Whether it is because of the high-speed chases or the mystery of solving a big case, police dramas have always been a popular choice with television viewers. Since TV’s inception, there have been hundreds of police dramas produced, but a few stand out from the rest. In fact, many of these shows have made television history by their edgy story lines or innovative characters. While a case can be made for many of the shows, here is my arguable list of the top ten police dramas of all time:
CHiPs was a police drama that depicted two motorcycle cops, Francis Llewellyn ‘Ponch’ Poncherello and Jon Baker, as they patrolled the California highways. The series was unique because it was the first time that a show had portrayed officers solely on motorcycles. The show was widely popular with the ladies because of the sex appeal of both Erika Estrada (“Ponch”) and Larry Wilcox (Baker). Coincidentally, the acronym CHiPs that stands for California Highway Patrol was made up by the show’s producers.
9.CSI: Crime Scene Investigators (2000-present)
While I am not a huge fan of CSI myself, it is hard to argue with a show that has been number one scripted series in the Neilsen ratings practically since its inception. The show is much different than other police dramas because it focuses on what its title implies, crime scene investigators. Using science to figure out the whodunit has proven to be a winning match for CBS. This show has even prompted spin-offs like CSI: Miami, which is similar just based in a different city.
8.The Shield (2002-present)
The Shield is cable network FX’s longest running series to date. It stars Michael Chiklis who plays Detective Vic Mackey leader of the elite and oftentimes crooked Strike Team. This role has made me look at Chiklis in a whole new light! It is certainly nothing like his prior fame from the police drama The Commish that aired in the early 90’s. This show is edgy and the cinematography can’t be matched. With a talented supporting cast and great writers, FX and Chiklis have found a perfect match.
7. In the Heat of the Night (1988-1995)
In the Heat of the Night was a show based upon the novel of the same name and starred Carroll O’Connor of All in the Family fame. The show was a police drama set in fictional Sparta, Mississippi which made it stand apart from most police shows set in larger cities and usually north of the Mason-Dixon line. With colorful characters like the heart-warming Captain Bubba Skinner and great story lines (some of which were written by O’Connor himself with the pen name Matt Harris), it was a favorite when it aired and continues to be when it has been reprised in re-runs.
6.Cagney & Lacey (1982-1988)
Cagney & Lacey was groundbreaking not just in the police drama, but in all of television. Set in New York City, the drama was centered around two female police detectives. This was the first wildly successful show that portrayed two main female characters in the stereotypical male role of a police detective without relying on sex appeal to sell the idea. The show tackled women’s issues that hadn’t been widely addressed like birth control, abortion, and acquaintance rape, making it a feminist model for good television.
5.Miami Vice (1984-1989)
Miami Vice certainly was a unique show when it premiered in 1984. The story line was about two undercover detectives, Tubbs (Phillip Michael Thomas) and Crockett (Don Johnson), who were based in Miami, FL. The cinematography that highlighted some of the most beautiful South Beach scenery combined with the music accompaniment of Tina Turner and other popular artists of the time. Miami Vice is such a cult classic that it spawned a 2006 movie based on the TV show starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx that keeps true to the same stylistic imagery and musical themes.
4.Hill Street Blues (1981-1987)
Hill Street Blues was a show that was one of the first police show successes of Steven Bochco. During its run, it received 25 Emmys including 4 for “Best Series”. Hill Street Blues was even a favorite of some real-police officers who claimed the show was the first of its kind to depict police work accurately. Colorful and extensively developed characters made it easy for viewers to get hooked on this show.
3.NYPD Blue (1993-2005)
A simple warning of adult language and partial nudity aired before this show and caused quite a ruckus when it first aired in 1993. It was so controversial in fact that a few ABC affiliates in the southern United States refused to carry the show. However, creator Steven Bochco knew exactly what he was doing. Over the show’s extensive run, Bochco relied on casting actors that he had worked with before. Dennis Franz, David Caruso, and Jimmy Smits had all previously worked with this acclaimed writer and creator before their collaboration on NYPD Blue. With 82 Emmy nominations and 20 Emmys won, it’s hard for anyone to dispute the show’s success.
2.Dragnet (1952-1959 & 1967-1970)
The original Dragnet had two successful runs than spanned over two decades. The show was adapted from a similar radio show created earlier by Jack Webb. Jack Webb starred as the main character Sgt. Joe Friday. The show always started with the same warning: “the story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” The storylines widely varied from car accidents to murders, but they always ended with a prologue that featured the captured criminal and the narrator telling the viewer’s his or her fate. Television enthusiasts will tell you that all modern police dramas have borrowed some aspect of this legendary show.
1.Law & Order (1990-present)
Law & Order, the brainchild of creator Dick Wolf, is an easy number one pick. To date, it is the longest-running crime-based show and the second longest-running drama series in US broadcast history. It has produced 4 spin-offs including the very successful Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Since its creation, the show has seen numerous great actors come and go. While the acting is superb, I attribute the wild success to the writing. Law & Order pulls many show ideas right from newspaper headlines of today and the sheer details of the whodunit keep all the viewers guessing.