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The 11 Best TV Cop Shows and Police Procedurals in America, Ranked


The 11 Best TV Cop Shows and Police Procedurals in America, Ranked


Various primetime television programming centered around the police procedural have always been popular within the American construct, going back to the earliest days of television that drew from the cop and crime shows of radio. For those with parents or grandparents who routinely watch these series of television shows, it has somehow stuck with them from childhood, later spilling into their own adult viewing preferences. It may have been hard to predict as a little kid, that, as an adult, one would be super excited by a new Law & Order episode airing later on in the evening.




As viewers learn the obvious (committing crimes are wrong and forensic evidence can be found in the tiniest places), other things seep in: the black-and-white morality of most cop shows, its propaganda of the justice system, and its tacit support of the police state all subtly affect us; not to mention, don’t attempt to do anything shady or Ice-T will definitely come for them.

It’s evident that the takeaways learned throughout these scripted shows influence how people navigate in their own day-to-day lives, in addition to the people one chooses to surround themselves with (because everyone is flat out weird these days, and no one wants a serial killer friend); these shows, in many ways, foster paranoia and suspicion. As many police procedural fanatics gather around the television screens to stream an endless number of their favorite shows, here are some of the most well-respected TV series about cops to add to their exclusive list.


Updated June 9, 2024: If you are a fan of police procedurals, you’re in luck. This article has been updated by Rachel Johnson with additional shows to add to your watch list.


11 Hawaii Five-O

hawaii five-o

Running for a total of 12 seasons, the ’68 original series Hawaii Five-O immerses viewers into the unpredictable environment where state police officials are faced with the challenge of bringing down organized crime groups on the island. Detective Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) heads the special Five-O division as his team works with local police officials on individual cases.


Hawaii Five-O Is a Rip-Roaring Good Time

The updated Hawaii Five-O reboot was pretty good, but the original and its sun-soaked atmosphere is a classic. The dynamic between McGarrett and his partner Danny “Danno” Williams was an endearing friendship for audiences to witness, and the Five-O helped take down a lot of bad guys over the course of its whopping 281 episodes. The drama held the title of the longest-running American crime show until 2002 (being surpassed by Law & Order), and its iconic theme song is instantly recognizable by fans of the hit series.

10 NCIS: Los Angeles

NCIS: Los Angeles

Highly skilled veteran agents Sam Hanna (LL Cool J) and G. Callen (Chris O’Donnell) lead their team into the world of the Office of Special Projects (OSP) based out of Los Angeles, California on NCIS: Los Angeles. Typically, the agents go undercover with the world’s most advanced technologies, taking out criminal masterminds who threaten the nation’s national security sectors.


NCIS: Los Angeles Has Winning On-Screen Camaraderie

Arguably the best of the several NCIS series, this one benefits from some incredible cast chemistry, with devoted viewers loving Linda Hunt’s epic performance as the fierce Operations Manager Henrietta “Hetty” Lange and the will-they-won’t-they relationship between the wise-cracking Marty Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) and tough Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah). The buzzed-about program bowed out in 2023 after 14 sensational seasons, with 5.24 million people tuning in to say goodbye to the crime-fighting team.

9 Monk

Monk

Monk

Release Date
July 12, 2002

Seasons
8


Taking the concept of police procedural shows personally (after the death and unsolved murder of his wife), Adrian Monk (an excellent, Emmy-winning Tony Shalhoub) continues to solve various crimes with the assistance of his former boss and personal assistant in the critically-acclaimed dramedy Monk.

Tony Shalhoub’s Refreshing Portrayal

Monk is a genius and a brilliant tragicomic character, who both utilizes his obsessive-compulsive disorder to help solve cases while also struggling with the difficulties in his life. Despite struggling with having 312 phobias, the quirky and analytical character fought to overcome his profound grief and disorder, and was based on unforgettable fictional detectives like Columbo and Sherlock Holmes. Shalhoub won a Golden Globe and three Primetime Emmys and reprised the role for the well-received follow-up film Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie in 2023.

8 Blue Bloods

A poster for Blue Bloods featuring the series cast including Tom Selleck as Frank Reagan, Bridget Moynahan as Erin Reagan, Donnie Wahlberg as Danny Reagan, and Will Estes as Jamie Raegan.


Surrounding the day-to-day lives of a multi-generational family of cops, Blue Bloods stars Tom Selleck (as Frank Reagan) as he navigates being the head of the Reagan family, in addition to his official job title as the New York Police Commissioner. His sons Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) and Jamie (Will Estes) and daughter Erin (Bridget Moynahan) all continue the family’s professional legacy by working in the area of law enforcement.

Blue Bloods Has Engrossing Family Dynamics

The family routinely sits down together by the end of each episode to have family dinners, which can be both super sweet and deeply emotional. Not just a grandma’s favorite show, Blue Bloods views the police procedural through the lens of family love in a remarkable way, and because of this, the crime drama has fourteen seasons under its belt and is set to air its remaining final episodes in the fall of this year.


Related

10 Little-Known Cop Shows From the 2000s

A few cop shows from the 2000s flew under the radar, and here are the best ones worth revisiting.

7 Chicago P.D.

Chicago P.D. with Tracy Spiridakos, who left in season 11

Chicago P.D.

Release Date
January 8, 2014

Cast
Jason Beghe , Marina Squerciati , Patrick John Flueger , LaRoyce Hawkins , Amy Morton , Jesse Lee Soffer , Tracy Spiridakos , Jon Seda

Seasons
11

The second installment in the fan-favorite Chicago franchise, the gritty drama series Chicago P.D. centers on tough-as-nails Sergeant Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) and his highly-skilled Intelligence Unit as they hunt down some of the city’s most violent and dangerous street offenders. The intense and deeply loyal Voight will stop at nothing to catch a criminal, often employing some underhanded and downright questionable methods in his pursuit of justice.


