“Love for the badge” Top 20 Greatest Cop Shows Ever.
Let’s face it, most cop shows are a dime a dozen: you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all. What makes a great cop show to me, however, are the ones that stand out beyond a typical crime, a bunch of random cookie cutter characters and cop jargon. They make the audience care about the characters and their relationships, as well as give us crimes that provide us a little bit more thought and thrill than the standard murder… oh and a sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.
So, ladies and gents, I give you my top 20 greatest cop shows ever made. Get ready to singing the Cops theme song: “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?” Because the boys and gals in blue are coming for you!
20. Almost Human. 2013–2014.
This super short lived cop show gave us a sci-fi twist to the usual police procedural. Karl Urban and Michael Ealy star as Detective John Kennex, a troubled cop, and his robot partner Dorian in the year 2048. The show was unique, wonderfully dark, and a potential sci-fi classic. The chemistry between Urban and Ealy gave the show the humor it needed, as well as the heart. Perhaps the show was just too out of the box for a traditional broadcasting network such as Fox.
19. Charlie’s Angels. 1976–1981.
Three darling angels made tv history in Charlie’s Angels. Part of the classic ABC “Jiggle Tv” era in the 1970’s, Charlie’s Angels took three gorgeous women cops and celebrated womanhood, true friendship, glamour, butt kicking and Charlie. The show became so big, as well as Farrah Fawcett, that the hairstyle “The Farrah Fawcett” became THE hair for women in that decade. Charlie’s Angels was a very unique cop show. It all started once upon a time…
18. Common Law. 2012.
Wes Mitchell and Travis Marks are cop partners who can’t seem to stop bickering, and it gets so out of hand that their captain sends them to couple’s counseling after Wes pulls out his gun on Travis. This was a fun show on the USA Network with a fresh and fun premise, and two leads in Warren Kole and Michael Ealy that had amazing chemistry. They were basically a modern day Starsky and Hutch mixed with a bit of “Odd Couple” Oscar Madison and Felix Unger.
17. Blue Bloods. 2011-Present.
Both a cop show and a family drama, Blue Bloods has been conquering the Friday night line up for going on twelve seasons now. Tom Selleck came back to CBS after eight years as Magnum to play Commissioner Frank Reagan, and is still going strong. The show gives enough realistic cop drama to make the die hard cop show fans happy, but its biggest and most successful element, is the family dinner scenes in every episode where the Reagan family debate world events with each other, laugh at and with each other, and just enjoy their time with each other like any other family.
16. 21 Jump Street. 1987–1991.
Simple premise: A group of baby faced undercover cops go to different high schools(and the occasional college campus) every week to solve some cases involving not so typical high school drama. But, the show had a bit more going for it than that: It was hip, funny and dramatic. It also delved into very big issues of the day such as rape, bullying, racism, AIDS, child abuse etc. The cast was as diverse as it got in its time period, and it included such big names as Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson-Peete.
15. T.J.Hooker. 1982–1986.
William Shatner will always be known first for the role of Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame, but he’ll also always be known for Captain T.J. Hooker as his second most recognizable role and tv show. The show was unique, giving focus to uniform cops and the constant dangers they face out there on the streets, as well as the camaraderie they shared. The show was as action packed as it got for cop shows, and it had a young Heather Locklear, what more could you want?
14. Hawaii Five-O. 1968–1980.
Hawaii Five-O to this day does the Islands proud: The locations, the gorgeous sun and the use of plenty of locals gave the show an authenticity that made it a classic. The show’s theme song would become so iconic that they still play it at beach parties across the globe, and we can’t talk about that theme song without mentioning that iconic turn from series star Jack Lord in the opening credits. Jack Lord starred as the smooth and dapper Detective Captain Steve McGarrett and solved plenty of crimes in Hawaii along with his right hand man Danny “Danno” Williams, Chin Ho Kelly and Kono Kalakaua for twelve straight seasons. In 2010 and that show went on for a successful ten season run.
13. Miami Vice. 1984–1989.
The most 1980s thing in history, from the clothes, to the music to the overall atmosphere of the series, Miami Vice would go on to set a whole new trend for men’s fashion and cop shows. The show brought a cinematic look and feel to television that hadn’t been there before, with big time director Michael Mann at the helm, you just knew you were watching something special and groundbreaking. The heart and soul of the show was the tight knit bond between detectives Crockett and Tubbs, one of the most influential black\white cop duos ever.
12. Starsky & Hutch. 1975–1979.
Buddy cops don’t come more iconic than Starsky and Hutch. The pairing is one of the most beloved duos in the genre, and rightfully so, because the two leads played off each other so naturally and expertly every week. The show gave us all the 70s cool we could stand, thanks to Starsky and Hutch, of course, but also due to ever flowing coolness of Antonio Fargas’ Huggy Bear.
11. Cagney & Lacey. 1981–1988.
In a time period where the tv cop field was dominated by the boys in blue, two gals in blue came onto the scene and became a partnership for the ages. Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey were as different as the day is long, but when it came to police work you couldn’t find a better team. But police procedural aside, the show took the time to delve hard into the messy personal lives of Cagney and Lacey with stories about Cagney’s alcohol problem as well as rape, Lacey’s breast cancer diagnosis and daddy issues etc. Other than the more hard hitting stuff, the enjoyable back and forth banter between Cagney and Lacey made it a fun buddy cop show where the buddies just so happened to be two females.
