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The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time 

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Originally by Ranker Community
Updated May 13, 2020 40.6k votes 4.8k voters 175.6k views 125 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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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

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

The Wire (HBO, 2002) is an American crime drama television series created and written by David Simon. The series features the Baltimore drug scene, as seen through the eyes of drug dealers and ...more

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The Best Things Cast Members of The Wire Have Done Since the Genius Show Ended #18 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #5 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writing

2
NCIS is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly, Pauley Perrette

Premiered: 2003

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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The Greatest Guest Stars on NCIS, Ranked #101 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #130 of 163 TV Shows Most Loved by African-Americans

3
Law & Order is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Jerry Orbach, Jesse L. Martin, Dennis Farina

Premiered: 1990

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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All The Detectives From 'Law & Order,' Ranked #145 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watchlisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

4
Southland is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Regina King

Premiered: 2009

Genres (Tv): Crime drama

Southland (TNT, 2009) is an American crime drama television series created by writer Ann Biderman. A raw look at Los Angeles and the LAPD officers who protect and serve.

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#314 of 571 TV Shows Canceled Before Their Time #34 of 39 The Best Shows About the FBI #38 of 51 TV Shows That Actually Deserve A Revival

5
Hill Street Blues is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Daniel J. Travanti, Michael Warren, Bruce Weitz

Premiered: 1981

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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#469 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #112 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writing #51 of 292 The Greatest TV Dramas of All Time

6
The Shield is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Michael Chiklis, Catherine Dent, Walton Goggins

Premiered: 2002

Genres (Tv): Crime drama, Action

The Shield (FX, 2002) is an American crime drama television series created by Shawn Ryan. Led by Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), a corrupt LAPD team does anything to stop crime, ...more

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The Best Seasons of The Shield #213 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #167 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writing

7
Law & Order: Special... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, Ice-T

Premiered: 1999

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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The Most Infuriating 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' Tropes #65 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watchlisted 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

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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#139 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writing #204 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Yearslisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

9
Columbo is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Peter Falk, Mike Lally, John Finnegan

Premiered: 1968

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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The Best Seasons of Columbo #232 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #44 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writing

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

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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#180 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #12 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Timelisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

11
Homicide: Life on the St... is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Richard Belzer, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto

Premiered: 1993

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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#463 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #173 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writing #323 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

12
Castle is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Susan Sullivan

Premiered: 2009

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

Castle (ABC, 2009) is an American crime-comedy-drama television series created by Andrew W. Marlowe. A homicide detective (Stana Katic) reluctantly works with a best-selling mystery novelist ...more

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The Best Seasons of Castle #78 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #41 of 94 The Best Dramedy TV Series

13
The Mentalist is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Alexis Hayes added Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Tim Kang

Premiered: 2008

Genres (Tv): Police procedural, Mystery, Drama

The Mentalist (CBS, 2008) is an American police procedural television series created by Bruno Heller. After his family is murdered, a con man posing as a psychic medium (Simon Baker) uses his ...more

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#148 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #41 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writing #33 of 69 The Best Crime Fighting Duo TV Series

14
Ranker Video
zxray added David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi

Premiered: 1993

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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15
Miami Vice is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, Saundra Santiago

Premiered: 1984

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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#306 of 461 The Best Duos of All Time #14 of 69 The Best Crime Fighting Duo TV Series #71 of 292 The Greatest TV Dramas of All Time

16
Justified is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
gdgd added Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter

Premiered: 2010

Genres (Tv): Crime drama, Neo-Western

Justified (FX, 2010) is an American crime drama television series developed by Graham Yost, based on the short story "Fire in the Hole" by Elmore Leonard. US Marshal Raylan Givens ...more

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The Best Seasons of 'Justified' #66 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #129 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writing

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

Genres (Tv): Crime drama, Mystery

Sherlock (BBC One, 2010) is a British crime television series created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, based on stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The brilliant yet insensitive detective ...more

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Ranking the Best Seasons of 'Sherlock' #4 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #12 of 100 The Best British Detective Series, Ranked

18
Cold Case is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Kathryn Morris, Danny Pino, John Finn

Premiered: 2003

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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#264 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #157 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #87 of 292 The Greatest TV Dramas of All Time

19
Criminal Minds is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, Thomas Gibson

Premiered: 2005

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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The Best Quotes From 'Criminal Minds' #47 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #47 of 163 TV Shows Most Loved by African-Americans

20
CSI: Crime Scene Investi... is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Laurence Fishburne, Marg Helgenberger, George Eads

Premiered: 2000

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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The Greatest Guest Stars to Ever Appear on 'CSI' #181 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watchlisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

21
Law & Order: Crimina... is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Kathryn Erbe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jamey Sheridan

Premiered: 2001

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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#155 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years #25 of 43 The Best TV Shows That Lasted 10+ Seasonslisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

22
Blue Bloods is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
MargrietHesseling added Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan, Will Estes

Premiered: 2010

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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The Best Seasons of Blue Bloods #301 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #214 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

23
The Streets of San Franc... is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Karl Malden, Michael Douglas, Reuben Collins

Premiered: 1972

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

The Streets of San Francisco is a 1970s television police drama filmed on location in San Francisco, California, and produced by Quinn Martin Productions, with the first season produced in ...more

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#65 of 271 The Best '70s TV Shows #50 of 149 The Best TV Crime Dramas #63 of 233 The Best Ever Police Procedural Shows

24
Dragnet is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
Jack Webb, Harry Morgan, Don Ross

Premiered: 1952

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

Dragnet is an American radio, television and motion picture series, enacting the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name ...more

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#30 of 69 The Best Crime Fighting Duo TV Series #138 of 292 The Greatest TV Dramas of All Timelisted on Longest Running US Drama Shows

25
Starsky and Hutch is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
David Soul, Paul Michael Glaser, Antonio Fargas

Premiered: 1975

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

Starsky & Hutch is a 1970s American cop thriller television series, which consisted of a 70-minute pilot movie and 92 episodes of 50 minutes each. The show was created by William Blinn, ...more

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#87 of 461 The Best Duos of All Time #11 of 69 The Best Crime Fighting Duo TV Series #328 of 590 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time