Chicago P.D. Is a Gripping Crime Drama

Chicago P.D. has no problem depicting shocking storylines, jaw-dropping brutality, and some truly heartbreaking moments throughout its 11 seasons (and counting), and one of the many reasons the show succeeds is because of the resilient and compassionate detectives on Voight’s elite team. In recent years, the police procedural has tackled heavy subjects like mounting racial tensions both within and outside the department, as well as drug trafficking, profiling, and domestic violence.

6 NYPD Blue

NYPD Blue

NYPD Blue

Release Date
September 21, 1993

Seasons
12


The 1993 trailblazing television hit NYPD Blue starred Dennis Franz as New York City Detective Andy Sipowicz, as he and his fellow 15th Precinct detectives investigated gruesome homicides while also attempting to contend with the clashing temperaments and crime solving methods of those within the squad. Praised for its realistic and unflinching look at the day-to-day lives of New York’s finest, the show brilliantly showcased the personal and professional highs-and-lows the detectives experienced.

NYPD Was a Groundbreaking TV Drama

NYPD Blue was ABC’s longest-running one-hour drama series until being surpassed by Grey’s Anatomy in 2016, and Franz’s complex portrayal of the edgy, alcoholic Sipowicz was lauded by critics. His transformation from a bigoted and homophobic lawman to a more accepting and reformed individual was without-a-doubt the most compelling part of the series. Franz won four Primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe Award during the drama’s 12 seasons, and NYPD Blue is now regarded as one of the greatest and most influential television shows of all time.


5 Miami Vice

miami vice

The 1980s series Miami Vice is closely associated with the real life expansion of the cocaine drug ring and the excessive amounts of murders that also takes place in this time frame. Detectives Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas), who are very stylish by the way, get their hands dirty in pursuing the intricate cases they are assigned to in conjunction with the Metro-Dade Police Department.


Miami Vice Is a Sleek & Stylish Spectacle

The bold ’80s fashion of the series was iconic and influential, and its hyper-stylization was a perfect fit for a reboot as one of the best Michael Mann movies. Episodes from the drama were based on actual crimes that occurred in the eponymous city, and addressed various social issues of the time like the AIDS epidemic, child abuse, and homophobia. People commended Miami Vice for taking a fresh and exciting approach to the crime genre, declaring that it was the “first show to look really new and different since color TV was invented.”

4 FBI

This refreshing take on conventional police television shows extensively dives into the inner working structure of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office, located in New York City. Predominantly following Special Agents Omar Adom ‘OA’ Zidan (Zeeko Zaki) and Maggie Bell (Missy Peregrym), FBI revolves around the entire team, both outside of the field and inside the office’s technical intelligence hubs, as they race against time to bring down the highest priority of active criminals.


An FBI Franchise Is Born

Due to the massive ratings success of the exhilarating crime drama, it has so far spawned two spin-off series, FBI: Most Wanted and FBI: International, and continues to attract millions of viewers each week. The franchise has featured multiple crossover episodes and appearances by its dynamic characters, as each show focuses on various aspects of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the difficult investigations they oversee.

Related

10 Great Police Procedural Shows of the 1950s

Most police procedurals of the ‘5os were precise and realistic. The following are the best of the bunch.

3 The Shield

the shield


Widely regarded as one of the finest television shows of all time, FX’s crime drama masterpiece The Shield famously starred Michael Chiklis as Detective Vic Mackey, the corrupt and merciless leader of an LAPD anti-gang unit who never hesitates to use brutality and extortion in an effort to solve a crime. Popular stars like Forest Whitaker, Michael Peña, and Walton Goggins appeared in the pulse-pounding series, which showcased the corruption of police officers within the department.

The Shield Pushed the Boundaries

Series creator Shawn Ryan drew inspiration for the bold series from the Rampart scandal that rocked the LAPD during the ’90s and 2000s, and he pushed the boundaries for how much nudity and violence could be depicted within a cable network show. Throughout its exceptional seven seasons, The Shield won numerous accolades, including a Golden Globe Award and Satellite Award for Best Television Series Drama, and continued to shock and entertain audiences until the very last episode.


2 Columbo

Columbo

Columbo

Release Date
September 15, 1971

Seasons
10

Actor and comedian extraordinaire Peter Falk delivered one of the greatest and most memorable performances in television history as the titular savvy and shrewd Los Angeles homicide detective in Columbo, as the extremely observant lawman investigates various crimes with sporting his signature wrinkled raincoat and ever-present cigar. Falk portrayed the endlessly entertaining detective from 1968 to 2003.

Columbo’s Unconventional Approach

Columbo originally aired from 1971 to 1978 before shifting networks and being brought back under the umbrella The ABC Mystery Movie beginning in 1989, which resulted in four additional seasons and multiple specials. The quirky detective’s unique approach to investigating includes adopting an unassuming demeanor, and he easily disarms his suspects with his perceived ineptitude, which often results in an outright confession from the culprit.


1 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

When the great Olivia Benson teaches audiences everything about the law from the comfort of their television screen, they need to shut up and listen. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit differs from its numerous counterparts (like the original Law & Order show, which deals primarily with murder cases), due to its emphasis on investigating crimes closely tied to sexual situations.

Victims Find Their Voice in Law & Order

Bringing awareness to these cases, where the victims in many cases are able to tell their stories first-hand (which are often real and ripped from the headlines), the series brings a voice to these victims who courageously withstand terrible odds. For 25 seasons, Mariska Hargitay has knocked it out of the park as the compassionate and resilient Benson, and the character has become one of the most memorable and celebrated heroines in primetime television history.


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