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What Every Great Spy or Detective Television Series Needs to Succeed.

Updated on January 9, 2015

Some of my Favorite Spy and Detective TV Series

  1. Burn Notice
  2. the Glades
  3. Psych
  4. Monk
  5. Columbo
  6. Magnum P.I.
  7. Perry Mason
  8. X-Files
  9. 24
  10. Law and Order

There is nothing better than a great spy or detective television show...

From Macgyver to Burn Notice, and Psych to Monk, there is just something exciting about watching a television series about spies, detectives, or a combination of both. Whether it is the action, or the suspense, or the constant thrill of figuring out who did it, these shows really deliver.

But for a show to work it has to have several elements to make it worth your investment of time. You need to want to get to know the characters, find out what happens in their lives next, feel their love and pain, and grieve their losses. And in the end you want to share their joys and triumphs and celebrate them like they are your own. So lets see what you need to have a great spy or detective show.

For the purpose of this article I will focus on three different shows, Burn Notice, Psych, and the Glades.

Strong Leading Role Pole

Who is your favorite lead character in these spy or detective shows?

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You Need a Strong, Quirky, and Capable Lead Character.

Every good show starts with a strong lead character. One that has a ton of issues in their past. This makes them quirky, hard to guess what they will do next, and quite frankly driven to do what is right.

All of the characters in my three model television series have all of these qualities. In addition they are strong, capable, and make quality lead characters. So lets delve a little bit into their character and see what makes the so fun.

So Michael Westen in Burn Notice is a lonely damaged spy who gets a burn notice, and ends up home back in Miami. So now all he can think about is how he can get back into the spy game but gets constantly sidetracked by odd jobs to make money. Pair that with a love of guns, a tenuous relationship with his mom, and an ex-girlfriend who stalks him. Combine that with the FBI following him and the CIA manipulating him and you have a volatile situation.

He has a weird love of cultured dairy products, wears his favorite sunglasses in every episode. And lives a very spartan life. He is a strong lead character sometimes putting his desire to help people above all else. He has a few quirks but not mentionable, and his methods are proven very capable as he is probably the strongest and most kick-butt of all of our leading characters.

Detective Jim Longworth in The Glades is a different kind of character than I have seen in a while. He is sarcastic, annoying, but he gets results. Always, so that makes him the most capable on our list. He seems to be always right, so right that he always finishes the medical examiners conclusions much to his delight.

In his love life he is a lot more endearing actually being the caring and kind one while his love interest is a little cold and distant. He is driven at his job, solves every case with amazing ease and annoying finality. So while he is not the most powerful of the leads he certainly is the most capable.

Now Shawn Spencer from Psych is the most quirky of all these characters. The show starts with a lie helping him to gain entrance and a job to the Santa Barbara PD where he becomes their psychic detective. He solves crime by random madness, quirky head gestures, and random fits of...well just fits. But he is funny even though his way of solving crime is unconventional it gets results.

He loves food, and especially all kinds of snacks, anything eighties is his favorite, and he doesn't like to work. But he does solve crimes in his own unique way. So this makes him quirkiest lead character out of our three.

So in these shows and in life it is great to have a personality. Whatever yours is, let it show and enjoy some life in your own special way. In the end I give the nod to Michael Westen by a nose hair. They are all great leads but his character in the end (I wont spoil the end) is by far the most endearing.

Preview of The Glades

What makes a great sidekick?

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Sidekick Comparison

Who is your Favorite Sidekick?

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Must have a partner who is charismatic, witty, and has chemistry with the lead character.

Everyone needs a friend, a confidant, and a noble, reliable, and faithful sidekick.

For the The Glades its Carlos Sanchez that fits the sidekick or partner bill. He is a sullen, serious, and knowledgeable medical examiner. He has a love hate relation ship with his lead character but in the end they are friends. He is the most reliable of the bunch always making sure that the detective has all the information he needs in a timely manner.

