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The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time

Updated November 23, 2020 41.3k votes 5.1k voters 184.2k views122 items

List RulesVote up your favorite police dramas that unfold their complex stories episode-by-episode.

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, so 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 and vote the best to the top!

 

 

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  • 1
    NCIS
    707
    447

    NCIS

    Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly

    Premiered2003

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

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  • 2
    Columbo
    527
    318

    Columbo

    Peter Falk, Mike Lally

    Premiered1968

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

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  • 3
    Hill Street Blues
    548
    342

    Hill Street Blues

    Daniel J. Travanti, Michael Warren

    Premiered1981

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 4
    The Mentalist
    419
    255

    The Mentalist

    Simon Baker, Robin Tunney

    Premiered2008

    Genres (Tv)Police procedural, Mystery, Drama

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  • 5
    Law & Order
    615
    392

    Law & Order

    Jerry Orbach, Jesse L. Martin

    Premiered1990

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

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  • 6
    The X-Files
    284
    160

    The X-Files

    David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson

    Premiered1993

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

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  • 7
    Southland
    566
    364

    Southland

    Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy

    Premiered2009

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama

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  • 8
    The Wire
    872
    479

    The Wire

    Dominic West, Lance Reddick

    Premiered2002

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 9
    Justified
    261
    144

    Justified

    Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy

    Premiered2010

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Neo-Western

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  • 10
    Castle
    499
    315

    Castle

    Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic

    Premiered2009

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

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  • 11
    Sherlock
    424
    190

    Sherlock

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

    Premiered2010

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Mystery

    Amazon buy button
  • 12
    Hawaii Five-O
    541
    292

    Hawaii Five-O

    Jack Lord, James MacArthur

    Premiered1968

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

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  • 13
    Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
    755
    506

    Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

    Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni

    Premiered1999

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

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  • 14
    NYPD Blue
    587
    366

    NYPD Blue

    Dennis Franz, Gordon Clapp

    Premiered1993

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

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    #216 of 334 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years#52 of 352 The Greatest TV Dramas of All Time

  • 15
    The Shield
    673
    468

    The Shield

    Michael Chiklis, Catherine Dent

    Premiered2002

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Action

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  • 16
    Cold Case
    330
    232

    Cold Case

    Kathryn Morris, Danny Pino

    Premiered2003

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 17
    Magnum, P.I.
    346
    167

    Magnum, P.I.

    Tom Selleck, John Hillerman

    Premiered1980

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

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  • 18
    The Closer
    272
    210

    The Closer

    Kyra Sedgwick, J.K. Simmons

    Premiered2005

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 19
    Miami Vice
    349
    299

    Miami Vice

    Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas

    Premiered1984

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 20
    Person of Interest
    345
    220

    Person of Interest

    Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson

    Premiered2011

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Action, Sci-fi

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  • 21
    Monk
    313
    208

    Monk

    Tony Shalhoub, Bitty Schram

    Premiered2002

    Genres (Tv)Police procedural, Comedy-drama, Mystery

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  • 22
    Law & Order: Criminal Intent
    303
    235

    Law & Order: Criminal Intent

    Kathryn Erbe, Vincent D'Onofrio

    Premiered2001

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

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  • 23
    The Streets of San Francisco
    254
    202

    The Streets of San Francisco

    Karl Malden, Michael Douglas

    Premiered1972

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

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  • 24
    Blue Bloods
    670
    283

    Blue Bloods

    Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan

    Premiered2010

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

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  • 25
    Criminal Minds
    808
    377

    Criminal Minds

    Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler

    Premiered2005

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

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