7 forgotten, gritty cop shows of the 1960s

Where else could you find a boxing champion undercover and Spock in leather?

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.

Watch Dragnet on MeTV!

Weekdays at 5:30 AM & 6 AM
Saturdays at 5:30 AM

*available in most MeTV markets

1. 87th Precint

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 97th Precint 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. Lock Up

If you ever wondered what Leonard Nimoy might have looked like as the Fonz, track down this overlooked 1959-61 series. Sadly, hunting down episodes can be harder than cracking a 60-year-old cold case. The future Spock star turns up in denim and leather as a gang tough in "The Case of Frank Crotty," a.k.a. "Morality and the Shield." The casting agent on this show was knocking it out of the park, as the syndicated show also featured Mary Tyler Moore, Angie Dickinson, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Buddy Ebsen and more.

3. 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 Flordia-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

4. 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

5. 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. 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

6. 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 put the crooks behind bars as criminal attorney John Egan. Despite four Emmy nominations, Arrest and Trial lasted just one season.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. 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 smalls 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

SEE MORE: 11 forgotten cop shows of the 1970s

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

Save with
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

15 Comments

Post a comment
Runeshaper 1 day ago
Man, I would have watched all of these show! :)
AEDC49 3 days ago
Yes! they should inject the much needed variety and show all these & not after midnight to 6 am! especially No. 1 & 7! I Have been suggesting they show these, among other categories of really good shows, for last about 9 years along with Although not direct cop shows but have a cop connection contact character to sort of count- *Johnny Staccato although it started in '59 love the episode "Tempted" '59 with Elizabeth Montgomery! * Saints and Sinners * Checkmate *Target: The Corrupters!

Among actually many others only forgotten because they are never fairly shown amongst the over shown and not really viewed because of it Over-Shown same ones! That's what all these stations need is the variety as I even can't stand what were favorites of mine after being shown more then one cycle!

I have actually stopped watching until they do show the many great different shows for the proper Variety of it! As they keep trying to milk the same batch since they started for a fact! They actually make you hate what you liked by the continuous airing of the same shows just rescheduled etc!

I remember shows that I Haven't seen since the 1960's Early 70's that deserve to be aired very well so showing in just weeks and months the same episodes every year is not doing a real viewer any good unless they have the memory of only a few months but they all need an injection of major variety! after all they have these show's in their libraries of film and can do that start showing the variety!
Sooner 3 days ago
It would sure be fun/nice to have these on a short run instead of having to change channels when I see the same old MASH, now Waltons, Brady Bunch. I suppose the next one to be added will be Little House on the Prairie. There are so many really fun old shows from the past that we never see at all, it seems like some of these worn-out shows could give way for a while to some that haven't been seen by many folks.
GeorgeFergus 4 days ago
"1. 87th Precint"
You misspelled it.
Wiseguy GeorgeFergus 3 days ago
And then they refer to it as 97th Precint and misspell precinct again.
#5. "...and later on this overlooked Quinn Martin." Who overlooked Quinn Martin? The word series is left out.
MichaelSkaggs 4 days ago
In addition to "The New Breed", Quinn Martin was the producer of "Twelve O'Clock High". I'm looking forward to Me-TV returning it to the schedule. (Maybe at a better time than two in the morning.)
Tampammm MichaelSkaggs 4 days ago
I'm very glad that MeTV has added Barnaby Jones, another Quinn Martin production. And would like Twelve O'Clock High also.
JERRY6 5 days ago
JUST BOUGHT LOCK UP can't wait to see spock/fonz
Runeshaper JERRY6 1 day ago
Hey, JERRY6! Congrats! Where did you find it?
Barry22 5 days ago
Interesting article. Really never heard of these shows. As I've mentioned before, Me-TV should have a night showcasing shows like this.
Mike 5 days ago
Correction:
On ARREST AND TRIAL, Chuck Connors was a defense attorney; he was trying to get the guys that Ben Gazzara was arresting acquitted.
I know this because I've got the series on DVD.
This dichotomy was probably why ARREST AND TRIAL was short-lived (that, and being on against BONANZA …)
Lantern 6 days ago
Our cable system has a channel called "Retro", which shows old shows from the 50-60s (mostly unrestored, so they aren't of the highest quality). I've seen "Lock Up" on this channel several times, and that Leonard Nimoy episode in particular.
Tampammm Lantern 4 days ago
It's also on the streaming 24/7 Retro Channel, available on Roku and Fire devices.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?