1960s Mystery Detective TV Shows

The 60s: All Roads Lead to Hawaii

The Sixties were perhaps the least readily-definable decade in television history with regard to crime shows. By the time the next decade drew to a close, the world was going to hell in a hand basket out on the streets. Perhaps the singular characteristic of the era was that several new elements were introduced into the mystery mix over its course, including the perfect unbending TV cop for Richard Nixon’s law-and-order regime.

The Defenders (1961-1965), while not solely a crime-oriented show, showed the power of the legal drama for confronting controversial issues. Car 54, Where Are You? (1961-1963) was the genre’s first sitcom. The Saint (1963-1969 in various incarnations) introduced one of print’s most enduring hero/rogues to TV. The Fugitive (1963-1967) showed how the classic man-on-the-run plotline was not only viable but compelling as it unfolded week after week on the small screen. The tension built up to one of the most-watched final shows in television history as Richard Kimball finally caught up with the man who had killed his wife. More an idea than a character in that he was not an active participant in the storyline until the final confrontation, “the one-armed man” is one of TV’s enduring villains.

I Spy (1965-1968) brought spies to the fore–not to mention creating the medium’s first African-American hero, some fella named Cosby. Then Mission: Impossible (1966-1973) made intricate weekly espionage assignments standard fare, offering challenges (“Your mission, should you choose to accept it..”) which the IMF team never turned down. Meanwhile, back in the less high tech world of the traditional lone wolf PI, Honey West (1965-1966) suggested that a pretty girl need not just stand daintily off to the side waiting for a man to get the job done. Then, just to keep the PI world in its proper perspective, Mannix (1967-1975), dour and effective, did the tried and true hard-boiled thing.

Ironside (1967-1975) became perhaps the best known of the many detectives over the years who refused to allow their physical handicaps to hinder the battle against crime. It also allowed Raymond Burr to separate himself from Perry Mason. The cultural war and youth revolution that was raging out in the real world did finally find expression of sorts in Mod Squad (1968-1973), featuring like, man, hip undercover operatives who would have left Joe Friday speechless.

The decade closed with the debut of what was TV’s most controversial and, until Murder, She Wrote, longest-running crime drama, Hawaii 5-O (1968-1980). In a strange way, it probably reflected the argument that was tearing the country apart better than any other show. Fans debated whether the uncompromising attitude of Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett was a matter of high principle or right wing pseudo-fascism. And they kept on tuning in, week after week, year after year.


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