15 Longest–Running Cop Shows of All Time


It’s always interesting to follow characters who have a profession that routinely places them in intense situations. For some shows, that can simply be a teacher at a dangerous school. For others, it’s a drug dealer whose work makes them cross state and/or country lines. But cop shows hit a particular spot that audiences can’t resist. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of police procedurals that have come out over the years. Most follow a similar formula: investigate a crime, catch the culprit, and throw ‘em in the slammer.




If it’s relatively predictable, what keeps viewers coming back for more? The characters are a huge reason. Seeing what techniques the officers will employ always keeps us on our toes. Some cop shows miss the mark, creating flat characters or not infusing enough interesting details into cases. As such, these shows are off the air (or screen) almost as fast as they were put on it. Yet others have managed to rack up hundreds of episodes, dozens of seasons, and cultivate a huge legacy. Here are 15 of the longest-running cop shows ever.


15 Waking the Dead (2000-2011)


9 Seasons

Waking the Dead takes place in London and centers on the officers of a cold case unit. Many of the cases have been forgotten, but these cops believe justice is always worth pursuing no matter how long it takes. Key members of the team include detectives Peter Boyd and Spencer Jordan, and criminal profiler Grace Foley. With new evidence, new technology, and new eyes on the cases, perhaps hundreds of criminals across the country will no longer be the “ones who got away.”

Complex Cases, Complex Characters

Sometimes a simple change in scenery can make all the difference. Being set in England, the characters face a host of problems that those used to American police procedurals won’t see. The impact of having so many countries close by, the influence of the Catholic Church, and so much more. Waking the Dead can get quite dark and doesn’t resist showing the dark sides of society and the cops themselves. Stream on BritBox.


14 Columbo (1968-2003)

Columbo

Release Date
September 15, 1971

Seasons
10

10 Seasons

Columbo blends drama, noir, and procedural elements in a way that has engaged fans for decades. The series centers on a LAPD homicide detective, Lieutenant Columbo. He is your average, everyday guy. He smokes cigars, isn’t always the sharpest, and loves his old car.

The suspects he’s often around? Quite different. Each time he infiltrates the world of the elite to investigate a murder, he’s met with pushback, guards going up, and a culture clash of how the other side lives and operates.

Just Another Cop Show? Not Quite

This show does not follow the same formula as others in this genre. From the show’s start, viewers know what crime was committed and who carried it out. In less skilled hands, this could be a death knell for a series.


Where is the tension? The suspense? The drama? Turns out, plenty. Columbo is such a cool character that it’s enough to see how he fits the different puzzle pieces together. It also allows the audience to engage with a mystery from a different angle. Stream on Prime Video.

13 Chicago P.D. (2014-)

11 Seasons

Chicago P.D. centers on the Intelligence Unit overseen by Sergeant Hank Voight. The unit handles some of the most challenging cases happening in the windy city. Hank has a composed, tough facade and with the impressive solve rate his unit produces, one may think he’s a by-the-books kind of cop. One would be wrong. First introduced in the show Chicago Fire, he is known for bending the rules, mistreating suspects, and playing dirty. But if it’s in the name of justice, it’s okay… right? Right?


Not Good People

Hank isn’t the only one on his team who skirts around the law (or plows through it) to get information or confessions out of people. Following cops who routinely make bad decisions could be a recipe for disaster, yet it manages to work here. Fans certainly feel frustrated or angry with the cops, but eliciting strong emotions is a sign that viewers are invested in the story. Some cop shows spotlight officers who are altruistic and saintly. It’s a nice change to see characters not afraid to get their hands dirty. Stream on Prime Video.

12 Bones (2005-2017)

Bones

Bones

Release Date
September 13, 2005

Seasons
12


12 Seasons

Ensuring bad guys meet justice is no laughing matter. Except, on Bones, it kind of is. Temperance Brennan, aka Bones, is a forensic anthropologist who often works with the FBI. Special Agent Seeley Booth brings Bones and her team human remains and hopes their expertise can give insight and provide closure.