In Burn Notice you have the ex-Navy seal Sam Axe. This guy has a love for alcohol, rich women, and free time. He is full of crazy sayings and is a great friend to our spy. He is as loyal as a sidekick can get but what makes him most unique is his nobility. Being an seal he is always doing what is right, and is the moral sentinel for a sometimes wayward lead character.

And finally in Psych its Burton Guster to the rescue, who shares the lead characters affinity for snacks and eighties references. But unlike our lead, Burton is responsible, saves his money, and lives mostly by the book. He can scream higher than anyone, has a fear of most things, and loves his carry affectionately nicknames "the Blueberry". He definitely is the most quirky, funny, and faithful sidekick out of all of them.

In life you need to let yourself be you, and you need friends, faithful sidekicks to help you through life. For me this is a tie between Sam Axe and Burton Guster, maybe because they are on the exact opposite ends of the personality pole.

Sidekick Sam Axe Funniest Qoutes

Love Interest Poll

Who is the best love interest of our three shows?

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A Hot Love Interest and I mean Heat as in Chemistry.

What would a good show be without a love interest who is both cute and can kick butt. This is an important aspect of a good show because it will ground the main character, cause friction and intensity, and make you watch till the end where they most likely will get together and complete the show. In our shows the leading love interests are cute ladies who look like they are just as comfortable in the ring as at the spa.

BURN NOTICE - so Gabrielle Anwar looks like she can beat up even the toughest guys, shoot the most advanced weaponry, wire a bomb, and look great on the beach. Give her an Irish accent and she just well maybe the ultimate girlfriend.

PSYCH - Maggie Lawson is the cute blonde, who is perky and loving in the show. Way to much for our leading character but nonetheless you want them to be together. While he is quirky and weird, she is grounded and anxious. Will his secret ultimately keep them apart.

THE GLADES - Kiele Sanchez has that girl next door look but her character is driven, pull no punches, and no holds barred, so much so that she is almost not likeable. But the main character loves her and he has the same tendencies so they make a power couple. Its hard you go in and out of caring for them as a couple but he seems to genuinely lover her so it makes it hard not to root for them.

And the winner is, Burn Notice, and Fiona. I mean who doesn't want a woman who is skilled with fire arms yet tender enough to melt in your arms!

Juliet O'Hara played by Maggie Lawson on Psych

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Every Show Needs an Over Demanding Boss

The demanding boss helps drive the characters along, provide extra drama, and whose main job is to make the lives of the characters in the show pure hell. So these bosses are the demanding ones that make the characters move the plot along.

Psych - chief Karen Vick is passionate about her job and pushes the department for arrests. She is tolerant of the main character only when he produces but mainly she makes sure everything is done by the book.

Burn Notice - while there is not a real boss there are a lot of separate bosses all throughout the show. These bosses make you hate them and cause our character to work for them against his will. So by coercion or blackmail these bosses are not the ones you want to work for.

The Glades - director Manus is a buff spitfire of a boss who is driven by arrests. Determined to make here substation the best she makes sure everything is done by the book and is very hands on. This type of boss is a micro manager but manages to leave her detectives alone enough to get amazing results.

So the best bosses are from Burn Notice, because if you are going to have a bad boss who you hate it may help that you can dream about getting back at them. In this case our character does.

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And Dont Forget About the Third Wheel...

Well most shows like this always introduce a third character to help immerse you deeper in the story. In most cases the third wheel is enough to lend a serious component to the story but not enough to be considered a main character. The following are the third wheels for the following shows.

Burn Notice - enter Jesse another burned spy who becomes an integral part of the team. This third character helps with all of the missions, and is a great support for each member of the team.

The Glades - here comes Daniel the intern who then becomes the paid intern. He adds all the tech support and geekiness to the show.

Psych - Detective Lassiter is the staunch by the book policeman who is adds the moral compass to the show and a good character to pick on for our main character and sidekick.

I think the winner here is Daniel from The Glades whose nerdy insights and love of almost every thing under the sun helps add more pizazz to the show and helps solve crimes. Go Nerds!

