Top 5 Cop Shows Ever on TV: Does Your Favorite Make the List?

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Ron Tom/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Hill Street Blues

(1981–87, NBC)

Though its motto was “Let’s be careful out there,” Steven Bochco’s tragicomic chronicle of an urban police precinct was fearless as it broke free of procedural restraints to tell densely layered, chaotic stories that changed the look and tone of primetime. In the ’90s, Bochco challenged network TV’s sensibilities further in NYPD Blue.

Paul Schiraldi

The Wire

(2002–08, HBO)

The unflinching portrait of an embattled Baltimore that began in NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street took on even greater resonance in David Simon’s searing, documentary-like dissection of an inner city’s hearts of darkness, as plumbed by a team of memorable detectives led by Dominic West and Wendell Pierce (above left, with Michael Kenneth Williams).



(1951–59, 1967–70, NBC)

Just the facts: The history of TV crime drama is not complete without respect being paid to Jack Webb’s taciturn Det. Joe Friday, whose no-nonsense doggedness got the job done in two very different decades. Unflappable, unsmiling, unforgettable.

Prashant Gupta/FX

The Shield

(2002–08, FX)

Vic Mackey didn’t invent the antihero, but as played with menacing authority by Michael Chiklis (above right), he refined it in Shawn Ryan’s brutally brilliant drama of a murderously corrupt Strike Team cleaning up the meanest streets of Los Angeles by any means necessary.

David Giesbrecht/NBC

Law & Order

(1990–2010, NBC)

Even though they had to share billing with the lawyers in the second half of each episode, there’s an immortal allure to the iconic New York detectives of Dick Wolf’s undying franchise, none more than Jerry Orbach’s wry Lennie Briscoe. The tradition lives on with no end in sight for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (above).

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