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The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time

Updated October 15, 2020 40.3k votes 5.0k voters 181.6k views120 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, 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
    NCIS is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    694
    425

    NCIS

    Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly

    Premiered2003

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

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  • 2
    The X-Files is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    274
    141

    The X-Files

    David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson

    Premiered1993

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

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  • 3
    Columbo is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    512
    305

    Columbo

    Peter Falk, Mike Lally

    Premiered1968

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

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  • 4
    Law & Order is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    607
    381

    Law & Order

    Jerry Orbach, Jesse L. Martin

    Premiered1990

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

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  • 5
    Southland is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    562
    351

    Southland

    Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy

    Premiered2009

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama

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  • 6
    Hill Street Blues is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    536
    332

    Hill Street Blues

    Daniel J. Travanti, Michael Warren

    Premiered1981

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 7
    The Mentalist is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    407
    241

    The Mentalist

    Simon Baker, Robin Tunney

    Premiered2008

    Genres (Tv)Police procedural, Mystery, Drama

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  • 8
    The Wire is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    842
    472

    The Wire

    Dominic West, Lance Reddick

    Premiered2002

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 9
    Justified is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    248
    137

    Justified

    Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy

    Premiered2010

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Neo-Western

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  • 10
    Castle is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    487
    307

    Castle

    Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic

    Premiered2009

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

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  • 11
    Sherlock is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    412
    177

    Sherlock

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

    Premiered2010

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Mystery

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  • 12
    Hawaii Five-O is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    521
    282

    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 U is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    744
    493

    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
    Cold Case is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    321
    220

    Cold Case

    Kathryn Morris, Danny Pino

    Premiered2003

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 15
    NYPD Blue is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    581
    355

    NYPD Blue

    Dennis Franz, Gordon Clapp

    Premiered1993

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

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  • 16
    The Shield is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    651
    461

    The Shield

    Michael Chiklis, Catherine Dent

    Premiered2002

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Action

    amazon buy button
  • 17
    Magnum, P.I. is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    335
    159

    Magnum, P.I.

    Tom Selleck, John Hillerman

    Premiered1980

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

    amazon buy button
  • 18
    Person of Interest is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    336
    205

    Person of Interest

    Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson

    Premiered2011

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

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  • 19
    Miami Vice is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    340
    291

    Miami Vice

    Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas

    Premiered1984

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 20
    The Closer is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    259
    203

    The Closer

    Kyra Sedgwick, J.K. Simmons

    Premiered2005

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Drama

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  • 21
    Monk is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    305
    195

    Monk

    Tony Shalhoub, Bitty Schram

    Premiered2002

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

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  • 22
    Law & Order: Criminal Intent is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    293
    229

    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 is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    247
    195

    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 is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    655
    274

    Blue Bloods

    Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan

    Premiered2010

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

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  • 25
    Starsky and Hutch is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Serial Cop Dramas of All Time
    254
    207

    Starsky and Hutch

    David Soul, Paul Michael Glaser

    Premiered1975

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

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