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  • Great list!

    • Thanks! I really enjoyed your Top 10 Literary Detectives list, too 🙂

      • kay

        Is this Tanya from Riverside??

  • Raghavendra

    A list of top 10 detectives without

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

    with Jeremy Brett is like having irish coffee without the whiskey. Nice, but doesnt quite cut it.

    • It’s true, that was a great show, but Sherlock Holmes isn’t an original TV character. Since he originally appears in books, he’s not eligible for this list. Check out the list of top 10 literary detectives for Sherlock Holmes.

    • Thomas Sinclair

      Detective Colombo is not in the list!! shame on you…

      • Shehnaz Khan

        It truly is a shame for Colombo not to be included in the list!

  • Atlanta Private Investigator

    That’s a great list! I’d forgotten completely about Peter Gunn. Thanks for compiling it!

    • Michelle Rodriguez

      Be my pi for tv series theft that may be connected to crooked cops and loser posing as good horse person. I am a former emergency vet tech that moved to ky to live out my dreams. I chose ky because horse would have best opportunity and knew I could write and play with my product ideas to change my income as I have been influenced by well known persons my whole life, only to be ripped off more than once with unlikely persons this was so shocking that I went to everyone it was a crime and still is a crime in progress luckily someone in law enforcement now but would like private investigator as witness due to cops that are unethical influence. I have nothing but problems need your help as one of my series for tv ideas stolen with one person having crooked cops and entertainment look alikes that just steal. They used old co workers is my theory and I called my former tenant an agent with a different jurisdiction but still a matter that time is of the element no pun intended. My series name Quantum Investigations: QI with Det Delphi the main character who has designed a program to predict murders, I saw an advertisement after reporting someone connected to cops and vet staff as well as other new participants gained access to my files. Asked criminal complaints person to assist me too…very creeped out. This is my own works I have many ideas that were compromised and reported immediately. I have two short scripts copyrighted and others were registered at SWG and other ip protection service as well for other ip. They still got accessed and thought you could assist me please true crime.

  • Ellery Queen also had more than a few series of his own on 50s TV, though most may best remember Jim Hutton's nostalgic take on the character in the 70s.

    And what about Falk's Columbo, Savalas' Kojak, Blake's Baretta, Jack Webb's Joe Friday, Gene Barry's Amos Burke, Anne Francis' Honey West, et al?

    Heck, even McBain's 87th Princinct had a show in the 50s! And William "Cannon" Conrad played Nero Wolfe in a short-lived 80s series opposite future "Matt Houston" Lee Horsley!

    • I didn't know that the actor who played Cannon also played Nero Wolfe in the 80's, I'd love to see those shows (I'm a big Rex Stout fan). Re: Ellery Queen – I've read that Ellery Queen inspired the Jessica Fletcher character but I've read quite a few of the books and I didn't really see it.

      I considered Baretta, Kojak, Columbo and even the Angels (Charlie's, that is) for this list but they all worked as police officers at one time so they were disqualified. Joe Friday, too, of course.

      Amos Burke was only a detective for a couple of years and then he became a secret agent. He's eligible for this list but wasn't around long enough to earn a spot (in my opinion).

      Ellery Queen and McBain's characters (along with Mr and Mrs. North, Poirot, Miss Marple, and Longstreet) all started off in literature so they are disqualified, too. Same goes for Honey West- who I actually discovered for the first time while I was writing this list. Appearing in the 1950's, her books are now on my future reading list. If you like her, check out Rex Stout's Dol Bonner character, she first appeared in print in the 1930's.

  • tchudson

    Stuart Kaminsky wrote two Rockford novels in the late nineties.

  • ironflange

    Why was there never a stampede of people getting the hell out of every town that Jessica Fletcher came to visit? I could never figure that out, they must have known that Death followed her everywhere.

    • columbo

      ha this is what i have always been saying to people the whole time!!
      i could never get into this programme!

  • Glen

    Sorry, I can't buy into a Top 10 Detective list that doesn't include Peter Falk's Colombo.

    Who would I cut to make room? Probably "Veronica Mars" or "Murder She Wrote."

    • I am a huge Columbo fan but he's a homicide detective for the LAPD so wasn't eligible for this list, which is focussing on private investigators and amateur detectives. I'd love to see a Top 10 Police Detectives list – so many options! Columbo would probably be #1 and Hawaii 5-0's Steve McGarrett would be on there somewhere. I guess CSI's Horatio has probably earned a spot on my version of the list, too. Another list idea: Top 10 UK Detective shows (Midsomer Murders, Rebus, Inspector Morse…).

