The Best TV Detectives of the 1970s

THE ROCKFORD FILES — Pictured: James Garner as Jim Rockford — (Photo by: Fred Sabine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

The 1970s were a golden age for television, especially for the detective genre and I was a regular viewer. Among the many classic shows of that era, five were my favorites: The Rockford Files, Mannix, Barnaby Jones, Cannon, and Columbo. There were others to be sure: McCloud, McMillan and Wife, Quincy M.D., Starsky and Hutch, Kojak, and others. But these were the five I never missed.

The Rockford Files starred James Garner as Jim Rockford, a private investigator who lived in a trailer and had a habit of getting into trouble. The show was known for its humor, as well as its realistic portrayal of the life of a private detective. Garner won an Emmy for his portrayal of Rockford, and the show became a cultural touchstone of the decade. The Rockford Files is one my all time favorite shows.

Mannix starred Mike Connors as Joe Mannix, a tough private eye who worked for a Los Angeles detective agency. The show was notable for its high-octane action scenes and its gritty portrayal of the criminal underworld. Mannix was known for his fists of steel and his determination to get to the bottom of any case, no matter what the cost.

Barnaby Jones starred Buddy Ebsen as the main character, a retired private investigator who was brought back into the game after his son was killed. The show was notable for its emphasis on forensic science, as well as its innovative storytelling techniques. Ebsen’s portrayal of Jones was praised for its warmth and humanity, making him one of the most beloved detectives of the era. I mean, Jed Clampet becomes a detective?

Cannon starred William Conrad as Frank Cannon, a rotund private eye who drove around in a Lincoln Continental Mark IV. The show was known for its stylish production values and its complex, multi-layered plots. Conrad’s portrayal of Cannon was praised for its depth and nuance, making him one of the most complex detectives of the decade.

Finally, there was Columbo, perhaps the most famous detective show of the era. Peter Falk starred as Lt. Columbo, a rumpled detective who solved crimes through his sharp wit and attention to detail. The show was known for its inverted mystery format, which showed the viewer who committed the crime at the beginning of the episode and then allowed Columbo to unravel the mystery. Falk’s portrayal of Columbo was praised for its humanity and its ability to convey a deep sense of empathy for the victims of the crimes he investigated.

All of these shows were beloved by audiences of the 1970s and remain classics of the genre to this day. Whether you prefer the humor of The Rockford Files or the cerebral puzzles of Columbo, there is a 1970s detective show for everyone.

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