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Top 10 American Crime Shows

VO: Dan Paradis
Script written by Matt Wende. It may or may not pay, but crime is an excellent source for great television. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 list of American crime shows. For this list, we’re looking at shows with main characters that focus on the investigation and solving of crimes and the pursuit of criminals, so Heisenberg is going to have to be king of some other list. Also, as the title suggests, due to the great quality of crime shows coming from the United Kingdom, we’ve limited this list to crime shows from the United States. Apologies to all you cumber-bitches, as well as fans of “Luther,” but you get your own list. Special thanks to our users Nicole Calleja, Mr88668866, killer_penguin88, Brendan Veit, Zombiekilleryamato, kataned5 and Tyler Smith for submitting the idea on our Suggest Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Transcript
Script written by Matt Wende.

Top 10 American Crime Shows


It may or may not pay, but crime is an excellent source for great television. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 American crime shows.

For this list, we’re looking at shows with main characters that focus on the investigation and solving of crimes and the pursuit of criminals, so Heisenberg is going to have to be king of some other list. Also, as the title suggests, due to the great quality of crime shows coming from the United Kingdom, we’ve limited this list to crime shows from the United States. Apologies to all you cumber-bitches, as well as fans of “Luther,” but you get your own list.

#10: “NCIS” (2003-)

Members of the Navy Criminal Investigative Service are a lot like regular cops who solve crimes, except all the people they’re investigating are either members of the United States Navy or Marine Corps. A spinoff of “JAG,” “NCIS” has so far spawned two offshoots of its own, set in “Los Angeles” and “New Orleans” respectively. What’s great about the original the drama it creates, which helped it become one of the highest rated shows in the U.S. And that drama comes not only from the crimes, but also from the interactions of a great cast of characters.

#9: “True Detective” (2014-)

Although it’s the baby of this list, it’d be a mistake to label this show anything but grownup. As a sort of anthology series wherein each season focuses on different characters and a different case, it’s tough to say what the series will bring; but its track record of luring big screen talent to the small screen is intact and key. As of season one, “True Detective”’s view of two immeasurably flawed and polar opposite detectives as they track a darkly twisted serial killer is unrivaled by many shows today. These characters’ personal lives are as tense as their philosophical discussions of violence and the cases they work.

#8: “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (2000-)

Coming up next the show that started the trend of forensic-based crime shows at the turn of the new millennium. “CSI” made it popular to solve onscreen mysteries using high-tech lab equipment and science to analyze clues found at the scene of the crime, while also offering us characters we loved to follow each week. The premise intrigued millions – including Quentin Tarantino, who even directed one episode. With two successful spinoffs, one of which – “CSI: Miami” – was also a contender for this list, we decided to go with the Las Vegas original, if only because it’s the trendsetter and still very entertaining.

#7: “Hill Street Blues” (1981-87)

In case you didn’t know, “blues” is a slang word for cops, which explains the name of this who that follows the lives of the officers and staff in the precinct located on the eponymous Hill Street. Purposefully set in an unnamed American city, viewers are reminded that the show they’re watching could be taking place anywhere in the United States. As such, the show was loved for its gritty and realistic blend of comedy and drama. Pioneering a number of techniques that became standard to TV drama, the intertwining characters left behind a legacy as one of the most critically well-received shows ever.

#6: “The Shield” (2002-08)

Taking drama to new heights, “The Shield” trails a corrupt squad of anti-gang cops in Los Angeles. Best remembered for creating characters that are not only flawed but bad, this show was not afraid to throw them into racially charged and politically explosive situations. We love it for being uncompromising in its dark and gritty view of officers of the law, and Michael Chiklis owns the screen as Vic Mackey, a cop who’s willing to sacrifice anything to make the streets safer – even his own morals.

#5: “Criminal Minds” (2005-)

Speaking of dark storylines... “Criminal Minds” capitalized on the trend of chasing criminals with psychological analysis, so each week we get to look with then at the dark motivations of some warped UnSubs. Following a team of FBI behavior analysts as they hunt killers, the creep factor gets turned way up as the profilers focus on analyzing the suspect instead of the crime. Though by no means a critical darling, this show still rakes in the viewers, competing and beating shows both old and new. As gruesome as it is captivating, this is one police-procedural we can’t look away from.

#4: “Columbo” (1971- 2003)

Who says you that every good cop needs a bad cop? If there was one thing that the cigar smoking Columbo proved, it was that you often caught more flies with honey than you did with vinegar. Portrayed by the legendary Peter Falk for over 30 years, although criminals may have frequently underestimated Columbo’s friendly demeanor and disheveled appearance, audiences always knew better than to bet against him. Airing on and off between 1971 and 2003, the lengthy 100 minute run time did little to stop the show and its title character from becoming icons of the TV world.

#3: “NYPD Blue” (1993-2005)

Our number three is known not only for its gritty and grimy portrayal of NYC, but also for the passion and heart its characters brought to the streets and their station. Taking place around the fictional 15th precinct, “NYPD Blue” sees the officers and detectives go through their personal and professional lives – with all the ups and downs that brings. Also fondly remembered as one of the last great displays of edgy TV on a broadcast network, this multiple award-winning ensemble police drama was way ahead of its time in its prediction that racier cable shows would one day overtake humble broadcast television.

#2: “Law & Order” (1990-2010)

It wasn’t one of the longest running shows ever for nothing. “Law & Order” received hugely high acclaim for its depiction and perspectives on the two aspects of the NYC criminal justice system by tracking the detectives who work the street, and the prosecution team who fights in court for a conviction. Equal parts police procedural and courtroom drama, this show used the headlines of real world news for inspiration, mixing together an amazing cocktail that captivated audiences for twenty years, and produced a brood of spinoffs, including the award-winning “Special Victims Unit.”

Before we uncover our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Dexter” (2006-13)

- “Murder, She Wrote” (1984-96)

- “Bones” (2005-)

- “Castle” (2009-)

- “Cold Case” (2003-10)

#1: “The Wire” (2002-08)

Not just a great police show, “The Wire” is hailed as one of the greatest shows of all time in any genre – albeit one few people watched when it aired. Bringing to television a living, breathing Baltimore, the series follows the lives of the flawed cops and addictively charismatic criminals. In delving into the city as it crumbles on every level from politics to the projects, “The Wire” explores potent themes like the death of the American dream. On top of that, it neither embellishes crime nor overdramatizes it, but instead tells complex stories that force us to question the way we perceive it. In doing so, “The Wire” makes the top of our list by a mile.

Do you agree with our list? Which American crime show is your favorite? For more crime-solving top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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