9 short-lived 1980s crime dramas

Wonder woman, cowboys, and young Thanos were all catching bad guys in the 80s.

The TV-watching public really loves a good crime drama. Hollywood pumps out dozens every year, hoping to find that magical scenario that will keep us glued to the TV. Maybe the team catching bad guys has something different that makes them special. Or maybe we watch to see if the pretty detective is going to end up with the handsome chief of police.

Yes, there's a lot of appeal in crime dramas. But not all of them can be a hit. For every series that gets ten seasons and passionate fans, there's another handful that falls flat after only a couple episodes. 

Today, we've compiled 9 of those less-fortunate hopefuls from the 1980s, when cops and action ruled Hollywood. You can't win 'em all.

Watch In the Heat of the Night on MeTV!

Weekdays at 12 PM

*available in most MeTV markets

1. Leg Work (1987)


Leg Work was a CBS drama about an assistant district attourney turned private investigator. Our heroine, played by Margaret Colin, had relatable troubles even as she brought in the bad guys. One of her main problems through the series was trying to make ends meet as her detective agency got off the ground. Alas, this show never stood a chance against its Saturday night competitor, Golden Girls. After just six episodes, when Leg Work finished dead last in the ratings, the show was canceled. The additional four episodes of the season weren't even aired at the time. Ouch.

Image: Everett Collection

2. The Law & Harry McGraw (1987)


Murder, She Wrote is one of the most successful mystery series ever, so it stands to reason that a spin-off will do just as well, right? Nope. The Law & Harry McGraw followed the character of Harry McGraw into his own show. It was an opposites-attract kind of show, with Jerry Orbach playing McGraw, a rough-around-the-edges private investigator, and Barbara Babcock playing a prim and proper attourney. Presumably their differences would lead to chemistry eventually. We'll never know, since after sixteen episodes, the show was over for good.

Image: Everett Collection

3. MacGruder and Loud (1985)


MacGruder and Loud was reportedly rushed into production to capitalize on the success of Cagney & Lacey. The series revolved around police officers Malcolm MacGruber and Jenny Loud. The pair were married, but due to strict anti-fraternization rules in the precint, they had to keep their relationship completely secret. Heavy promotion during the 1985 Super Bowl led Johnny Carson to call the show "Frequent and Loud". Despite the Super Bowl bump, the show was canceled after just fourteen episodes.

Image: Everett Collection

4. Partners in Crime (1984)


You'd think a show helmed by Wonder Woman and a WKRP alumna would have better lasting power. Lynda Carter and Lori Anderson starred in this show looking like the '80s personified. They played Carole Stanwyck and Sydney Kovack, who share an ex-husband. When the ex is murdered, they team up to find his murderer and take over his detective agency. It's not a bad premise, a little like First Wives Club meets The Closer. However, it couldn't compete against established hits in the same time slot, like The Love Boat and Airwolf. And it didn't help that at the same time, a British series called Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime was airing, causing confusion among viewers. 

Image: Everett Collection

5. Knightwatch (1988)


Knightwatch was about a group of tough city punks, many ex-gang members, who formed a volunteer crime-fighting force to keep the city safe. Since they couldn't carry guns, they brought down the bad guys with sweet martial arts skills. Benjamin Bratt played the ringleader of Knights of the City, based on the real-life group the Guardian Angels. It's a different premise than a lot of shows on this list, which is why it's so dissapointing that it was such a ratings failure. Only nine episodes were ever made.

Image: Everett Collection

6. Hardball (1989)


Two years earlier, Lethal Weapon had been released in theaters to huge success. So that this show was a pretty shameless attempt to do the same thing isn't really all that surprising. It follows an older, by-the-book cop played by John Ashton and his new partner, a loose cannon who plays by his own rules (Richard Tyson). The two conflict over their law enforcement styles and have to learn to work together. The show couldn't capture the same magic as the movie, and eighteen episodes later, it was taken down for good.

