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7 forgotten, gritty cop shows of the 1960s

For the most part, 1960s television is not known for its realism. There is nothing wrong with that. Who needs realism when you have the giddy surrealism of Batman, The Monkees, Gilligan's Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Bewitched, The Munsters, etc.?

But one corner of network television grew grittier in the 1960s. That would be the ones involving law enforcement. In the 1950s, most TV characters wearing badges operated in the Wild West.

With the social changes of the Sixties, the action shifted to modern times, as tough urban cops became the norm in crime shows. Many of these series became lasting franchises — Dragnet, Adam-12, Hawaii Five-O, etc.

There were some, however, that failed to click with audiences, despite their quality and killer casts. Let's take a look.


87th Precint

Ed McBain belongs on the Mount Rushmore of police fiction. For half a century, the author (real name: Salvatore Albert Lombino) pumped out books in his 87th Precinct series at an astounding rate, more than one per year, from 1956 to 2005. By 1963, his 97th Precint works were already being adapted by legendary filmmakers, like Akira Kurosawa, who turned King's Ransom into High and Low. Before that, the best-sellers were spawning TV series, like this tough procedural set in the fiction metropolis of Isola. Norman Fell (future Mr. Roper) was in the cast, as well as the chiseled Robert Lansing, seen here. Would you mess with a brow like that?

Image: The Everett Collection


Lock Up

If you ever wondered what Leonard Nimoy might have looked like as the Fonz, track down this overlooked 1959-61 series. Sadly, hunting down episodes can be harder than cracking a 60-year-old cold case. The future Spock star turns up in denim and leather as a gang tough in "The Case of Frank Crotty," a.k.a. "Morality and the Shield." The casting agent on this show was knocking it out of the park, as the syndicated show also featured Mary Tyler Moore, Angie Dickinson, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Buddy Ebsen and more.


Miami Undercover

Few men have ever thrown a punch as well as Rocky Graziano. The boxing legend slugged his way to the title of world middleweight champion in the 1940s. After retiring from the sport, he transitioned to television, initially comedy, believe it or not. He partnered with "Take my wife — please" comedian Henny Youngman for The Henny and Rocky Show. Later, he turned into an action hero for this Flordia-set crime series. He played the strongman alongside P.I. Jeff Thompson (Lee Bowman). Pity the stuntman who might have accidentally caught one of his fists.

Image: The Everett Collection


The Asphalt Jungle

The 1949 novel The Asphalt Jungle inspired the 1950 film The Asphalt Jungle… and this television series 11 years later. That being said, the small-screen version had little in common with the source material aside from its gritty noir tone. Jack Warden (12 Angry MenShampoo, Heaven Can Wait) starred. After the show bombed — Candid Camera clobbered it in the ratings — the studio edited the pilot episode, "The Lady and the Lawyer," into a feature film, released in 1961 as The Lawbreakers.

Image: The Everett Collection


The New Breed

Leslie Nielsen's eventual evolution into a slapstick comedy star could not have come as more of a shock to 1950s and 1960s television viewers. The actor was best known for playing stern crimefighters, first on The Untouchables and later on this overlooked Quinn Martin. Martin would later create The Fugitive, The F.B.I., The Invaders, The Streets of San Francisco,Cannon and Barnaby Jones. Leslie Nielsen became the live-action Mr. Magoo.

Image: The Everett Collection


Arrest and Trial

Sorry, Dick Wolf, this show was Law & Order decades before Law & Order. Each episode split its crime story in half, first focusing on the police procedural before shifting the setting to the courtroom. Ben Gazzara (right) led the police part, while former Rifleman Chuck Connors put the crooks behind bars as criminal attorney John Egan. Despite four Emmy nominations, Arrest and Trial lasted just one season.

Image: The Everett Collection



Jack Warden clipped on a different badge for this 1967 police drama, which attempted to bring the real-world happenings of New York City policing — and cutting-edge urban social issues — to the smalls screen. Again, give a tip of the cap to the casting director, who booked future icons such as Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and James Earl Jones.

Image: The Everett Collection

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