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The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time 

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Originally by Ranker Community
Updated February 7, 2020 38.7k votes 4.6k voters 169.7k views 123 items

The best serial cop dramas of all time include long-running police television shows that managed to combine elements of mystery and suspense, captivating viewers along the way. TV fans might also enjoy best true crime TV shows and best British detective series. Top TV cop dramas have long been a major part of American television (with many ranking among the best TV shows of recent momory), and they've remained popular for decades. This list includes some of the greatest police TV dramas ever, but if you know of a particularly good one that's missing, feel free to add it. And be sure to vote for your favorites, and vote down any programs you really didn't like.

A truly great television cop drama combines interesting, unique story lines with fast-paced action and a solid script. Having an extraordinarily strong ensemble cast doesn't hurt, either. What's the best cop show ever on TV? Many fans will argue that it's the brilliant, David Simon-created HBO drama The Wire. Others might maintain that the FX drama The Shield, which starred Michael Chiklis, is the greatest of all time. Another great example is the CBS drama Criminal Minds, the story of FBI agents who profile criminals. And, love them or hate them, it's hard to deny that the Law & Order franchise programs are almost always solid choices, too.

Older, classic serial cop dramas are also included on this list of the best cop shows, because they paved the way for more modern police procedurals. Among them: The ABC crime drama The Untouchables (1959 to 1963) and the long-running classic Dragnet. And of course, no list of the best serial cop dramas ever would be complete without Columbo, which starred the late, great Peter Falk as homicide detective Lt. Frank Columbo.

Hopefully everyone will find at least one or two favorite cop series among these fantastic serial cop dramas, but if not, remember: You can always add your favorite cop drama, and you can rerank this list your way!

If you just can't get enough of the greatest serial cop dramas, make sure to check out the most epic police fails of all time.

 

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list ordered by
1
The Wire is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Sonja Sohn

Premiered: 2002

Number of Seasons: 5

Number of Episodes: 60

Network: BBC Four, HBO

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

The Wire is an American drama television series set and produced in and around Baltimore, Maryland. Created and primarily written by author and former police reporter David Simon, the series was ...more

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#20 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #342 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time The Best Things Cast Members of The Wire Have Done Since the Genius Show Ended

2
Southland is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Regina King

Premiered: 2009

Number of Seasons: 5

Number of Episodes: 42

Network: TNT

Genres (Tv): Police procedural, Drama

Southland is an American television drama series created by writer Ann Biderman and produced by Warner Bros. Television. It originally aired on NBC for one season from April 9 to May 21, 2009, ...more
3
Criminal Minds is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, Thomas Gibson

Premiered: 2005

Number of Seasons: 15

Number of Episodes: 324

Network: A&E, CBS

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Crime, Suspense, Drama, + more

Criminal Minds (CBS, 2005) is an American police-procedural television program. The series follows a team of profilers from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit based in Quantico, Virginia. The ...more

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#39 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #256 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time How Accurate Is The Depiction of Behavioral Analysts In 'Criminal Minds?'

4
NCIS is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly, Pauley Perrette

Premiered: 2003

Number of Seasons: 17

Number of Episodes: 395

Network: CBS

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Action/Adventure, Police procedural, Drama, Thriller, + more

NCIS is an American police procedural drama television series, revolving around a fictional team of special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which conducts investigations ...more

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#189 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time #55 of 391 TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate The Best Actors On NCIS

5
Law & Order: Special... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, Ice-T

Premiered: 1999

Number of Seasons: 21

Number of Episodes: 474

Network: NBC

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama, Live action, Legal drama, + more

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC, 1999) is an American police procedural, legal, crime drama television series set in New York City. In the style of the original Law & Order, ...more

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#60 of 802 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch Behind-The-Scenes Secrets From 'Law & Order: SVU' That'll Make The Theme Song Play In Your Headlisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

6
Blue Bloods is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
MargrietHesseling added Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan, Will Estes

Premiered: 2010

Number of Seasons: 2

Number of Episodes: 67

Network: CBS

Genres (Tv): Action/Adventure, Police procedural, Crime, Drama, Adventure film, + more

Blue Bloods is an American police procedural drama series shown on CBS in the United States and Canada and on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom. The series is filmed on location in New York ...more

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#38 of 132 The Best Current Dramatic TV Shows #263 of 422 The Best TV Shows to Rewatch The Best Seasons of Blue Bloods