10. Walker, Texas Ranger. 1993–2001.
“In the eyes of an Ranger, the unsuspected stranger, had better know the truth from wrong and right.” Perhaps the most action packed cop show in the history of television, (And that’s no surprise when you got Chuck Norris as your star) as well as the most wholesome and good natured. Walker and his partner Trivette, Assistant District Attorney girlfriend Alex Cahill and good friend and mentor CD Parker, worked hard to protect the people of Texas from all sorts of crime, while also becoming their own little tight knit family. The show had everything: Action, comedy, romance, a big ol’ heart and an iconic theme song.
9. Law & Order Special Victims Unit. 1999- Present.
Law & Order is one of the most successful franchises in tv history, and Seasons 1–12 of Law & Order SVU continued that tradition. Twenty two years on the air so far and the show has tackled every heinous sex crime or imaginable: From rape to pedophilia, to incest and kidnapping etc. The iconic cast of characters from the glory days Eliot Stabler, Olivia Benson, Odafin “Fin” Tutuola, John Munch, Captain Donald Cragen, ADAs Alexandra Cabot and Casey Novak, George Wong and Melinda Warner worked very hard to take out the trash of the New York streets and did it with style and a sense of justice.
8. The Shield. 2002–2008.
If you want a politically incorrect, hardcore gritty, down and dirty, brutally honest cop show than I introduce you to The Shield. A game changer for the FX network and the basic cable drama as a whole, If The Sopranos knocked down the door then The Shield busted it down and shot it up ‘til it was dust. The show showed the very different approaches to police work: The clean cut, by the book way and the Vic Mackey and Strike Team way. The Shield boasted an amazing cast of actors, including such impressive guest\recurring stars as Glenn Close, Anthony Anderson and Forrest Whitaker.
7. Kojak. 1973–1978.
“Who loves ya, baby?” Tv cops don’t come more cool, more smooth, or more badass than Theo Kojak. The lollipop sucking, “who loves ya, baby” spoutin’, debonair and his squad solved a complex crime every week, and made us laugh and cry while doing it. The show had a great blend of gritty crime stories and squadroom humor. The bond between Kojak and his men was always tight, and in spite of his being tough on them at times, they knew he’d always have their back.
6. Hunter. 1984–1991.
Sargent Rick Hunter was a cop you did not want to mess with: He was a heck of a shot and was relentless when it came to getting his man or woman. Then there was his partner and best friend Sargent DeeDee McCall aka “The Brass Cupcake” who was a fire cracker and just as relentless as Hunter when she felt it was needed. The bond and chemistry between Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer carried the show for 6 of its 7 seasons. When McCall left the show it wasn’t the same, but, Hunter will always go down as one of the all time most badass cops and cop shows in history.
5. New York Undercover. 1995–1998.
What Miami Vice did for the 1980’s, New York Undercover certainly did for the 1990s. New York Undercover brought hip hop to mainstream tv in the 90s, not only in the music but also in the whole vibe and flavor the of the show, especially in the cop genre. The two leads JC Williams and Eddie Torres were a cop duo we’d never seen before and had the right hardcore attitudes and relentlessness to become a top rate crime fighting team. The show was influential in other ways too, such as the influx of musical performances in the hip hop\soul variety way before Fox’s Empire. Montell Jordan, Erykah Badu, Brandy and Tevin Campbell, Aaliyah, Bones Thugs In Harmony, Mary J. Blige and James Brown were just some of the iconic guests tearing up the stage at Natalie’s Bar.
4. In The Heat of The Night. 1988–1995.
Based off the 1967 classic movie starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, NBC adapted the show for the small screen in 1988 and gave us a truly special cop show. Carroll O’Connor left Archie Bunker behind when he accepted the part of Chief Bill Gillespie and the chemistry with Howard Rollins was the heart, soul and guts of the show. The ensemble cast were all something special with each character making their way into the hearts of the audience. The show was a major success on NBC’s Tuesday night schedule and that’s thanks to not only the talents of the cast but the impeccable writing and storylines that dealt with life in the little southern town of Sparta and its policemen.
3. Barney Miller. 1975–1982.
Praised by cops as the most realistic cop show in all of television, Barney Miller’s cast of diverse, colorful and lovable characters, down to earth approach to showing a cop’s life in 1970s\1980s Manhattan, New York, and sharply witty and quirky sense of humor made this show one of the all time greats. Being the first of its kind: A police procedural sitcom, there’d be no Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Reno 9–11 without it, giving the cop show another genre under its belt. The show’s star Hal Linden was nominated for an Emmy for all eight seasons, and his co stars were nominated a bunch of times as well, proving that Barney Miller’s cast was one of the all time best ensembles in tv history.
2. Homicide: Life On The Street. 1993–2000.
Homicide’s an ugly business, but someone’s gotta do it. The Baltimore Homicide Unit works grizzly crimes, but dispenses dark, sarcastic humor on a regular basis to cope with it all. The show was and still is a monumental masterpiece in the cop genre. Giving us a cop show with dialogue, humor, characters and a whole new style and tone unlike anything that had come before it.
- Hill Street Blues. 1981–1987.
When Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll created Hill Street back in 1981, all they wanted to do was make a cop show that wouldn’t bore them, and of course as well know they far more than exceeded that expectation. Hill Street Blues became a seminal cop series that basically changed the way cop dramas would be perceived, written and look ever since. But the show is far more than all the awards it won and its influence on other dramas after it; the show was just a great and entertaining show to watch with a wonderful tone of wild, bawdy humor and gripping, realistic drama; strong, well developed and recognizable characters; smart, powerful and honest writing; and a brilliantly talented (and large) ensemble cast.
So there you have it, folks! I’ll see you next time, and remember…