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Great Television Detectives

Updated on August 17, 2013

Television has entertained us with those master detectives through the years. Why do they keep us watching? What do they have in common? Let us see their similarities and the strengths they have to help them nab the bad guy.

The 1970’s brought us a slew of detectives and we loved them all. It was thrilling to follow them on the course of their investigations. We were as satisfied, as they were, when the murderer was cornered and justice was made. Here are the great detectives of the 1970’s.

Columbo- Peter Falk was wonderful as Lt. Columbo. He looked like he just rolled out of bed when he appeared to question possible suspects and he always seemed like he was no real threat to contend with. He would ask questions that didn’t seem to pertain to the case and he would note his thoughts in a little notebook. Columbo was very likeable and you often wondered what his home looked like and also what his wife looked like. He was very stubborn and would not give up until he got the answers he was looking for. Columbo was dedicated to his job and you could count on the fact that by the end of the show Columbo would find the guilty party.

Cannon- William Conrad played the character of Frank Cannon. He wasn’t your typical detective. He was balding and overweight. Cannon was a lover of food, (it showed) he was charming, and he was tough. This show had humor the fight scenes where Cannon would use his stomach to go after the bad guy come to mind. He was top private investigator with culinary expertise, and he smoked a pipe. He had a great voice and he too was unstoppable. In the beginning of the series he had his share of fights, he also was in his fair share of auto chases, but he managed to survive and he would get his paycheck at the end of the series for a job well done.

The Rockford Files - James Garner brought us a very likeable guy named Jim Rockford. Rockford was the typical detective from the movies, he was always short on money, but long on charm. Jim was probably one of the poorest of the television detectives. He lived in a run-down mobile home which also was his office. He didn’t dress in the newest clothes and he was one detective who didn’t really like to use a gun and hardly had one on him. He liked to talk his way out of trouble and most of the time it worked. This series had a long run and it is no surprise. Rockford the characters he hung out with were quirky, funny, and memorable.

Mannix-Mike Connors played this tough detective Joe Mannix. He liked to do things his way working for a company that wanted him to play by the rules. Joe decided to open up his own business and as his secretary he had the first African American one. Mannix took more punishment than a Timex timepiece he took a licking and kept on ticking should have been his motto. According to, Neely Tucker from the Washington Post,”During the course of the series he is shot and wounded over a dozen separate times, or is knocked unconscious around 55 times. “All of this violence made Mannix more determined than ever to capture his man.

Barnaby Jones-this detective was played by Buddy Ebsen. He was retired from the private eye business, but his son , who took over the business was killed, and Barnaby came back from retirement to find out who murdered him. He worked with his daughter-in-law and Barnaby was like the Andy Griffin of detectives he was charming, soft spoken, and tried to avoid violence if he had to. Instead of liquor Barnaby preferred milk. Since he was an older detective he didn’t get involved in many physical fights. He would let his gun do the work for him. There was a great chemistry between Buddy Ebsen and Lee Meriweather who played his daughter in law. It was always a show worth watching

The 1980’s brought us even more memorable detectives. Topping the list would have to be

Magnum PI- Tom Selleck played detective Thomas Magnum. He was a private eye living in Hawaii .. He didn’t earn enough money to live there on his own. He did a security favor for a rich author and he granted him residence at his estate. Thomas lived a dream life. He only worked when he wanted to, he lived in a tropical paradise, he always had lady friends to be around, and he got to drive a Ferrari. The show had it all humor, drama, violence, and stunning scenery. No wonder this series ran for eight years.

Mike Hammer-Stacy Keach brought the novel of the Mike Hammer novels to life in this series. He had the trench coat, the cigarettes, the violence, and the beautiful damsels in distress. Mike Hammer was a tough detective, who could hold his own against any bad guy, but he also could be tender when needed and the ladies seemed to love him. This show takes you back to the classic detective character a modern day Sam Spade.

Simon and Simon-this unique series gave us not one but two detectives. They were played by Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker. They played brothers that ran their own detective agency. The older brother had street smarts while the younger brother had book smarts together they made a formidable team. The scenery of San Diego was pretty and the show was entertaining. The viewer got two detectives for the price of one. It was neat to watch them solve a case despite their different point of views.

2003 brought us a new detective in a tv series called Monk. Monk was quirky, had an obsessive compulsive disorder that seemed to overpower him, but when he put his mind to it he could solve any case with his attention to detail. He had two assistants through the years. The first his nurse Sharona who had her hands full watching after Monk. There was a great chemistry between the two . You could tell Sharona cared for Monk even though he could try her patience with his antics. The second companion he had was a widow named Natalie. She was more patient with Monk but the first assistant was more entertaining. There was a great supporting cast with Captain Leyland Stottlemeyer and his assistant Randy they were annoyed with Monk getting in their way of investigations, but slowly came to see his great gift of solving crimes. This show had drama and comedy a classic.

The Mentalist- in 2009 we were introduced to Simon Baker a former psychic who works for the California Bureau of Investigation. He uses the skills he acquired by working in a carnival, and a psychic medium to be able to read people and solve cases. Simon can be humorous but he has a dark side and his powers of concentration are strong until he is able to catch the guilty party. Simon works along side his boss Senior Special Agent Teresa Lipson she gets aggravated with Simon but realizes his unconventional way of detecting can lead to successful results. This show too has drama and comedy a little something for everyone.

Elementary - came to be in 2012 it is an updated version of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes, played by Johnny Miller , lives New York City and his companion is Watson .This time Watson is a female acted by Lucy Li she is keeping an eye on Holmes who is a recovering drug addict. Sherlock has many interests and these interests seem to help him in solving cases. It is also good that Watson is great at sleuthing herself. Together this team makes a dynamic duo.

Television detectives have been in abundant supply in the last couple of decades and it is easy to see why. They entertain us with their theories, their quirkiness, and their interactions with the people in their circle as well as the suspects themselves. The detective show has a main character that has humor, brains, and determination. You grow to care for these characters and root for the detective to piece together the case and let justice reign. It is always great to see the good guys win and good triumph over evil.

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    • cfjots profile image
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      cfjots 4 years ago from Conway, SC

      Thank you lions44 for your great comments. These detective shows are classics and always entertaining.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 4 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Columbo was the best TV detective of all time. Hands down. No one comes close. Well written and just great acting. You can watch them over and over again, but still catch something new. Magnum PI was my next favorite. Great topic. Voted up.