11 forgotten cop shows of the 1970s

Police were everywhere on TV, ranging from steely to silly.

Image: The Everett Collection

In the Seventies, cops popped up all over television. Following the beat of shows like Adam-12, The Mod Squad and Hawaii Five-O, procedural police shows blossomed that decade. ColumboPolice Story, Police Woman, The Rookies, S.W.A.T., The Street of San Francisco, Kojak — there were dozens of series depicting crime and punishment on city streets. Elsewhere, CHiPs and Barney Miller were showing police work with a sense of humor, to varying degrees.

There were many more that have since been overlooked, like some cold case stuffed away in a filing cabinet. Let's blow the dust off and take a closer look.

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1. Sarge


To a younger generation, George Kennedy is best known for his comedic roles in Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Those brilliant spoofs worked so well because the casts were known for playing those type of characters seriously. Before he was a bumbling cop and a slapstick airline mechanic, Kennedy was known for playing gritty, blue-collar types. (He is not the only actor on this list to go from TV drama to Airplane!) In Sarge, the Academy Award Winner (1967, Cool Hand Luke) portrayed a cop who turns to the cloth, joining the Catholic priesthood after the murder of his wife. Perhaps the most notable thing about the series is that crossed over with Ironside, as Sarge teamed with Raymond Burr's wheelchair-bound crime-solver in the TV movie The Priest Killer.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. The Partners


Don Adams was hot off the success of Get Smart. Heck, look at this promotional photo — it's as if he wandered straight from the Get Smart set onto The Partners wearing the same clothes on his back. Going from bumbling spy to bumbling cop was no big stretch, and he teamed with an esteemed actor, Rupert Crosse, the first black performer ever nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. Dick Van Patten joined the cast. The pilot, which also featured the wonderful Yvonne Craig, tested well with audiences. But the network foolishly pitted this cop comedy up against All in the Family. It was handcuffed from the get-go.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Chopper One


Dirk Benedict landed his first regular television role in this helicopter adventure series, teaming with Jim McMullan (pictured here). The network grounded Chopper One after a mere six months. The dashing Benedict went on to star in Battlestar Galactica and The A-Team. McMullan had less luck, landing in flops like 1980's Beyond Westworld.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Get Christie Love!


We've already given you 5 reasons why Get Christie Love! was the coolest show of the 1970s. Teresa Graves, the first black woman to star in an hourlong drama series, took down bad guys with style, spouting her catchphrase, "You're under arrest, Sugar!" Inspired by Pam Grier flicks, but based on the career of a real cop, Christie Love! is often lumped in the blaxploitation genre, but had a true moral purpose, thanks to the strong beliefs and sway of Graves. 

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Nakia


If Get Christie Love! wasn't enough evidence that Quentin Tarantino watched a ton of television in the 1970s, take Nakia as further proof. The calm, cool Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) starred as a Navajo sheriff in a New Mexico town. Like Breaking Bad, the series was filmed in and around Albuquerque. A rare network show to explore Native American life (even if it starred an Irish-Italian actor), Nakia might have lasted more than an unlucky 13 episodes had it not been slotted against The Carol Burnett Show.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Joe Forrester


Like George Kennedy, Lloyd Bridges showed his sense of humor in Airplane! ("I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue"), and those jokes worked because audiences were so used to seeing the actors play tough. Introduced in Police Story, grizzled veteran Joe Forrester opted to go from plainclothes work back to the blues, hitting the streets by foot like a rookie. 

