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Best TV Cop Shows From the 1970s

Rhonda enjoys writing about books, crafting, her favorite places, and pop culture.

Influential Television

The most influential television shows from my childhood were the police dramas of the 1970s. In fact, I credit shows like Baretta, Charlie's Angels, and Starsky & Hutch for inspiring my initial desire to become a writer. I wanted to recreate those tough no-nonsense crime fighters I grew up with in my own fiction. Whether or not I succeed remains to be seen, since I haven't published any of my own writing as yet.

Cop shows dominated the 70s, so there was no way to pay credit to them all in this short article. Instead I focused on my personal favorites, the ones I remember watching in the evening with my family. Hopefully there are some of your favorites too.

Martin Milner as Malloy and Kent McCord as Reed from Adam-12.

Martin Milner as Malloy and Kent McCord as Reed from Adam-12.

Adam-12

The series centered around Los Angeles Police Department veteran Pete Malloy (Martin Milner) and his new rookie partner, Jim Reed (Kent McCord). Pete was the carefree bachelor and Malloy the devoted family man. Created by Jack Webb, who was also responsible for the hit series Dragnet, this police procedural followed the officers during a typical day. The show ran from 1968 to 1975.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O.

Hawaii Five-O

Jack Lord played Detective Steve McGarrett, leader of a fictional state-run police unit. The show was filmed on location in Hawaii and ran on CBS for 12 seasons from 1968 to 1980. McGarrett's "Book 'em, Danno" became a popular catchphrase. Perhaps the two memorable aspects of the show were its theme music and Lord's always perfect hair.

Karl Malden (right) as Mike Stone with David Wayne as Wally Sensibaugh, a newspaper person.

Karl Malden (right) as Mike Stone with David Wayne as Wally Sensibaugh, a newspaper person.

The Streets of San Francisco

Karl Malden played veteran detective Lieutenant Mike Stone and Michael Douglas his young rookie partner, Inspector Steve Keller. The ABC series aired from 1972 to 1977. Back to the Streets of San Francisco, a reunion movie, aired in 1992.

icons-of-law-order-top-cop-shows-of-the-1970s

Kojak

Telly Savalas played Lieutenant Theo Kojak, a cool streetwise New York City cop known as much for the lollypop in his mouth as his bald head. Kojack and his team were known to track down the worst of New York City's criminals. George Savalas, Telly's real-life brother, played Detective Stavros. Kojack's "Who loves ya, baby?" became one of the top catchphrases of the decade. Kojak won two Emmys, including Best Actor in a Drama for Telly Savalas. The show ran on CBS from Oct. 1973 to March 1978. Seven Kojak movies aired on ABC between 1985 and 1990.

The cast of The Rookies from the top: Georg Stanford Brown (as Terry Webster), Kate Jackson (Jill Danko), Gerald S. O'Laughlin (Eddie Ryker), Bruce Franklin (Chris Owens), and Sam Melville (Mike Danko).

The cast of The Rookies from the top: Georg Stanford Brown (as Terry Webster), Kate Jackson (Jill Danko), Gerald S. O'Laughlin (Eddie Ryker), Bruce Franklin (Chris Owens), and Sam Melville (Mike Danko).

The Rookies

This ABC show focused on a group of young police officers and the relationships between them. The show was produced by Aaron Spelling and ran for four years (1972 to 1976). The cast included George Stanford Brown, Kate Jackson, and Michael Ontkean.

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Tony Lo Bianco and Don Meredith on Police Story.

Tony Lo Bianco and Don Meredith on Police Story.

Police Story

Police Story had different actors in lead roles each week. Some recurred and many were killed off, making Police Story different from other cop shows on the air. Don Meredith, James Farentino, and Tony Lo Bianco were a few of the regulars. The series aired from 1973 to 1977 with several reunion movies.

James Garner (right) as Jim Rockford.

James Garner (right) as Jim Rockford.

