6 forgotten, gritty cop shows of the 1960s

Where else could you find a boxing champion undercover and Leslie Neilsen busting crime?

The Everett Collection

For the most part, 1960s television is not known for its realism. There is nothing wrong with that. Who needs realism when you have the giddy surrealism of Batman, The Monkees, Gilligan's Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Bewitched, The Munsters, etc.?

But one corner of network television grew grittier in the 1960s. That would be the ones involving law enforcement. In the 1950s, most TV characters wearing badges operated in the Wild West.

With the social changes of the Sixties, the action shifted to modern times, as tough urban cops became the norm in crime shows. Many of these series became lasting franchises — Dragnet, Adam-12, Hawaii Five-O, etc.

There were some, however, that failed to click with audiences, despite their quality and killer casts. Let's take a look.

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1. 87th Precinct

 

Ed McBain belongs on the Mount Rushmore of police fiction. For half a century, the author (real name: Salvatore Albert Lombino) pumped out books in his 87th Precinct series at an astounding rate, more than one per year, from 1956 to 2005. By 1963, his 87th Precinct works were already being adapted by legendary filmmakers, like Akira Kurosawa, who turned King's Ransom into High and Low. Before that, the best-sellers were spawning TV series, like this tough procedural set in the fiction metropolis of Isola. Norman Fell (future Mr. Roper) was in the cast, as well as the chiseled Robert Lansing, seen here. Would you mess with a brow like that?

Image: The Everett Collection

2. Miami Undercover

 

Few men have ever thrown a punch as well as Rocky Graziano. The boxing legend slugged his way to the title of world middleweight champion in the 1940s. After retiring from the sport, he transitioned to television, initially comedy, believe it or not. He partnered with "Take my wife — please" comedian Henny Youngman for The Henny and Rocky Show. Later, he turned into an action hero for this Florida-set crime series. He played the strongman alongside P.I. Jeff Thompson (Lee Bowman). Pity the stuntman who might have accidentally caught one of his fists.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. The Asphalt Jungle

 

The 1949 novel The Asphalt Jungle inspired the 1950 film The Asphalt Jungle… and this television series 11 years later. That being said, the small-screen version had little in common with the source material aside from its gritty noir tone. Jack Warden (12 Angry MenShampoo, Heaven Can Wait) starred. After the show bombed — Candid Camera clobbered it in the ratings — the studio edited the pilot episode, "The Lady and the Lawyer," into a feature film, released in 1961 as The Lawbreakers.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. The New Breed

 

Leslie Nielsen's eventual evolution into a slapstick comedy star could not have come as more of a shock to 1950s and 1960s television viewers. The actor was best known for playing stern crimefighters, first on The Untouchables and later on this overlooked Quinn Martin series. Martin would later create The Fugitive, The F.B.I., The Invaders, The Streets of San Francisco, Cannon and Barnaby Jones. Leslie Nielsen became the live-action Mr. Magoo.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Arrest and Trial

 

Sorry, Dick Wolf, this show was Law & Order decades before Law & Order. Each episode split its crime story in half, first focusing on the police procedural before shifting the setting to the courtroom. Ben Gazzara (right) led the police part, while former Rifleman Chuck Connors defended the accused as criminal attorney John Egan. Despite four Emmy nominations, Arrest and Trial lasted just one season.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. N.Y.P.D.

 

Jack Warden clipped on a different badge for this 1967 police drama, which attempted to bring the real-world happenings of New York City policing — and cutting-edge urban social issues — to the small screen. Again, give a tip of the cap to the casting director, who booked future icons such as Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and James Earl Jones.

Image: The Everett Collection

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13 Comments

BradBeall 2 days ago
Any or all of these shows would make for an interesting addition to the MeTV broadcast schedule. Perhaps on weekday nights, instead of 19... uhh, er, I mean 2 hours of M*A*S*H, toss in one or more of these shows? The 6 listed here might be fun to re-visit, and maybe, just to be weird, throw in a surprise episode of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse"... without announcing it beforehand!
Cougar90 5 days ago
How about returning the Perry Mason movies? Also, NYPD and The New Breed would be interesting additions to the schedule.
AgingDisgracefully 6 days ago
How about showing some rarely seen lawyer programs?
Judd For The Defense, Owen Marshall, New Perry Mason, LA Law, Murder One, The ORIGINAL Defenders, Trials of O'Brien, Bold Ones, Petrocelli, For The People, Centre Street, Reasonable Doubts, The Practice...
I've seen all the original Perrys many times and actually still watch.
I'm not old enough for Matlock. And hope I never am.
These looks the past can be hilarious or genuinely dumbfounding.
Old standards of justice, cool and wit can be entertaining.
Plus, a Susan Oliver guest role is always a possibility.
deltadart 7 days ago
The DVD set of 87th Precinct is quite entertaining. YouTube has many videos of the New Breed, Arest and Trial and N.Y.P.D, I have downloaded many of them.
justjeff 8 days ago
I have the 87th Precint DVD set, and have had the lone episode of Miami Undercover that was available on public domain DVD collections. I wish they could locate the original negatives and reissue that show, as it's so cool to see the Miami area in its better, saner, more peaceful days...
Bapa1 8 days ago
Never saw any of these, but have heard of a few. I know (You-Tube), but would be cool if Me Tv would show these maybe on Sunday evenings instead of Love Boat, Mama's Family and endless showings of MASH. Call it 'From the Vault'. After all, it is the Summer of Me.
WGH 8 days ago
As one of the younger Me-TV viewers, I love this kind of article. Thank you.
tootsieg 8 days ago
The only one I remember is The New Breed. I should remember NYPD but I don’t. Truly forgotten shows.
BorisK 8 days ago
Wow. Would love to see some of these episodes.
CaptainDunsel BorisK 8 days ago
You Tube is your friend. I just did a quick search and it looks as if several of these shows are available in full playlists.
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