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Bert D'Angelo/Superstar


The clunky title reads like a Saturday Night Live skit — yes, the full title was actually Bert D'Angelo/Superstar, slash and all. Paul Sorvino doing the cha-cha in the middle of a San Francisco street does not help dispell that notion, but in reality, this Quinn Martin series spun off from the gritty The Streets of San Francisco. Robert Pine, later of CHiPs, also starred. Oddly, the spin-off aired before the Streets of San Francisco episode that introduced the character.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. Nashville 99


A sort of country-fried spin on The Streets of San Francisco, Nashville 99 paired an old-school cop (Claude Akins) with a hip hotshot (Jerry Reed). The show had country credibility. Not only did Reed sing the theme song ("He's a man and he's proud and he's all Tennessee"), musicians like Ray Stevens, Mel Tillis and Tammy Wynette popped up as guests. It may have struggled in the ratings, but the stars quickly bounced back in similar projects — Reed jumping into Smokey and the Bandit and Akins finding fame as Sheriff Lobo on B.J. and the Bear.

Image: The Everett Collection

9. Serpico


Filling Al Pacino's shoes is an unenviable task for any actor. David Birney was probably not the first name that came to mind to play the real-life Frank Serpico, an iconoclast and passionate fighter of police corruption. After all, his last regular roles on television had been Bridget Loves Bernie, a romcom with his wife at the time, Meredith Baxter, around the time Serpico was in theaters. This movie adaptation was not bad, but perhaps a little late and unnecessary.

Image: The Everett Collection

10. Most Wanted


Who better to play a no-nonsense bad-guy skull-cracker than Robert Stack? Stack had previously partnered with producer Quinn Martin on The Untouchables, and this was a sort of modern update on the idea (a bit Mod Squad meets Eliot Ness — heck, Stack's character was even named Linc). The pedigree was there. Tom Selleck even played one of the elite LAPD squad in the pilot. A few years later, in his memoir, Stack would blame "network politics" for the show ended after a single season. Stack would, of course, go on to join the cast of Airplane!

Image: The Everett Collection

11. Detective School


Randolph Mantooth was beloved as a television hero, saving lives on Emergency! He took a far different approach in Detective School, a sitcom from the creators of Diff'rent Strokes, about a bunch of misfit people learning detective skills in night school, a proto-Police Academy concept. Mantooth played a salesman, alongside Taylor Negron, who was a disco addict. This being television, the students end up entangled in real crimes, like a killer in a massage parlor.

Image: The Everett Collection

SEE MORE: 10 forgotten cop shows of the 1980s

Not even Marshal Matt Dillon and Mr. Miyagi could turn these into hits. READ MORE