Rockford Files

James Garner played Jim Rockford, an ex-con turned private eye. Unlike most of the other TV detectives, Rockford led a less-than-luxurious life. He lived and worked out of a trailer and was constantly being hounded by people he owed. He was often assisted by his father, Rocky, played by Noah Beery Jr., or his friend, Angel, played by Stuart Margolin. Every episode started with an amusing message left on Rockford's answering machine. Rockford Files ran on NBC for six seasons (Sept. 1974–Jan. 1980) and there were eight reunion movies.

Angie Dickenson as Pepper Anderson on Police Woman.

Angie Dickenson as Pepper Anderson on Police Woman.

Police Woman

Angie Dickinson starred as Sergeant Pepper Anderson in the NBC series about a female undercover cop. Each week Pepper assumed a false identity, everything from teacher to hooker, in order to get the bad guy. Earl Holliman co-starred. Police Woman was a spin-off of Police Story and was reportedly President Gerald Ford's favorite show. The series aired from 1974 to 1978.

Buddy Ebsen and Lee Meriwether from the premiere of Barnaby Jones.

Buddy Ebsen and Lee Meriwether from the premiere of Barnaby Jones.

Barnaby Jones

This long-running CBS series starred Buddy Ebsen as retired private detective Barnaby Jones. Lee Meriwether played daughter-in-law Betty Jones and Mark Shera played Barnaby's cousin, Jedediah "J.R." Jones. Due to his age (Ebsen was 64 when the series began), Ebsen had very little screen time after the sixth season. The series ran from 1973 to 1980.

S.W.A.T.

Steve Forrest starred as Lieutenant Dan "Hondo" Harrelson, the leader of the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Weapons and Tactics Division. This action-packed series aired on ABC for two seasons from February 1975 to April 1976.

"S.W.A.T." Theme

David Sole and Paul Michael Glaser.

David Sole and Paul Michael Glaser.

Starsky & Hutch

Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul starred as detectives Dave Starsky and Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson. The partners often went undercover and relied heavily on their friend/informant Huggy Bear, played by Antonio Fargas. Bernie Hamilton played gruff but lovable Captain Dobey. The series ran on ABC for four seasons from 1975 to 1979.

The cast of Barney Miller.

The cast of Barney Miller.

Barney Miller

Hal Linden starred as Captain Barney Miller, the precinct captain of a bunch of misfits in the New York City Police Department. The detectives were played by Ron Glass (Detective Ron Harris), Max Gail (Detective Stan "Wojo" Wojciehowicz), Abe Vigoda (Detective Phil Fish), Jack Soo (Detective Nick Yemana), Steve Landesberg ( Detective Arthur Deitrich), and Gregory Sierra (Detective Sergeant Chano Amenguale. The half hour comedy series ran on ABC for eight seasons (1975 - 1982) and won three Emmys.

icons-of-law-order-top-cop-shows-of-the-1970s

Charlie's Angels

"Once upon a time there were three little girls who went to the police academy." Jaclyn Smith, Farrah Fawcett and Kate Jackson starred as private detectives who were called to work for a mysterious benefactor known as Charlie. The women only communicated with Charlie by phone or through their handler, John Bosley (David Doyle). Throughout the series, the girls went undercover as everything from prison inmates to wealthy heiresses. After Farrah Fawcett's departure, several actresses filled her shoes including Cheryl Ladd, Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts. This ABC show was just one of many successful series for producer Aaron Spelling. The show ran 1976 to 1981.

Charlie's Angels Intro (1976)

icons-of-law-order-top-cop-shows-of-the-1970s

CHiPS

Erik Estrada starred as Francis "Ponch" Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as Jon Baker, a patrolman for the California Highway Patrol. Ponch was the comedian, always getting himself in some sort of trouble. Jon was basically the straight man. The show aired on NBC for six seasons from Sept. 1977 to May 1983.

Robert Blake as Tony Baretta with his cockatoo named Fred.

Robert Blake as Tony Baretta with his cockatoo named Fred.

Baretta

Robert Blake played Tony Baretta, a streetwise undercover New York City cop who wasn't afraid to break the rules in order to get the bad guy. Baretta's sidekick and best bud was a cockatoo named Fred. The series ran on ABC for four seasons (Jan. 1975–May 1978). Baretta is also known for its memorable theme "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow," sung by Sammy Davis Jr.