Image: Everett Collection

7. Hawaiian Heat (1984)


Hawaiian Heat follows two Chicago cops who quit their jobs and move to Hawaii to become detectives. Maybe it was supposed to be a spiritual successor to Hawaii Five-O which had wrapped only four years earlier. It didn't get the same reception, however. Perhaps audiences were already tuned in to Magnum, P.I.? Or maybe the fish-out-of-water element with Chicago natives going tropical wasn't engaging enough to pull viewers back. For whatever reason, Hawaiian Heat went cold after eleven episodes.

Image: Everett Collection

8. Private Eye (1987)


This '80s show is notable for being set in the 1950s and, perhaps more, for starring a young Josh Brolin as a rockabilly. Michael Woods plays an ex-cop private eye who teams up with Brolin's character and they work together in vintage L.A. The show only lasted for thirteen episodes, but it might be worth a watch just to see young Thanos in that questionable haircut.

Image: Everett Collection

9. J.J. Starbuck (1987)


J.J. Starbuck is anything but forgettable. The show follows J.J. himself, a wealthy Texas oil tycoon who puts work above everything. When his wife and son die one day, he realizes that all of his money can't make him happy, and devotes his life to traveling around and helping others out of binds. With his 1961 Lincoln (complete with steer horns), a ten-gallon hat, cowboy boots, and folksy sayings, J.J. seems more like a cartoon character than a crime solver. Jimmy Dean, the sausage salesman himself, even had a part in the series. Unfortunately, this dog didn't hunt, and the show was replaced after sixteen episodes.

Image: Everett Collection

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Cougar90 3 months ago
The only one I watched was "Leg Work". I like Margeret Colin and the show deserved a complete season to find an audience.
TheSentinel 17 months ago
Out of all the shows listed here, Private Eye is the only one I remember because it was the only one I watched - Friday nights, right after Miami Vice (and I was in high school at the time):

MichaelSkaggs 17 months ago
I remembered all of them except Numbers 5 and 6. The shows Leg Work and J.J. Starbuck deserved a second season.
MarshaStapleton 41 months ago
I only vaguely recall some of these, tho I didn't watch any of them. SorryI missed out on the one with Benjamin Bratt though!
NHaynes 52 months ago
I loved MacGruder and Loud and was so disappointed when they cancelled it. I remember how cool it was that they had an adjacent door to each other's apartments.
TCKirkham 52 months ago
I LOVED "Legwork"! Not only for Margaret Colin, who has remained one of my favorite actresses since then, but also for one of the best TV Theme songs EVER, a stylish jazz piano romp that lights up the speaker. I wish they'd release the series on DVD, especially since in the years since, co-star Francis McDormand has become a huge star and Oscar winner. "Partners in Crime" was good but not great, but it's a shame it didnt' last longer. And "KNightwatch" was awesome as well. The rest I knew but don't think I ever tried...
MichaelGreene TCKirkham 39 months ago
Margaret Colin may have been easy on the eyes, but she hasn't done much recognizable work, not counting her role in "Independence Day", where she plays a Presidential advisor and estranged wife of Jeff Goldblum's character, who reunite near the film's last battle with the aliens...Goldblum comes up with a computer virus that disables the electronic shields, and delivers it with the help of Will Smith...two Pennsylvania guys save humanity from total extinction. (Goldblum is from Pittsburgh...Will Smith is "West Philadelphia born and raised...")
She mostly took herself out of the acting business.
Runeshaper 52 months ago
I don't think I remember any of these. However, they all seem promising. I understand that there is a lot of competition out there, but I bet some of these might make it today :)
bpacha77511 52 months ago
M&L was the one i remember the most. The most memorable episode was the one where the husband chased a kid in a alley. He was giving the kid commands and he suddenly moved reaching for his pocket. The kid got shot...and killed i believe.... when the officer walked up to him he saw a card the said i am deaf. thats what the kid was reaching for and he got suspended. This episode has always stuck with me....even though i was only 8 or 9 when it came out. Years later when i became a officer myself i was so scared that would happen to me. Thank God it never did.
Utzaake 52 months ago
MacGruder and Loud was most memorable of the nine. Kathryn Harrold was the female lead.
RobCertSDSCascap 52 months ago
9. Even Dale Robertson couldn't help.
Jeremy 52 months ago
Out of all the nine listed here, Hardball is the one I remember the most!
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?