And ideally, an arrest. Were these people murdered? Or did they pass in another, tragic way? Those are the questions Booth needs answers to. Yet with two people as different as Brennan and Booth, each case promises a great deal of conflict in their will-they or won’t-they dynamic.

Funny to the Bone

People have a fascination with death. It’s the reason true crime documentaries and films are so popular. Whether we agree or disagree with that interest, it remains there. Bones is perfect for people who want to explore the crime genre, but also want some added levity to balance out the heavy topics. The show ended in 2017 after twelve years who were hooked for the entirety of the hour-long episodes.


A short-lived spin-off was spawned from the show. In the end, it was Brennan and Booth that fans kept coming back for. Stream on Hulu.

11 Dragnet (1951-1959)/(1967-1970)

12 Seasons

Dragnet is a franchise that started as a radio show and later branched into the film and television world. Detective Joe Friday is employed by the LAPD investigating crimes all over the City of Angels. In the 1951 series, Friday works primarily with Officer Frank Smith. The later 1967 series shows Friday partnering with Bill Gannon.

No matter his companion, Friday narrates the episode as he tries to stop bombers, murderers, thieves, and more. At the end, viewers will see on screen if the accused was found guilty or not guilty.


A Vintage Atmosphere

Actor Jack Webb starred in both of the series. The supporting cast changed due to the deaths of the actors, casting decisions, and alterations to the plot. There’s no guarantee that reboots will be successful, though admittedly, having the original actor involved helps.

Even so, the fluctuation of characters could’ve turned off audiences, but it didn’t. This series is great for those who want an Old Hollywood feel in their shows. This vibe is due to both being filmed in black-and-white and its relaxed pace. Stream on Tubi.

10 NYPD Blue (1993-2005)

NYPD Blue

NYPD Blue

Release Date
September 21, 1993

Seasons
12


12 Seasons

As the title suggests, NYPD Blue is a cop show about detectives of the New York Police Department. Detective Sipowicz is the definition of an unlikeable character. He’s an alcoholic, which could make him sympathetic as viewers understand his struggle. However, he drinks on the job, and it impacts how he approaches cases and treats suspects.

He also has problematic views that don’t endear him to most viewers. It’s hard for his partner, John Kelly, to put up with too. Especially on top of a dissolving marriage and an affair with someone affiliated with the mob. These two men have their hands full.

Unlikable, Irresistible Characters

NYPD Blue is often praised for its authenticity. Given that one of the producers is a former NYPD officer, this should come as no surprise. Sometimes, even the ones looking to lock up bad people aren’t the greatest themselves. Sipowicz is a prime example. However, he, nor any of the other recurring characters, remain stagnant throughout the twelve seasons.


Fans appreciate that even with growth and entertaining character arcs, they remained flawed, nuanced people. So will you fall in love with these characters? Probably not. Will you be invested in the ups and downs of their careers and lives? Absolutely. Stream on Hulu.

9 Hawaii Five-O (1968-1990)/(2010-2020)

12 Seasons

Hawaii Five-O revolves around former naval officer turned detective captain Steve McGarrett. He’s in charge of the titular task force, a small group of cops with limited resources in Honolulu. The cases that come across their desks range in severity from local petty offenses to international espionage.


McGarrett’s military past comes into play during his time on the task force, for better or worse. Some may describe him as uptight, but it’s his level of discipline and attention to detail that helps him send perp after perp behind bars.

Here for a Good Time

The original Hawaii Five-O aired from 1968 to 1980. A reboot later came out with a similarly titled Hawaii Five-0 (note: it’s a zero, instead of an ‘O’) and ran from 2010 to 2020. Both versions kept core characters, like McGarrett and his partner Danno, and are spiritually quite similar. Between the two, there are over five hundred episodes in this world.

This series is the perfect example of a “popcorn watch.” Is it deep and thought-provoking? Not exactly. However, the fast-paced plots and scenic Hawaiian shots make for a pleasant viewing experience. Stream on Paramount+.

