Like almost everything that is ruled by public taste and opinion, television programming has seen its share of trends that come and go. Variety shows were very popular in the forties, as were game shows, and in the fifties the trend moved more to family situational shows such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. Along with these popular genres the 60’s gave us the “talk show” which has remained a television staple right up until today.
One of the most popular trends in television programming that has always maintained a presence in the weekly TV schedule is the cop show or crime drama. Names like Jack Friday, Thomas Magnum, and Joe Mannix are still characters recognized today as tough cops or detectives who always get their man. Perhaps the reason for their ongoing popularity is the good versus evil theme that is at the root of our moral fiber. Typically, in these beloved “cop” shows evil is defeated by good all in a neat sixty minute storyline.
Todays crime shows may be a little more reality based. Cops a reality based series that films actual cops out on the beat in different cities was a major hit. CSI is another new genre of show that focuses not only on the crime and perpetrator, but on the investigative process. Some believe this show has actually helped criminals plan crimes based on what they have learned on the show. Below is a list of some of the most popular fiction based cop shows ever.
10. Dragnet: 1952
The original Dragnet started as a radio show and then hit the television airwaves in 1952. Jack Webb starred as Officer Joe Friday and was the show’s producer as well. Many believe that Dragnet is the most influential police drama in history, due in a large part to Webb keeping the show focused on the behind the scenes workings of the police force and unpretentious acting. The show was also known for it’s opening line, “The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent,” and the ever popular, “Just the facts ma’am.”
9. Naked City: 1958
Based on the 1948 movie of the same name, this series was innovative in that it was actually written as a semi-documentary. Highlighted in this show was the 65th precinct of the NYPD, though the story usually centered around the victim and the criminals. Naked City first aired in 1958 with James Franciscus and John McIntire playing the star roles. Many young unknown stars such as Alan Alda, Robert Redford and Peter Falk, had guest spots on the show. The show ran until 1963.
8. Adam-12: 1968
Jack Webb was a co-creator of this show and perhaps that is why the show was a hit. Once again, as he did with Dragnet, Webb wanted to portray a typical day in the life of a police officer as realistically as possible. Basically, the show followed the lives of officers Pete Malloy and Jim Reed as they dealt with crime and their day to day lives. Again, as with Dragnet, the show was based on real incidents and names were changed to “protect the innocent.” Aside from showing the officers dealing with tackling crime, it also showed the day to day inane aspects of their professional life, and indeed introduced the nation to certain police terms and cop jargon.
7. Mod Squad: 1968
This squad was definitely mod, with one black man, one white man and one white female as the main characters. The premise was that these kids had all been in some legal trouble and now were on probation. Instead of being jailed they were convinced to go under cover and help out the police by getting closer to the criminals than the police ever could. Also, they were not allowed to carry guns. The show was known for it’s innovative subjects such as abortion, the anti-war movement and domestic violence. The show earned six Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe win for Peggy Lipton.
6. Hawaii 5 0: 1968
Known for giving us the infamous line, “Book’em Danno,” Hawaii 5 0 was named for the fiftieth state. In this show, former U. S. Naval officer, Steve McGarrett, played by Jack Lord, goes after criminals in this Hawaiian paradise after being appointed by the governor to head up a special team of crime investigators. This show has the distinction of being the first crime show to enjoy an uninterrupted run for over a decade. It was shot on location which also added to the uniqueness. In 2010, CBS ordered a remake of the show for 24 episodes.
5. Cagney and Lacey: 1981
This award winning crime drama showed two strong women doing serious police work as opposed to the show Charlie’s Angels that hit the airwaves in 1976 and was touted as “Jiggle TV.” Possibly what made this series so popular was that it highlighted the lives of two women who happened to be cops. Viewers became attached to Mary Lacey’s husband and children and watched with interest the boyfriends who would come and go in Christine Cagney’s life. The two actresses won Primetime Emmy Awards for six consecutive years from 1983 through 1988.
4. Hill Street Blues: 1981
Hill Street Blues received critical acclaim and eight Emmy awards in it’s debut season. The show basically focused on one police station and showed the day to day lives of the cops who worked there. This series was groundbreaking in that they used hand held cameras to add a documentary feel, and each episode started off with a role call before the credits rolled giving viewers a peek at what would be happening in the following hour. Also, there was more slang used and sexual situations than in previous crime shows. Among the many awards the show received are 13 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and 16 Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
3. Miami Vice: 1984
This series changed the look of the cop show from the dark interiors of station houses and precinct offices to the colorful surroundings of Miami, Florida. Fast boats, flashy cars and beautiful people were what people came to expect from Miami Vice. The show centered around detectives Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs working undercover in Miami. The show also spawned a new wave of men’s fashion, including suits with t-shirts underneath, no socks and Ray-Ban sunglasses. The show was also famous for integrating music into the story telling.
2. Barney Miller: 1993
Barney Miller was a show about a police precinct in Greenwich Village with Barney Miller, played by Hal Linden, as the Captain of the 12th precinct. Most of the episodes took place in the squad room and centered around the interactions between the cops and the suspects with two or three situations going on at once. Today the show is still a favorite among real cops due to its low key presentation of cops just doing their jobs. The series won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1982 and a Golden Globe for Best Television Comedy Series in 1976 and 1977.
1. NYPD Blue: 1993
Telling the story of the fictitious 15th precinct, this crime drama still holds the honor of being ABC’s longest running one hour drama series in prime time. NYPD Blue stirred up quite a bit of controversy due to its use of profanity and nudity. There was also quite a bit of drama going on behind the scenes as actors David Caruso and Dennis Franz did not get along and in fact were very rarely in scenes together. The show won over 20 Primetime Emmy awards with Franz being the recipient of four of them.