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

 

1971

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

 

1971–72

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

 

1974

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!

 

1974

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

 

1974

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

 

1975–76

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

 

1976

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

 

1977

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

 

1976–77

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

 

1976–77

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

 

1979

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

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57 Comments

wahb528 12 months ago
Ummm…George Kennedy was in The Airport Series of movies- he was not in Airplane…
CaptainDunsel 12 months ago
I remember all of these except "Nashville 99" (which is odd, because I'm a huge Claude Akins fan). I'm pretty sure I saw at least one episode of most of them.
Pacificsun 12 months ago
Realizing the Seventies are dead and buried. Even when the developers were sitting down with these ideas for a Series. The first (and only) question they should've ask each other is "Why?" And then go back and read Producer Roy Huggins' definition of good television.
texasluva Pacificsun 12 months ago
Come one come all to the MeTv Friday Night Movie Quiz.
Where everyone can take a guess or make comments to other quizzers.
There will be extra bonus movies for just coming by. Including entertainment for all. Feel free to ask questions, copy movie links and just plain join in the fun via communication. The MQ will be up until the movie is guessed and an hour to look over and pick out what you wish. Have fun doing so. There are no wrong answers but the first one to guess the correct movie gets their names put up for getting it correctly. Good luck and enjoy. See you @ Can you fill in these blank Flintstones episodes with the correct character names? 9 P.M. Sharp (Friday) CT.
JellyrollJackson 12 months ago
I don’t remember any of these shows 🥺
15inchBlackandWhite 12 months ago
I remember Nashville 99. Apparently it was filmed on the same back lot as The Dukes of Hazzard where the cars were driving on dirt most of the time. Years later on my first trip to Nashville I was actually a bit surprised to see that the streets were paved.
WordsmithWorks 12 months ago
"To a younger generation, George Kennedy is best known for his comedic roles in Airplane! (1980) and The Naked Gun" (1988). Is this an indication of MeTV's perceived demographic?
Bapa1 12 months ago
The only one of these that I knew was 'Get Christie Love'. The others I never heard of.
BuckeyeBeth 12 months ago
I think most of these shows were on well past my bedtime so I don’t really remember them. They do fall into three categories for me.

I remember Chopper One and watching it every week because I thought Dirk Benedict was so incredibly cute. I was very excited when he got Battlestar Galactica which combined two of my favorite things, Sci-fi and cute guys. I’m sure Chopper One was in the 8 o’clock hour. As a sidenote I always remember the show 240-Robert for the same reason. Because I was crushing on Mark Harmon at first sight lol

I was aware of Get Christie Love, Bert D’Angelo/Superstar & Serpico and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen snippets of them because my dad watched them. But I’m sure I’ve never seen a full episode. These guys were probably the 10 o’clock hour shows.

I’ve heard of Most Wanted from nostalgia articles but was not aware of it at the time, and I’ve never even heard of any of the others.
Runeshaper 12 months ago
Most of these look like fun! My dad loves The Partners! (-:
MsRockford74 12 months ago
I met Jo Ann Harris (Most Wanted) at Nostalgia Con in MD a few years ago. She was very nice and gracious:)
Andybandit 12 months ago
I never heard of any of these shows. Looks like good Actors and Actresses in these shows. Too bad MeTv couldn't air them, but they were only one season.

BuckeyeBeth Andybandit 12 months ago
Shows that went only a season or two would make a good Sunday night block. Since they would only be on once a week there would be quite a lot of time between the first and last episode before starting over.
Bapa1 BuckeyeBeth 12 months ago
I've mentioned that before also.
Wiseguy70005 BuckeyeBeth 12 months ago
The episodes would have to be restored to High-Def condition before they could be showed. Nobody including MeTV would pay for that for basically unknown series.
MrsPhilHarris 12 months ago
Hmmm…some of these I don’t recall. Too bad METV couldn’t get these shows or at least a few of them, and air them on a rotating basis.
KJExpress 12 months ago
I remember Chopper One and Get Christie Love!, although I never saw either one.
Sway 12 months ago
I have I vague recollection of about 5 of those. No recollection of the others.
Another forgotten police show of the 70’s was Chase, 1973-1974, with Mitchell Ryan, Wayne Maunder, and Gary Crosby among others.
WonderGeorge Sway 12 months ago
If my memory serves me correctly - which it does - Wayne Maunder was a member of the cast of the short-lived Western, "Lancer", and Gary Crosby was better known as "Talking" Ed Wells on ADAM-12; Albert Reed was a very good character actor in his own right.

In addition, I believe "Chase" was a product of Mark VII Limited - Jack Webb's company.
RS1515 12 months ago
I was in elementary school back then, the only ones I remember were Serpico and Get Christie Love. Both tv series started out as movies.
KentuckyPhil69 12 months ago
Teresa Graves was a knockout ❤️❤️❤️
She was on Laugh-In during its third season.
teire 12 months ago
These comments go way back! I remember most of these, at least vaguely.
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