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An A-List guest appearance can't hurt your ratings...

This is a list of quests that have appeared on each show. These guests help the ratings but also provide some great acting and lend to the overall credibility of the show.

THE GLADES:

  1. Jonathan Frakes
  2. David Sullivan
  3. Chris Mulkey
  4. Sam Ball
  5. David Chisum
  6. Jay Paulson
  7. Brian McNamara
  8. Josh Randall
  9. Nicholas Gonzalez
  10. Erin Chambers
  11. Scott Cohen
  12. Bill Cobbs
  13. William Atherton
  14. C Thomas Howell
  15. Ed Asner

BURN NOTICE:

  1. Blake Adams
  2. Hank Stone
  3. Tim Powell
  4. Andrew Sensenig
  5. Joel Spence
  6. Michael Beasley
  7. Norm MacDonald
  8. Burt Reynolds
  9. Michael Jace
  10. Eric Roberts
  11. Timothy Brennen
  12. Debi Mazar
  13. Dean Cain
  14. Jeff Chase
  15. Danny Trejo

PSYCH:

  1. William Shatner
  2. Jeffrey Tambor
  3. Lindsay Sloane
  4. Corey Sevier
  5. Tim Curry
  6. Scott Michael Campbell
  7. Frank Whaley
  8. Peter Michael Goetz
  9. Ernie Hudson
  10. Lou Diamond Phillips
  11. Jane Lynch
  12. Saul Rubinek
  13. Carl Weathers
  14. Danny Glover
  15. Malcom McDowell

And the winner is Psych which had to many stars to list. All the shows had a lot of great celebrity guests that really made certain episodes special.

And in the end you need catchy sayings or unforgettable props.

You have to have a lighter side to these shows especially when you are dealing with death and murder all the time. Each show has its funny quirks and elements that brings a unique flare to the show. Whether it is funny sayings or re-occuring props these elements will bring the corners of your mouth up to a smile.

BURN NOTICE - they have an overwhelming obsession with yogurt, they are eating it all the time. Sometimes you can see a particular brand. Sam Axe loves Mojitos and Sugar Mamas. each show is littered with the how to commentary of Michael on how to be the best possible spy. And look for Hyundai to show of their Genesis coupe in the last part of the show.

the GLADES - the main character Jim loves golf and most of the time has a putter with him at the crime scenes. He is always stealing food from those he is interrogating or at the crime scenes.

PSYCH - this show probably has the most sayings that are repeated like "tru dat", and "Ive heard it both ways" as well as a couple quirks...one is Shawn introduce Burton with funny names each episode (see the video below) and there are a lot of eighties references. Also there is a pineapple in every show. You have to look for it but it is there, either a real prop, a picture, or an item with pineapples on it like a shirt.


I am sure there are many more so leave comments below on other funny sayings, props, or quirks.

Funny Names Shawn Calls Burton Guster when he introduces him.

In Conclusion:

So there is the secret ingredients for my recipe for a great spy or detective television series. Now I know that not all shows have all those elements but they need to have a majority of them to make the show standout and last for more than one or two seasons. So leave a comment I would love to hear from you.

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    • Greg Chan profile image
      Author

      GChanMako 2 years ago from Syracuse, UT

      You know what's funny is that Shawn Spencer in Psych and Jim Longworth have the same actor as a Dad, Corbin Bernsen.

    • Greg Chan profile image
      Author

      GChanMako 2 years ago from Syracuse, UT

      Just an FYI, the Glades was still going when I started to watch it, but since then it was cancelled. It has quite the cliffhanger that will leave you pretty mad. So make sure you keep this in mind if you watch it. There is no ending or closure.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      Do you think these must haves for a successful show it good for the present time or for all times? It seems some of the older shows tended to lack some of these components, a love interest or demanding boss for example. The question is would the next generation spy/detective stories need the mentioned components or have a different set of must haves?

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