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The 25 Best Cop Shows of All Time

It’s a big day for fans of ’80s television, cop shows, and, basically, things that are good: after first and second season releases that ended in 2006 and never resumed, the pop culture saviors over at Shout Factory have stepped up with a massive, full-series DVD box set for Hill Street Blues, the ground-breaking dramatic series that continues to influence quality television to this very day. And while it’s easy enough to earmark Hill Street as one of the best police series of all time, how do all those perp-chasing, car-crashing, rule-bending, good-cop-bad-cops actually stack up against each other?

Still image from "Dragnet"

25. Dragnet

Sure, its total seriousness borders on ham-fisted, and it inspired several great parodies, both during its run and after. But credit where due: Jack Webb’s long-running drama (it ran on radio and television from 1949 to 1959, with subsequent revivals in 1967-1970, 1989-1991, and 2003-2004) pretty much set the template for the police procedural, and its stylistic trademarks — hard-boiled dialogue, detailed investigation play-by-plays, “ripped from the headlines” narratives — continue to influence the genre to this day.

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9 comments
david hartzog
david hartzog

Very fine list that is hard to argue with, nevertheless, where is Kojack? Traditional maybe, but it had lots of heart.

nancywake
nancywake

I would also take out the one non-US show (make another list? there are so many great ones) and put in Wiseguy - there was a lot of cheese in it, but the whole case over the season was new, the Ken Wahl/Ray Sharkey dynamic in Season 1 was fantastic and unique (the only undercover cop/crim duo I will ever see "break up" to Knights in White Satin) and Kevin Spacey's incestuous addict crimeboss in Season 2 was a sight to see.

BrendonRoss
BrendonRoss

I remember Wiseguy being amazing in the late 1980's.... well the first series. The way they had the main story unfold over the season was quite original for the time... or am I wrong about that? I was maybe 11 when it debuted and recall it coming across as aiming a little higher than the Magnum's, Rip Tides and other shows of that era (error?!?).


JackieFriedrich
JackieFriedrich

Since you include "Luther" I guess the list is open to shows originating outside  of America. You've left out more than I can count: Inspector Morse, Lewis, Inspector Dalgliesh, Line of Duty, George Gently, Scott & Bailey, Hinterland, Shetland, Broadchurch, The Top of the Lake, all the Nordic Noir -- from Wallander to Forbrydelsen to Broen and on and on.

GregCwik1
GregCwik1

@JackieFriedrich  There have been several thousand television shows since the advent of the medium in the 1940s. So, yeah, it's a shame that not every single show from every single country could make it on a top-20 list.

BrendonRoss
BrendonRoss

@JackieFriedrich  The 80's Taggart was  pretty great from what I remember, and the mini-series format was excellent too.

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