      • jason stone

        i was about to say..columbo has to be not only the THE number one police detective of all time..but remember..the first columbo debuted in 1968!!..if i'm not mistaken..there were columbo shows and movies almost every year starting in 1970 and going all the way until around 2000..that's 30 years of one guy (Peter Faulk), playing one character (Lt. Columbo) continuously..and on a side note..i've heard interviews with Peter Faulk about that character..and he loved it…and i think that's what made him so good…he completely embraced the attitude and psychology and the mannerisms..i love that about Faulk..he didn't get tired of it..he didn't want to move on to something else…he has said his best acting came when he donned the beige overcoat and that cigar..long live Columbo!!!

  • Rockford was the best. The show looks dated now, because of the different clothes and hairstyles, and the lighting in TV is so different now (ever notice how old shows look like they were filmed at dusk?) but the characters are classics. Jim Garner had an easy way of acting that was very charming.

  • YogiBarrister

    Great list, you had me at Veronica Mars. I posit that VM is the best broadcast network show of the decade, here's why: Rob Thomas is a great writer, especially dialogue. Kristen Bell is drop-dead gorgeous and perfectly cast. The supporting cast is solid as well. Next to Mad Men, it is the most visually stunning television ever; the photography, the lighting, the sets, costumes, and make-up are all superb. Then there is the sound of the show, I've listened to a few episodes without the picture and it's incredible. The theme song is fantastic, as is all of the music, including the soundtrack, which they use for great dramatic effect. The voices are softened or deepened depending on the mood, and you have to be a total sound nerd to notice, the foley board work is excellent.

    • I was anticipating a lot of grief about including VM so it's great to hear from you!

      • YogiBarrister

        Not from me, Veronica Mars is the only detective on the list that's from this century. She's also great character and role model for young women and people of all ages.

  • Jay

    I know they were disqualified, but just wanted to mention Starksy & Hutch. They seemed like the didn't work for the police at times.

  • Rob

    No love for Rick and AJ Simon?

    • I was wondering when someone would notice they were missing! They met all of the criteria to get on this list except the most important one – I felt that the 10 detectives I selected were more list-worthy (either longer running, better supporting cast, or a premise that was more unique). They definitely would share spot #11 (or perhaps Rick would be #11 and AJ would be #12…)

  • m water

    The Monk ?

  • There's only one Columbo. He was so good that he always knew who the murderer was before he'd even seen any evidence.

  • Donzie

    Shawn Spencer from Psych. Helps police in investigations but not an actual police detective. Great show and awsome list.

    • Kate

      Ah, Shawn. I agree that Shawn (and Monk, for that matter) should be on any list of great TV detectives, but I think being hired by the Santa Barbara PD puts him out of the running.

      (although, on a list of TV police detectives, Monk and Shawn [and Gus…can't leave out Gus] have to be included).

      • I'm not a huge fan of Psych but I do like the Mentalist – if I was making a list of recent police investigators, I think I would include him. Another list idea: police sidekicks? The characters who are not police officers but help them solve crimes? Dr. "Bones" Brennan, Patrick Jane ("The Mentalist"), Castle… would Quincy, M.E. be eligible?

  • JC

    What happened to Jack Bauer and Jim Phelps? How come they are not in the list?

    • Jack Bauer (24) is a former LAPD so isn't eligible for this list. Jim Phelps (Mission Impossible) is a secret government agent, not a detective. I love that show, particularly the Jim Phelps character (actor Peter Graves).

  • Trust the Gene Genie

    This list is really missing DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) from Life on Mars (UK version) and Ashes to ashes.

    • He is a police officer so is not eligible for this list. I really think we need a list of top 10 police, don't you? Any takers?

  • Kaska


    • Tanya


  • The Blackbird

    Agents Mulder and Scully are FBI so they don't count, but I love them. And Columbo. I think you need to start a new list Tanya. 🙂

  • nived30

    where are shaft and jimmy kudo

  • Both are based on books, Shaft was a police detective and a movie, Kudo is not an American TV show – see last paragraph of intro… Shaft is the best, though, and thanks for introducing me to Jimmy Kudo- I'm going to check him out.

  • Zman

    The Rockford Files was the greatest show! Jimbo was the best!

    • Two new shows have popped up recently that pay tribute to shows like Rockford Files: The Good Guys and The Republic of Doyle – I’ve been watching both of them.

