11 forgotten TV detectives and crime solvers of the 1970s

Not everyone could be the next Columbo.

Images: The Everett Collection

If there's three things televison loves it's lawyers, doctors and detectives. They are the trifecta of the TV drama, staples that will never go away. In the future, we'll be watching holograms of courtroom scenes from Mars. Perhaps.

Really, who doesn't love a good whodunnit? There's a reason that millions continue to watch Perry Mason and Columbo decades after they originally aired. They are the epitome of the crime show, sitting high atop the mountain of small-screen case solvers. Sure, there were other greats, like Mannix, Kojak, Barnaby Jones, Ironside and Rockford, not to mention a slew of lesser-known sleuths.

In the 1970s, in particular, the genre exploded. Each season, networks rolled out a handful of shows with a single, hard-boiled name for a title — Hawkins, Griff, DelvecchioKaz, etc. — all of them aspiring to reach the status of Columbo. In most cases, a notable actor was cast in the title role. It didn't always quite work out, ratings-wise, but the shows were entertaining. Let's take a closer look at the overlooked ones. Who knows, they might get a reboot.

1. 'Dan August'



After putting down his blacksmith's apron and leaving Gunsmoke, Reynolds turned TV detective, first in the flop Hawk in 1966. Half a decade later, the former football player landed another headline role in Dan August, as a homicide detective in the fictional town of Santa Luisa, California. Though it came from hitmaker Quinn Martin, creator of The Fugitive, Cannon, The F.B.I. and Barnaby Jones, the drama lasted a mere season. Not that it hurt Reynolds, who made the leap to movie star soon afterward. Maybe all he needed was the mustache.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. 'Longstreet'



A bomb hidden inside a champagne bottle explodes, killing and woman and leaving her husband blind. He continues his role as an insurance investigator. What sounds like a setup for a Daredevil comic book is the premise of Longstreet, starring James Franciscus (Mr. Novak, Naked City).

Image: The Everett Collection

3. 'Hawkins'



Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was in his mid-60s when he made the transition to the small screen. His first stab at a series was The Jimmy Stewart Show, a one-season sitcom premiering in 1971. He next went to crime solving, as country lawyer, a sort of Perry Mason–meets–Matlock in Hawkins. The role earned him a Golden Globe nomination and criminal acclaim, but was axed after a mere seven episodes. Part of the reason was bizarre programming. The show, which catered to an older, rural demographic, was alternated with the hip and gritty Shaft.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. 'The Snoop Sisters'



What sounds like a group of hip hop backup singers was actually a precursor of sorts to Murder, She Wrote. Two elderly women, both mystery novelists, Ernesta Snoop and Gwendolyn Snoop, continually come across crimes they must solve. It is rather notable for featuring an unlikely, rocking performance by Alice Cooper, who crawled around on dining tables singing heavy metal in one episode.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. 'Toma'



Tony Musante starred in a series based on the case files of David Toma, a real-life detective in Newark, New Jersey. Surprising the network, Musante decided to step away after one season. ABC recast the role with Robert Blake, then opted to completely retool the show from the ground up, turning the production into Baretta.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. 'Griff'



The ol' generation gap buddy cop premise. Former Bonanza stalwart Lorne Green played "Griff" Griffin, a former detective turned private eye with a 31-year-old partner (Ben Murphy).

Image: The Everett Collection

7. 'Harry O'



Before Charlie's Angels was called Charlie's Angels, the show's working title was The Alley Cats. Why do we bring it up? Well, once the Angels premise was decided upon, Aaron Spelling intitially called the series Harry's Angels. It was changed thanks to Harry O, so as not imply a link between the shows. Former star of The Fugitive, David Janssen portrayed a San Diego cop who turns P.I. after being shot in the back. In case you forget this was the 1970s, check out Janssen's manner of wearing a dress shirt — four buttons undone — in the promotional photo.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. 'Bronk'



Who woud win in a fight — Gronk or Bronk? Sorry, New England Patriots fans, we're going with tough-as-his-leather-jacket Jack Palance here. The Oscar winner played Alex Bronkov, a tenacious veteran detective in fictional Ocean City, California.

Image: The Everett Collection

9. 'Jigsaw John'



Like Toma, Jigsaw John was based on a real detective, LAPD robbery-homicide investigator John P. St. John. He served on the force for a stunning 51 years, earning him the right to carry the badge No. 1. Jack Warden of Shampoo and Brian's Song played the true hero — for 15 episodes on NBC.

Image: The Everett Collection

10. 'Delvecchio'



Judd Hirsch is best known for his comedy, as a key player in sitcom gems like Taxi and Dear John. He might have followed a different path had this clicked. Hirsch played the titular Dominick Delvecchio, an LAPD detective studying to be a lawyer. TV titan Stephen Bochco wrote the critically acclaimed show, and after its failure, he took two regular cast members, Charles Haid and Michael Conrad, to make Hill Street Blues.

Image: The Everett Collection

11. 'Kaz'



Awards do not translate to viewer. Ron Leibman took home an Emmy for his lead role in Kaz, about a former con turned defense attorney. Nevertheless, the show became a forgotten cult favorite after a short run of 22 episodes. Leibman would go on to win a Tony for Angels in America.

Image: The Everett Collection

SEE MORE: 15 forgotten sci-fi and fantasy series of the 1970s


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JudithReboy 34 months ago
My favorite 70's sleuth is the late, great Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen.
WILD 34 months ago
I remember all of them except for The Snoop Sisters (If it was anything like MSW, then I'm glad), Bronk and Griff.
Tammy 45 months ago
I remember Harry O and liking the show but the others not so much
Mockschnel 64 months ago
Kind of interesting how you mention every obvious actor in the shows listed above but completely ignore crediting Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as The Snoop Sisters, presumably because you didn't recognize them and were too lazy to take ten seconds to google the show.

PS - David Janssen's character, Harry O, lived on the beach in that show and consistently wore an unbuttoned shirt . . it was a part of the character, not because "it was the 1970s" but I can understand an uneducated, judgmental millennial jumping to that inaccurate conclusion . . I mean, why do any actual research on the shows you're commenting on, right?
lordlnyc 64 months ago
I remember and watched 7 of them. Sad the got cancelled.
Tresix 65 months ago
I remember every one of these shows, but I didn't know "Jigsaw John" was based off of a real person.
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