Old Crime Shows: The Classics You NEED to Watch

Classic cop car

Early crime stories started as news headlines that inspired novels and eventually movies. Popular writers from the 30s to the 50s included Georges Simenon, John Creasy, Hilary Waugh, and Ed McBain. These crime novels continue to be popular, but most stories have been adapted to TV shows, movies, and even podcasts.

Most of the early crime shows on television started on the radio and then jumped to the new format. These included such favorites as Dick Tracy. The Untouchables, Perry Mason, and possibly the most influential police show of all time, Dragnet. Dragnet set the standard for police procedurals using many tropes still popular today. One of the most popular of the crime show genre was the crime drama.

Newer crime shows like Forensic Files and CSI have eclipsed the older, classic crime shows that you may have missed. Their stories are timeless. Don't miss out!

Best Old Crime Dramas

Many old TV crime dramas of the 70s and 80s dealt with issues that the public was uncomfortable such as rising crime, the price of vigilantism, the difficult decisions police officers must make, and racism. The best crime dramas featured a flawed policeman but had a strong moral center leading you to root for him.

Often these TV shows portrayed crime in a simplistic light, but by being entertaining and light, they were also able to point out social injustices. Here's our list of the best crime shows from the 70's and 80's:

Kojak (1973-1978)

Telly Savalas played the tough but kind Lt. Theo Kojak. He made the phrase "who loves you, baby?" famous and could always be seen with his signature lollipop in his mouth.

Hill Street Blues (1981-1987)

Hill Street Blues featured the policemen of a blue-collar city (loosely based on Pittsburgh, PA) who did their best to bring justice to the streets. Hill Street Blues was known for its amazing characters as well as its actors.

The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977)

The Streets of San Francisco starred Karl Malden as the veteran cop who always wanted to go by the book and a young Michael Douglas as his partner who always tried to bend the rules in the name of justice.

Starsky & Hutch (1975-1979)

Starsky & Hutch starred Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul as two unorthodox young police officers who always managed to crack the case and always managed to find a lot of trouble doing it. Starsky & Hutch went off the air because of declining ratings in season four, but the duo showed the world how close relationships develop from police situations.

Miami Vice (1984-1990)

Miami Vice starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, who not only caught the bad guys but looked good doing it. Miami Vice wasn't just influential as a television series. It was also influential in music, fashion, and architecture.

Best Old TV Police Shows

There's a lot of overlap between crime dramas and police shows, but police shows focused far more on the mystery and far less on the personal lives of the police involved. These shows were usually not connected by an overarching plot as most crime dramas were and focused more on episodic crimes. Starting from around the early 70's, our list of the best old cop shows include:

Police Story (1973-1987)

Not to be confused with Jackie Chan's 1985 Police Story Series (although that one is a great series as well). Police Story (1973-1987) dramatized supposed actual events and had many actors (such as Don Murray and Michael Anderson Jr.) who acted out the various adventures. Police Story was a precursor to well known modern shows such as Law & Order and is praised as one of the last realistic TV cop shows of all time.

Colombo (1968-2003)

Colombo starred Peter Falk, who always kept his adversaries off balance by his odd yet well-timed questions. Starting in the 1970s, the show ran almost four decades and is remembered for detective Colombo's "just one more thing" catchphrase.

Adam-12 (1968-1975)

Adam-12 starred Martin Milner and Kent McCord as two young cops and attempted to show what a typical day in the officers' lives was like. The show left a positive impression on the LAPD immediatley, spurring the LAPD to operate at a higher standard to live up to the image McCord portrayed. Adam-12 ran for a little over a decade and left a resounding mark on its global fan base.

Cagney & Lacey (1982-1988)

Cagney & Lacey illustrated how difficult being a police officer was and how dealing with sexism made the job even harder. The show was an incredible inspiration to working women, especially female cops beyond the 80s. The TV show left a legacy on working wives and career driven women in male dominated fields everywhere.

21 Jump Street (1987-1991)

21 Jump Street introduced America to Johnny Depp and Richard Grieco as part of a squad of young-looking detectives who often went undercover to solve crimes. While it has been remade, the original series is a classic that should be remembered. Premiering in the late 80s, it was one of the earliest shows to confront controversial topics such as sexuality, the AIDs epidemic, and teen homelessness.

All of these shows are widely available and are hours of entertainment. While you watch the shows, don't forget National Crime Scene Clean Up is one of the behind the scenes 24/7 emergency units that assists with the trauma clean ups.
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