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MarkSpeck 40 months ago
Nakia was produced by David Gerber of Police Story fame, who earlier did a similar and far better show set in New Mexico, Cade's County, starring the one and only Glenn Ford as the Sheriff of Madrid, New Mexico. It was both a cop show and a modern-day Western and would have fit in quite well on this list.
MarkSpeck 40 months ago
Never saw Detective School, but I did watch all of these (Partners and Chopper One, I saw single episodes of both years later, but not in the original run). I so disliked Paul Sorvino's character in Bert D'Angelo/Superstar that I stopped watching after one episode, and I was (and still am) a HUGE Quinn Martin fan, so for me to turn something like that off is telling.
Dave 40 months ago
I remember "Most Wanted", "Joe Forrester", "Serpico" (both the movie AND the TV show), "Get Christie Love", and "Bert D'Angelo/Superstar" (yes, including that title - I have always wanted to know just what that title meant, and just what the story is behind that title - l mean, how often are police detectives called "superstars"?)!
IdaKnow56 40 months ago
I remember "Get Christie Love!" I was thrilled to see Theresa Graves, since I enjoyed her on "Laugh-In". She even had several of her "Laugh-In" co-stars in one episode (Artie Johnson, Joanne Worley, and Goldie Hawn, I think). But you didn't mention "Racket Squad" as one of the cop shows that didn't make it. It came and went pretty fast, but I still remember it bring similar to "Dragnet", except that it dealt with Con Artists.
MarkSpeck IdaKnow56 40 months ago
Probably because this article deals with '70's cop shows, and Racket Squad was from the '50's.
DougAbbott 40 months ago
There's nothing rare about any of these cop shows. This list is as bad as the western one where you list Broken Arrow & Cimmaron City as rare.
walligans 41 months ago
I only remember Get Christy Love.
AdrMky 46 months ago
I have the full season of Most Wanted.
Dave AdrMky 40 months ago
They actually have "Most Wanted" on DVD and Blu-ray?? I'll have to get it! I remember that show really well, as it was a Quinn Martin cop show on ABC, and it ran on Saturday nights at 10:00 PM right after my favorite - "Starsky and Hutch"! It only ran the one season (1976-77), but I do remember it very well!
MarkSpeck Dave 6 months ago
Most Wanted is available as an MOD (Made On Demand) set from Paramount home video. If the exorbitant price scares you away, all the episodes are on YouTube.
Dario 46 months ago
It certainly remember those 1974 shows as a 5 year old reading TV Guide at time. ABC really hyped that Christie Love series, but the blackxploitation genre didn't sit well with audiences, after the first two episodes or so. Plus, that catchphrase from Christie Love never caught on, despite what MeTV says in this article.
SheriHeffner 52 months ago
Was the actress from Get Christy Love the same woman in the photograph on the hotel room that Danny's psychic friend Dick Halloran had in The Shining. The woman had a humongous fro and very large breasts.
Wiseguy SheriHeffner 40 months ago
She was on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In during the third season (1969-70).
SheriHeffner 54 months ago
I don't remember any of these programs, probably because they came on after I was in the bed.
DawnGraham 55 months ago
only 2 I remember is Get Christie Love & Serpico
cperrynaples 55 months ago
Rupert Crosse was sort of a sad story, in that just as he was going to co-star with Jack Nicholson in "The Last Detail" he learned he had lung cancer. He died in 1973 at the age of 45.
Dario cperrynaples 46 months ago
How sad! He must have been a heavy smoker. 😟
Barry22 55 months ago
The only one of these I remember was 'Get Christie Love'. Pretty easy to see why these were forgotten.
JeffOlsen 55 months ago
George Kennedy wasn't in "Airplane!"
cperrynaples JeffOlsen 55 months ago
Nope, they must have mixed him up with Leslie Neilson who DID appear with George in the "Naked Gun" movies!
MrsPhilHarris JeffOlsen 55 months ago
He was in The Airport Movies.
To settle this "argument," George Kennedy was in the Airport movies and Naked Gun. In Airport, his big scene was as Joe Patroni a TWA mechanic, pushing a snowbound 707 out of a snowdrift.
Dave JeffOlsen 40 months ago
It's funny that MeTV never mentioned this, but George Kennedy DID star in a cop show that should have been in this list - "The Blue Knight"! It ran on CBS from 1975 to 1976, premiering in the fall of 1975, alongside "Joe Forrester", which it was very similar to, as Kennedy played a uniformed cop named "Bumper" Robinson, who walked a beat, just as Joe Forrester did on his show. I remember very well that "The Blue Knight" was picked up for the 1976-77 season, and continued in its Wednesday night @ 10:00 PM time slot on CBS, but it then had the misfortune of being on against the new ratings phenomenon "Charlie's Angels" on ABC, and that quickly crushed it. "The Blue Knight" only lasted about a month into the new fall season.
Dave stephaniestavropoulos 40 months ago
Are you sure it was TWA? I remember the 1970 movie "Airport", and remember that the stuck Boeing 707 in the film was in the livery of the fictional "TGA", for "Trans-Global Airways".
TCKirkham Dave 35 months ago
Clarification - In the story, it is briefly mentioned that Trans-Global borrowed Joe Patroni, said to be "TWA's #1 mechanic". So yes, it was TWA Joe worked for in that film. He later became head of operations for Columbia Airlines (Airport 1975), a private aviation consultant (Airport '77) and a Concorde pilot for a "American-owned, French-run" airline in "The Concorde...Airport '79" How one bounces from one to each of those jobs is utterly beyond me....but darn it, Joe Patroni DID! :-)
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