7
Law & Order is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Jerry Orbach, Jesse L. Martin, Dennis Farina

Premiered: 1990

Number of Seasons: 20

Number of Episodes: 456

Network: NBC

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama, Legal drama, Legal

Law & Order is an American police procedural and legal drama television series, created by Dick Wolf and part of the Law & Order franchise. It originally aired on NBC and, in ...more

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#194 of 802 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch All The Detectives From 'Law & Order,' Rankedlisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

8
NYPD Blue is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Dennis Franz, Gordon Clapp, James McDaniel

Premiered: 1993

Number of Seasons: 12

Number of Episodes: 261

Network: American Broadcasting Company

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Crime, Drama, Live action

NYPD Blue is an American television police drama set in New York City, exploring the internal and external struggles of the fictional 15th precinct of Manhattan. Each episode typically ...more

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#161 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #311 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Timelisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

9
The Shield is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Michael Chiklis, Catherine Dent, Walton Goggins

Premiered: 2002

Number of Seasons: 7

Number of Episodes: 88

Network: FX

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama, Action

The Shield is an American drama television series starring Michael Chiklis that premiered on March 12, 2002, on FX, in the United States, and concluded on November 25, 2008, after seven seasons. ...more

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#198 of 802 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #204 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years The Best Seasons of The Shield

10
Hawaii Five-O is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Jack Lord, James MacArthur, Kam Fong

Premiered: 1968

Number of Seasons: 12

Number of Episodes: 279

Network: CBS

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Action/Adventure, Police procedural, Crime, Drama, + more

Hawaii Five-O is an American police procedural drama series produced by CBS Productions and Leonard Freeman. Set in Hawaii, the show originally aired for 12 seasons from 1968 to 1980, and ...more

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#61 of 147 The Greatest TV Title Sequences Ever #34 of 43 The Best TV Shows That Lasted 10+ Seasonslisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

11
Hill Street Blues is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Daniel J. Travanti, Michael Warren, Bruce Weitz

Premiered: 1981

Number of Seasons: 7

Number of Episodes: 146

Network: NBC

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

Hill Street Blues is an American serial police drama that was first aired on NBC in 1981 and ran for 146 episodes on primetime into 1987. Chronicling the lives of the staff of a single police ...more

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#365 of 571 TV Shows Canceled Before Their Time #49 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time

12
Columbo is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Peter Falk, Mike Lally, John Finnegan

Premiered: 1968

Number of Seasons: 7

Number of Episodes: 69

Network: American Broadcasting Company, NBC

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Columbo is an American television series starring Peter Falk as a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. The character and show, created by William Link and Richard Levinson, ...more

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#145 of 802 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #9 of 219 The Best TV Characters Of The '80s The Best Seasons of Columbo

13
Chicago P.D. is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
emmatiede added Jason Beghe, Jon Seda, Sophia Bush

Premiered: 2014

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 2

Network: NBC

Genres (Tv): Crime, Drama

Chicago P.D. (NBC, 2014) is an American police procedural drama television series created by Dick Wolf and Matt Olmstead. The show follows the Chicago Police Department uniformed cops who patrol ...more

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#230 of 391 TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate #38 of 67 The Best Crime Fighting Duo TV Series Best Seasons of Chicago P.D.

14
CSI: Crime Scene Investi... is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Laurence Fishburne, Marg Helgenberger, George Eads

Premiered: 2000

Number of Seasons: 15

Number of Episodes: 337

Network: CBS

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Crime, Drama, Live action, + more

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS, 2000) is an American crime drama television series created by Anthony E. Zuiker. The series follows Las Vegas CSIs working for the Las Vegas Police ...more

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15
Castle is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Susan Sullivan

Premiered: 2009

Number of Seasons: 4

Number of Episodes: 105

Network: American Broadcasting Company

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Crime, Drama, Mystery, + more

Castle is an American drama television series, which premiered on ABC on March 9, 2009. The series is produced jointly by Beacon Pictures and ABC Studios. Created by Andrew W. Marlowe, it ...more

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#75 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #124 of 571 TV Shows Canceled Before Their Time The Best Seasons of Castle

16
Homicide: Life on the St... is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Richard Belzer, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto

Premiered: 1993

Number of Seasons: 7

Number of Episodes: 122

Network: NBC

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

This series is an American police procedural television series chronicling the work of a fictional version of the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide Unit. It ran for seven seasons on NBC ...more