Honorable Mentions

  • Blue Knight - George Kennedy played Bumper Morgan, a tough beat L.A. beat cop fighting to keep his neighborhood safe. The series, which ran on CBS, was cancelled halfway through its second season. It ran from Dec. 1975 to Oct. 1976.
  • Harry-O - David Janssen played private investigator, Harry Orwell. In the series Orwell was forced to retire from the force after being shot in the back. The ABC series ran from 1974 to 1976.
  • Cannon - William Conrad played the over-weight, balding ex-cop with expensive tastes from 1971 to 1976.
  • Mannix - Mike Connors starred as private eye Joe Mannix. There were tons of car chases, shootings, and kidnappings during the run of the series. Gail Fisher played Peggy Fair, Mannix's secretary.
  • McCloud - Dennis Weaver played Sam McCloud, a New Mexico deputy marshal loaned to the New York City Police Department as a special investigator. It ran on NBC from 1970 to 1977.
  • Ironside - Raymond Burr, of Perry Mason fame, played Robert T. Ironside, a wheelchair-bound detective fighting crime on The Streets of San Francisco. Ironside was assisted by Det. Sergeant Ed Brown (Don Galloway) and Officer Eve Whitfield (Barbara Anderson).

Comments

Mark Silverman on August 05, 2020:

Kojak and the Streets of San Francisco hold up very well, and so does Hawaii Five O, "Charlie's Angels" is unwatchable. It's tough getting through the first five minutes it is so bad. How did CANNON only make the Honorable mention list along with Mannix?

Kent on September 18, 2019:

Julie W: Cagney and Lacey was in the 80s. This article is about the 70s.

Julie W on March 28, 2018:

What about Cagney & Lacey

greg on February 12, 2017:

I think Joe Mannix should have Made the List? Now that I think of it I am going to check out the Rockford Files? I ordered The Berata dvds can afford Kojack or Hawai 5 0? Mcclud was good You Forgot Bana check?

R .B. on December 03, 2016:

What about The Magician with Bill Bixby?

Carol Morris on May 24, 2016:

Thanks for the memories. I would watch some of those with my mom, those were good times.

TVANGELO on May 10, 2016:

My favorite Cop Show of the 1970s was: Most Wanted from ABC (1976-77) starring the beautiful and intelligent actress Jo Ann Harris, Shelly Novack and Robert Stack.

TVANGELO

menangelo@hotmail.com

Mahmudur29 on December 27, 2014:

Thank you Winchestery, it's a nice post and I will enjoy those :)

Theo on August 29, 2014:

No Professionals?

chantay on January 26, 2014:

Not forgetting McCLoud and hart to hart although the latter was I think 1979 onwards and they were private investigaters

chantay on January 26, 2014:

These cop shows were where I got my love of everything american including the wonderful cars from the 60s and 70s, a nice trip down memory lane.

michaelbell2013 on January 04, 2014:

Understanding that "Columbo" was not the traditional '70s crime drama with gun play and '70s-style gore, it did involve a police officer, Lieutenant Columbo (1st name officially unknown) catching bad people (often women, which was unusual for its time) with his persistence and his mind and was, I believe, the best cop show of the decade. It was intellectually violent, with Columbo taking down the arrogant and the self-involved. Peter Falk won multiple Emmys for the role.

RO Edwards (author) from Ohio on March 25, 2013:

Oh I loved Hill Street Blues. Don't know how I overlooked that one. Its awesome you were a cop, resspenser. And you met Mickey Spillane - how cool!

Ronnie Sowell from South Carolina on March 24, 2013:

I started being a cop in 72 so most of these were on my watch list. I also enjoyed Hill Street Blues later on. Hey, let's be careful out there!

randy on January 18, 2013:

What about Baretta?

LaZeric Freeman from Hammond on January 18, 2013:

love those older cop shows; solving crimes without much technology. no caller idea, had to wait longer for back-up, etc.

TurtleDog on January 03, 2013:

Nice post! I was checking out old syndicated reruns of Adam 12 and Barney Miller and decided to look up a few others I watched when I was really like. Voted UP interesting. Thanks

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