TV’s Greatest Cops – Will ‘Southland”s Force Rank?

by | April 7, 2009 at 12:54 PM | Top 10 Lists

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For the first time since CHiPs was on the air, present-day Los Angeles is once again a central character in the new police drama, Southland. The hour-long series created by John Wells, who just bid adieu to producing-writing chores on ER, debuts April 9 on NBC. Gritty, emotional, full of honest moments that pierce that armor most people wear for protection from life’s cruelty, the show has the look, feel and sensiblity of a hit. “Don’t expect to see someone who always saves the day,” we were told by Regina King, who plays Det. Lydia Adams.

Will Southland rank among TV’s best cop shows? It’s too early to say. But it inspired us to think about our favorite TV cops. This was another hard one. We had to make some seriously difficult choices, including Cagney and/or Lacy, depending on your fancy. As always, let us know which picks we got right and which ones we got wrong. Even though it stings when you call us boneheads, we enjoy hearing how knowledgeable you are. Check ‘em out:

1. Dragnet: Sgt. Joe Friday
Joe Friday (Jack Webb) never dreamed his beloved Los Angeles would descend into the depths of Hell that Southland explores, but his no-nonsense approach is stiill utilized by many cops on the job today. Perhaps Dragnet’s greatest legacy is its attempt to portray police officers as a group of highly trained professionals, just trying to shield themselves from the horror of senseless, violent crime.

For all cops, everywhere, emotion gets in the way of taking the bad guys off the streets. To deal with the rising tide, Joe Friday’s classic tactics still work: Wham, Bam, “just the facts, ma’am.”

2. Miami Vice: Sonny Crockett
Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) was just as concerned with the cut of his blazer as the cleanliness of his gun, but in the end, he didn’t mind getting dirty to close the books. And sporting a killer wardrobe behind the wheel of the hottest cars the impound lot could offer was just a fringe benefit for the job. Sometimes you have to look like a criminal to catch one.

Despite attempts by the show to deal with issues other than rampant drug abuse, Miami Vice chose flash over subsatance. And as Will Smith would say about Sonny, “The difference between him and those other guys is, he made that s*** look good!”

3. The Andy Griffith Show: Barney Fife
Of course Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) was the star of the show, but no other cop on TV was more like the kind of cop most of us would (hopefully) run into as was Don Knotts‘ Barney Fife: decent, upright, compassionate, kinda dorky and, unfortunately, accident prone. The closest Barney ever got to firing his weapon the first day on the job was when he nearly shot himself in the foot getting dressed that morning.

Luckily, he also had terrible aim.

4. Kojak: Lieutenant Theo Kojak
If charisma and sweet-talking actually solves crimes, then Kojak (Telly Savalas) is your mentor. Of course, that was really all just flash. Kojak taught every cop that no one man closes a case. It takes a team of dedicated people to work together if you want to get your man.

And for the first time, big city cops finally got a little bit of respect from their (at that time) mortal enemy – the Feds. You never heard Kojak asking”why can’t we all just get along.”

5. NYPD Blue: Andy Sipowicz
You want realism? For millions of Americans, Andy Sipowicz’ butt crack was much more offensive than any gunshot wound. But it wasn’t Dennis Franz‘ bodacious bod that kept viewers riveted. A cop who lost his temper and struggled with his own demons even as he strived to protect the innocent was a guy we can all relate to.

Sometimes, it just ain’t pretty.

6. Hawaii Five-O: Lt. Steve McGarrett
When everybody thinks you’re just a pretty boy, showing you’ve got the smarts to crack any international whodunit goes a long way towards earning your staff’s respect. But you don’t have to get your hands dirty, do you? Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) was a genius at figuring out the devious plans of each week’s “Mr. Big” but he let the boys in the donut squad chase down the inept underlings for the collar.

When it came time to spring the trap, it was always McGarrett who played the last hand. And all without mussing his hair.

7. Saving Grace: Detective Grace Hanadarko
It’s not just the boys downtown having all the fun after hours. Hard-living, bed-hopping Okie dtective Grace Hanadarko (Holly Hunter) can drink any male cup under the interview table. Getting behind the wheel is another matter. Grace teaches every cop that when you let the pressures of “the job” get to you, it’s good to have an angel in your corner.

And, oh yeah, don’t drink and drive. It’s the law.

8. Hill Street Blues: Sgt. Michael “Mick” Belker
No matter how superior a cop may feel to the cretins he’s forced to deal with, sometimes you have to play the bad guy if you want to infiltrate the opposition. Without undercover cops, the gap that separates us from the career criminal would be too wide to bridge. But some UCs are better actors than others. They seem to relish the role.

Belker (Bruce Weitz) proved that sleeping in your clothes for a week can give you the edge you need when you’re trying to catch a crook. Now that’s dedication.

9. Adam-12: Patrolmen Peter Malloy
Realism at the time of this show’s L.A. amounted to lots of speeding cruisers arriving just in the nick of time. The disembodied female dispatcher’s voice over the squad car squawkbox lent an element of scientific efficiency to the spotless crime fighting, and officer Peter Malloy (Martin Milner) was the first TV cop to, as George Costanza would later say, “all of a sudden get involved with people’s lives.”

Malloy proved that you can’t drop the badge off at the front door when your shift is over.

10. Monk: Adrian Monk
Some of the most successful people in the world suffer from crushing phobias, but the curse may also be the reason they succeed. Having OCD helps when the focus of your obsession is solving mysteries, and Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) inspires all cops (and former cops, turned freelance gumshoe) to remember that any journey begins with a single step.

And don’t forget your booties!

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