Related: 17 Iconic TV Shows Set in New York City


8 NCIS: Los Angeles (2009-2023)

14 Seasons

NCIS: Los Angeles is a spin-off of the aforementioned NCIS. Washington D.C. and Los Angeles may be two vastly different cities, but each series has a spectacular ensemble cast that viewers can’t get enough of. Special Agents Sam Hanna (played by rapper LL Cool J) and “G” Callen (Chris O’Donnell) work in a branch of the department that requires them to go undercover.

G keeps much of himself hidden, not only from his targets but from his team. Former NAVY Seal Hanna can’t quite trust him at the start. But if these two want to get out of their dangerous missions intact, they’ll have to learn to rely on one another.


Better Than the Original?

Every so often discourse pops up debating whether the original NCIS is best, or this one. There are ways to successfully argue both. The dynamic between G and Sam is hard to match, though the cases in the original are arguably much more memorable. Whatever side fans fall on, most agree that Los Angeles is the best spin-off in the franchise.

14 seasons and 300+ episodes, it’s safe to say viewers agreed. The undercover aspect injects a thrilling element not seen in many cop shows, constantly having fans hold their breath to see what comes next. Stream on NBC.

7 Blue Bloods (2010-2024)

14 Seasons

The Reagan family in Blue Bloods is very tied to the NYPD. Father Frank is the police commissioner, son Danny is a detective, while his brother Jamie is a sergeant. Even Grandpa Henry was a former officer. The daughter, Erin, is the assistant district attorney who attempts to wrap all of her family’s work up with a guilty verdict.


There was another member of the family, a third son, who was unfortunately killed by a fellow cop. The series follows them as they tackle various crimes across the boroughs.

A Family Affair

People often cite the “found family” aspect as a huge draw for many police procedurals. But here there’s actual family drama, making the stakes feel even higher and the conflicts even messier. It’s fascinating to see the criminal process step by step through each member of the family, and how their relationships with each other impact said process. Other colleagues do break up the Reagan fest happening on the show. But honestly, the family members are the best part, so it’s unlikely viewers will tire of them. Stream on Hulu.

6 CSI (2000-2015)

csi

CSI

Release Date
October 6, 2000

Seasons
15


CSI takes viewers away from common cop show locations like Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Manhattan, and to the glittering city of Las Vegas, Nevada. Dr. Gil Grissom is a forensic entomologist (studying insects) and the LVPD’s Crime Scene Investigation team’s supervisor. He may not be the most charismatic and his methods sometimes confuse his team, but he’s good at his job. And working on murder cases in a city renowned for drugs, alcohol, and sex, requires the best of the best.

15 Seasons, 15 Years

The CSI team is what makes this series so watchable. Not too often does the public come across a cop who had a previous career as a stripper, as is the case with blood splatter specialist Catherine Willows. Each member of the team has such different personalities and approaches to their work that make it interesting to see how they come together.


There are quite a few twists and turns, ones that will even have the main characters looked at in a new light. While not the most inventive or expertly crafted, it’s a solid cop show. Stream on Paramount+.

5 Criminal Minds (2005-Present)

17 Seasons

Criminal Minds is a police procedural with a specific focus on agents working with the FBI and, more specifically, their Behavior Analysis Unit. After more than 16 seasons and 300 episodes, the cast has seen changes, but the core group at the start were seven different individuals.

One character holding everything together is Aaron Hotchner, also known as Hotch, who is the supervisor. The series follows Hotch and his team dissecting a perpetrator’s behavior and creating criminal profiles to hunt them down.


Perfect for Character Studies

As with many police procedurals, the premise itself is pretty straightforward and not the most unique. We have law enforcement officers, and we see them solving crimes. But the angle of criminal profiling added a nice touch to this program, which first aired in 2005.

Of course, most people who buy into a show for so long do so because they attach to the characters, and there’s no shortage of that here. But writers for the show also continue to provide intricate plots with mysteries that aren’t easy to solve. Stream on Hulu.

4 Heartbeat (1992-2010)


18 Seasons

Heartbeat is a historical police procedural set in Yorkshire during the sixties. Constable Nicholas Rowan moves to Aidensfield with his wife, who are both struggling to adjust to their new life. As Nick is bouncing around nearby towns and villages, his wife is getting to know those in the community.