  • sportsgal

    My personal faves – Rick and AJ Simon

  • Dalek14

    What about DCI Tom Barnaby from Midsomer Murders (From UK)

    What about another list for TV detectives adapted from novels or one for TV detectives from other countries

    • I love Midsomer Murders – I just watched an episode last night. DCI is police, so he’s not eligible for this list, but I agree a list of police detectives or TV shows from other countries would be excellent. You could easily do a top 10 list of detectives adapted from novels for the UK alone. Just off the top of my head, my list would include Morse, Rebus, Barnaby, Tennison, and Lynley (and Havers). How about you?

      Also, any volunteers to write this list? Contact us if you are interested.

  • Nice list, but…

    First of all Jessica Fletcher and the Harts are NOT private eyes — they’re amateur sleuths. In their place you might hve inserted HARRY O or CANNON or CITY OF ANGELS or EYES or TEN SPEED & BROWNSHOE or…

    And while it’s flattering of you to mention so frequently, it bothers me that you’d mention MagicDragon at all, since a staggering amount of that site was simply ripped off from mine.

    • Hi! Nice to see you here, your site was such a useful resource when I was writing this article. I didn’t know that the other site had stolen your content or I wouldn’t have used it – sorry.

      I recognize the distinction you are making about the detectives on this list and just want to point out this list is a list of top 10 TV Detectives not Top 10 Private Eyes. I included my 10 detectives according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications classification of TV detectives into three categories: the hard-boiled detective, the clever puzzle-solver, and the amateur detective duo. So, some of them are private eyes, but not all of them.

      I haven’t heard of all of your suggestions and look forward to looking them up. Cannon was a police detective and not eligible. Let us know if you’d be interested in writing a list of top 10 police detectives, I’d love to read it since you are definitely an expert on this topic.

  • TMJ

    Interesting list. I do have one minor quibble. Joe Mannix never drove a Mercury Comet. He had a customized Olds Toronado in the first season, but never drove a Mercury.

    • Oops – just saw this now – thanks. I’m not sure where I got that information, I just revisited the sources I used and I don’t see it. I will edit the list.

  • Toby Martin II

    A list of TV’s greatest detectives… no COLUMBO?… no MONK?…

    • both are police, but that aside I don’t think Monk would make my list regardless – not compared to the other great detectives on there –

  • John

    So no steve mcgarrett or sherlock holmes.

    • The character had to be a private detective created for television, so no. McGarrett would definitely be on my list of top 10 Police and Holmes on my top 10 literary.

  • poeticmakaveli

    I know you are always saying that columbo is LAPD or whatever but u have to be sorry now for not putting him number 1 🙂 everybody is just so angry now including me 🙂
    AH but all joking aside, COLUMBO is my favorite programme of all time and im a younger generation, i should be into csi,criminal minds,etc but im not! i love the columbos and have the complete boxsets and i always watch them over and over again, great replay value!

    • That is fantastic – I’m glad that Columbo’s popularity is enduring, he is one of my all-time favorite detectives.

      Have you seen Wings of Desire? Peter Falk (Columbo) makes an appearance so if you are a fan, it’s a treat. Here’s a link to one of his scenes:

  • Kurt Hunt

    Ummmmm…… COLUMBO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Easily number one.

    • I love Columbo but he’s a police detective so not eligible for this list, which is about private detectives- I had to narrow down the pool because otherwise a list like this would be impossible, I’m such a big fan of all detective stories.

      • giu637

        ma di poirot vi siete completamente dimenticati ?

        • Poirot è un personaggio creato da Agatha Christie. Egli non può beneficiare di questa lista.

  • Amor Fati

    Does Dexter count? He does it as a hobby.

    • Technically his hobby is being a a serial killer, not a private investigator, and he’s a police officer… I think there’s a good argument there that he is perhaps eligible anyways, but I personally wouldn’t bump any of my 10 off the list to give him a spot.

      On a side note: I’ve been watching Kolchak episodes – discovered him thanks to netflix. If you are fans of TV detectives, check him out. He’s also not eligible for this list (he is a character originally from a book – although it was never published…).

  • Brian

    Wheres L

  • younger

    what a pity. i think this is the worst 10 detective series.
    who ever posted this is trying to joke.
    how can you even imagine the detective series without the tought of “the adventures of sherlock holmes” led by jemmy brett. the best sherlock holmes character played . how disgusting there is no mention of it.

