of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime anytime. We recommend this option if searching for a quick, easy, reliable way to cut the cable. Start an Amazon Prime (FREE Trial) now.
Please comment below if you have any questions about this list of the Best Crime Series and Detective Shows.