Season by season, more focus is placed on the police investigation, and the cops of the local department become more vital. With missing people, land disputes, troubled individuals, and more, Heartbeat doesn’t rely on the most gruesome crimes to captivate audiences.

A Cozy Cop Show

With so much technology and modern techniques available to cops today, solving cases in the modern day can seem inevitable. Many love Heartbeat because it allows us to witness how law enforcement puts criminals away with limited resources. The challenges the detectives face make the issues in other cop shows seem like a piece of cake.

Not to mention when the crimes occur on farms or isolated swaths of land. This series can reinvigorate the love for cop shows for avid watchers who are a bit bored of the genre. Stream on Prime Video.


3 NCIS (2003-Present)

ncis

NCIS

Release Date
September 23, 2003

Cast
Mark Harmon , sean murray , Wilmer Valderrama , david mccallum , Rocky Carroll , Brian Dietzen

Seasons
17

21 Seasons

NCIS is a huge franchise that has spawned many spin-offs (including another on this list), but appreciation must be shown to the original. This show is set in Washington D.C. and follows both cops and military officials working for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The team investigates crimes of all kinds, from grizzly murders to abductions. Leroy Jethro Gibbs used to be a top sniper in the Marine Corps and has now transitioned to leading the NCIS team. Though he appears buttoned-up, he won’t hesitate getting into physically dangerous situations to solve a case.


Keeps Getting Better

Actor Mark Harmon is a steady figure in Hollywood and though he abruptly left after nineteen of the show’s twenty-one seasons, it’s still his best-known work. Leroy fits much of what viewers think of a cop archetype. He’s fair but tough. He’s highly trained, but not faultless. He’s hardened, with a vulnerable.

Sometimes, there’s a reason why certain formulas work. It’s also one of the few shows where the first seasons aren’t the best. Hop around and jump in on a random episode and viewers are bound to find an episode that absolutely pulls them in. Stream on Netflix.

Related: The Best TV Cop Shows and Police Procedurals in America, Ranked

2 Law & Order (1990-)


23 Seasons

Law & Order is the first in a massive franchise of police procedurals and legal dramas. Donald Cragen (whose name may be familiar to fans of a later entry on this list) is the captain of his squad working for the NYPD. The first episode starts with a hard-hitting topic when a woman dies after a chaotic trip to the hospital.

The victim’s father doesn’t think it’s a tragic incident. Detectives Max Greevey and Mike Logan hop on the case, which brings them to a doctor who may have been under the influence while on the clock. If that doesn’t sound captivating, each episode follows a new crime.

Why It Works

The first half of the episodes are dedicated to learning about the crime, chasing down leads, and apprehending the perpetrator. For the remainder, viewers will get to see if all that hard work pays off in a court of law. Those who keep their fingers on the pulse of recent news will recognize many of the storylines depicted on the show.


Yet even if you’re familiar with the real-life case, the writers merely use it as inspiration and add twists and turns of their own. The original run went from 1990-2010. However, it was recently revived in 2022. Stream on Peacock.

Related: 10 Colorful TV Shows Set in Hawaii

1 Law & Order: SVU (1999-)

25 Seasons

Law & Order: SVU is the most successful spin-off of Law & Order, and arguably surpassed the original in popularity and impact. The detectives of New York City’s Special Victims Unit investigate cases that are sexually based. Captain Cragen keeps things running in smooth order for his team of talented detectives, which include Detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler.


Stabler cares deeply for the victims and that fire within bleeds into his hot-headed nature, which often gets him into trouble. Benson is calmer in comparison but is still one tough cop who never stops advocating for victims.

A Special Series

Benson and Stabler are just two of many characters viewers are sure to become attached to. From other detectives, the numerous ADAs who come in and out, the medical examiner, this team runs deep and each person is fully realized. This series has been in constant production since it debuted in 1999.

The writing is top-notch in most episodes, and the central cast gives fantastic performances that will elicit tears, laughter, and screaming (often in the same episode). While the makeup of SVU looks different in current seasons, the heart of the show is still going strong. Stream on Hulu.



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