  • Barry

    You have Veronica Mars ahead of Jessica Fletcher???
    This list is a crime against humanity!!!!

  • Roddy McCorley

    Hm. I suppose longevity is one of the major factors for determining who makes this list. But I think an honorable mention should go to Harry Orwell, played by David Jansen in the series Harry O. It only lasted two seasons, but was one of the best detective shows ever. In terms of quality, it rates close to Rockford Files.

  • Buddhika

    I think the writer has not watched The Mentalist. It is the best detective story I have ever watched.

    • senmi

      I totally agree with you cuz I really love the show too!!!!

  • Shawn Wells

    You are kidding, right? How can you have a top ten TV detectives list without Columbo?

  • Len Bankes

    Len Says,

    What about Miami Vice.
    Crocket and Tubbs – Cocaine Cowboys.

  • senmi

    Where the heck is Patrick Jane From The Mentalist He is really awesome and so is the show!!

  • EMG

    Any top TV detectives list that does not include Columbo isn’t worth squat.

    In addition to that, yours include Magnum and Hart to Hart, which is downright insulting.

  • Kevin Burton Smith

    So, a few years later I respond. Frank Cannon was in fact a private eye. He had been a cop once, but during the entire run of the show he worked as a private eye.

    The generally accepted definition of a private investigator is a professional investigator who works for a private client. For money. Hence my confusion over your inclusion of amateur sleuths such as Jessica Fletcher and the Harts who don’t so much hire themselves out as stick their noses in.

  • Tanya Bennett

    Hi Kevin, thanks for your response – it’s nice to see this list still generating some discussion after all these years!

    Re: Cannon – the fact that he was a cop disqualifies him from this list – I kept it to detectives who were never police officers; otherwise I never would have been able to pick just 10. There are so many different TV detectives, I could have done a list just about professional P.I.’s or just about amateur sleuths… I would still love to see a list of Top 10 Police Detectives – particularly if it was international. I’m fairly certain I would include Rebus, Wallander, and Morse on that list – but it would very difficult to select a top 10.

  • Kevin Burton Smith

    Part of the problem here, Tanya, is that your title (“Top 10 TV Detectives”), your sub-head (“Shamus, sleuth, gumshoe, P.I., private eye, private dick…”) and your introduction (“private investigators, not police detectives”) all promise a list of slightly different things, hence the confusion among so many people about who should/shouldn’t be included. No wonder people are confused.

    (Although some just didn’t even read your intro at all, obviously)

    But so it goes. Columbo is a cop, Cannon was once upon a time a cop, but works as a private eye, and Jessica Fletcher was never a private dick. But Columbo, Cannon and even Jessica were all detectives. Police, private and amateur, respectively. So they all count, and they all don’t count.

    Whatever. I love lists like this. Next time, just nail down the criteria a little tighter.

    And glad to hear you’re digging REPUBLIC OF DOYLE. It’s the perfect antidote for those who miss the 1970-80s glory days of TV private eyes, although it would never make this list because a) both father and son are ex-cops, and b) the show’s Canadian, not American. I think they’re working on their sixth season in Canada; they just aired the first down here.

  • Tanya Bennett

    Hi Kevin, It’s been a long time since I wrote this list but I just looked at the intro and refreshed my memory.

    Inspired by another writer’s list of literary detectives, I based this list on the Museum of Broadcast Communications’ classification of TV detectives into three classic characters inspired by fiction: the hard-boiled detective, the clever puzzle-solver, and the amateur detective duo.

    I also added the following criteria:
    1. they are not (and have never been) police detectives
    2. they were created for TV (not originally from a book series or movie).
    3. I have also restricted this list to US programs only.

    I agree my opening paragraphs could have been nailed down better – the description of the list and the criteria are quite wobbly. My apologies to those of you who have had to get past it – and thanks to all who have taken the time to read this list. It was a pleasure to research and write, since it is one of my favourite topics!

  • Kevin Burton Smith

    It’s one of my favourite topics too, obviously. Any time you do another that revolves around P.I.s, let me know…

  • Tanya Bennett

    You bet! 🙂

  • Charles Campbell

    Leaving Columbo…one of TV’s greatest characters off this list ,was ridiculous!

    • Shell Harris

      I guess you didn’t read the criteria. Here it is again just for you. “The detectives listed all meet the following three criteria: they are private investigators, not police detectives (sorry Columbo and Cannon, we still love you) and they were created for TV (not originally from a book series or movie… disqualifying Mike Hammer, among others)”