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#343 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #324 of 571 TV Shows Canceled Before Their Time #18 of 44 The Best Serial Legal Dramas of All Time

17
Sherlock is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
LanaYoshii added Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs

Premiered: 2010

Number of Seasons: 3

Number of Episodes: 13

Network: British Broadcasting Corporation

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Action/Adventure, Police procedural, Crime, Drama, + more

Sherlock is a British television crime drama that presents a contemporary adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes detective stories. Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, it ...more

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#4 of 802 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #1 of 391 TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate Ranking the Best Seasons of 'Sherlock'

18
The Mentalist is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Alexis Hayes added Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Tim Kang

Premiered: 2008

Number of Seasons: 5

Number of Episodes: 116

Network: CBS

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Crime, Drama, Mystery, + more

The Mentalist is an American police procedural television series that ran from September 23, 2008 until February 18, 2015, broadcasting 151 episodes over seven seasons, on CBS. The show was ...more

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#97 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #90 of 571 TV Shows Canceled Before Their Time

19
Dexter is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas

Premiered: 2006

Number of Seasons: 8

Number of Episodes: 96

Network: Showtime

Genres (Tv): Black comedy, Crime Fiction, Action/Adventure, Police procedural, Suspense, + more

Dexter (Showtime, 2006) is an American television drama series. Set in Miami, the series centers on Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter pattern analyst for Miami Metro Police Department who also ...more

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#7 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #133 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time Dexter Morgan’s Infamous ‘Work’ Rooms, Ranked By Practicality

20
Magnum, P.I. is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Tom Selleck, John Hillerman, Roger E. Mosley

Premiered: 1980

Number of Seasons: 8

Number of Episodes: 157

Network: CBS

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Action/Adventure, Police procedural, Drama, Adventure film, + more

Magnum, P.I. is an American television series starring Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, a private investigator living on Oahu, Hawaii. The series ran from 1980 to 1988 in first-run broadcast on the ...more

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#52 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time #4 of 89 The Best 1980s Primetime TV Showslisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

21
Cold Case is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Kathryn Morris, Danny Pino, John Finn

Premiered: 2003

Number of Seasons: 7

Number of Episodes: 156

Network: CBS

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

Cold Case is an American police procedural television series which ran on CBS from September 28, 2003 to May 2, 2010. The series revolved around a fictionalized Philadelphia Police Department ...more

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#164 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #125 of 271 The Best Female-Led TV Shows #97 of 263 The Greatest TV Dramas of All Time

22
Ranker Video
zxray added David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi

Premiered: 1993

Number of Seasons: 11

Network: Fox Broadcasting Company

Genres (Tv): Cryptozoology, Supernatural, Crime Fiction, Drama, Live action, + more

The X-Files is an American science fiction horror drama television series created by Chris Carter. The program originally aired from September 10, 1993 to May 19, 2002 on Fox, spanning nine ...more

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#24 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time Things About 'The X-Files' Casual Fans Find Super Weirdlisted on Longest Running Sci-Fi TV Shows

23
Miami Vice is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, Saundra Santiago

Premiered: 1984

Number of Seasons: 5

Number of Episodes: 111

Network: USA Network, FX, NBC

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

Miami Vice is an American television drama series created by Anthony Yerkovich and produced by Michael Mann for NBC. The series starred Don Johnson as James "Sonny" Crockett and Philip ...more

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#289 of 449 The Best Duos of All Time #86 of 158 Shows with the Best Freakin' Series Finales of All Time #13 of 67 The Best Crime Fighting Duo TV Series

24
Law & Order: Crimina... is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Kathryn Erbe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jamey Sheridan

Premiered: 2001

Number of Seasons: 10

Number of Episodes: 195

Network: USA Network, MyNetworkTV, NBC

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama, Live action, Legal

This show is an American police procedural television drama series set in New York City, where it was also primarily produced. Created and produced by Dick Wolf and René Balcer, the ...more

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#149 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #24 of 103 The Best TV Spinoffslisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

25
Justified is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
gdgd added Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter

Premiered: 2010

Number of Seasons: 3

Number of Episodes: 52

Network: FX

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Drama

Justified is an American television drama series developed by Graham Yost. It is based on Elmore Leonard's short story. Timothy Olyphant portrays Raylan Givens, a tough U.S. Marshal enforcing ...more

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#77 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #354 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time The Best Seasons of Justified