9 short-lived 1980s crime dramas

By: H&I Staff    Posted: January 17, 2020, 11:00AM

The TV-watching public really loves a good crime drama. Hollywood pumps out dozens every year, hoping to find that magical scenario that will keep us glued to the TV. Maybe the team catching bad guys has something different that makes them special. Or maybe we watch to see if the pretty detective is going to end up with the handsome chief of police.

Yes, there's a lot of appeal in crime dramas. But not all of them can be a hit. For every series that gets ten seasons and passionate fans, there's another handful that falls flat after only a couple episodes. 

Today, we've compiled 9 of those less-fortunate hopefuls from the 1980s, when cops and action ruled Hollywood. You can't win 'em all.

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Leg Work (1987)

Leg Work was a CBS drama about an assistant district attourney turned private investigator. Our heroine, played by Margaret Colin, had relatable troubles even as she brought in the bad guys. One of her main problems through the series was trying to make ends meet as her detective agency got off the ground. Alas, this show never stood a chance against its Saturday night competitor, Golden Girls. After just six episodes, when Leg Work finished dead last in the ratings, the show was canceled. The additional four episodes of the season weren't even aired at the time. Ouch.

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The Law & Harry McGraw (1987)

Murder, She Wrote is one of the most successful mystery series ever, so it stands to reason that a spin-off will do just as well, right? Nope. The Law & Harry McGraw followed the character of Harry McGraw into his own show. It was an opposites-attract kind of show, with Jerry Orbach playing McGraw, a rough-around-the-edges private investigator, and Barbara Babcock playing a prim and proper attourney. Presumably their differences would lead to chemistry eventually. We'll never know, since after sixteen episodes, the show was over for good.

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MacGruder and Loud (1985)

MacGruder and Loud was reportedly rushed into production to capitalize on the success of Cagney & Lacey. The series revolved around police officers Malcolm MacGruber and Jenny Loud. The pair were married, but due to strict anti-fraternization rules in the precint, they had to keep their relationship completely secret. Heavy promotion during the 1985 Super Bowl led Johnny Carson to call the show "Frequent and Loud". Despite the Super Bowl bump, the show was canceled after just fourteen episodes.

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Partners in Crime (1984)

You'd think a show helmed by Wonder Woman and a WKRP alumna would have better lasting power. Lynda Carter and Lori Anderson starred in this show looking like the '80s personified. They played Carole Stanwyck and Sydney Kovack, who share an ex-husband. When the ex is murdered, they team up to find his murderer and take over his detective agency. It's not a bad premise, a little like First Wives Club meets The Closer. However, it couldn't compete against established hits in the same time slot, like The Love Boat and Airwolf. And it didn't help that at the same time, a British series called Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime was airing, causing confusion among viewers. 

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Knightwatch (1988)

Knightwatch was about a group of tough city punks, many ex-gang members, who formed a volunteer crime-fighting force to keep the city safe. Since they couldn't carry guns, they brought down the bad guys with sweet martial arts skills. Benjamin Bratt played the ringleader of Knights of the City, based on the real-life group the Guardian Angels. It's a different premise than a lot of shows on this list, which is why it's so dissapointing that it was such a ratings failure. Only nine episodes were ever made.

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Hardball (1989)

Two years earlier, Lethal Weapon had been released in theaters to huge success. So that this show was a pretty shameless attempt to do the same thing isn't really all that surprising. It follows an older, by-the-book cop played by John Ashton and his new partner, a loose cannon who plays by his own rules (Richard Tyson). The two conflict over their law enforcement styles and have to learn to work together. The show couldn't capture the same magic as the movie, and eighteen episodes later, it was taken down for good.

Image: Everett Collection


Hawaiian Heat (1984)

Hawaiian Heat follows two Chicago cops who quit their jobs and move to Hawaii to become detectives. Maybe it was supposed to be a spiritual successor to Hawaii Five-O which had wrapped only four years earlier. It didn't get the same reception, however. Perhaps audiences were already tuned in to Magnum, P.I.? Or maybe the fish-out-of-water element with Chicago natives going tropical wasn't engaging enough to pull viewers back. For whatever reason, Hawaiian Heat went cold after eleven episodes.

Image: Everett Collection


Private Eye (1987)

This '80s show is notable for being set in the 1950s and, perhaps more, for starring a young Josh Brolin as a rockabilly. Michael Woods plays an ex-cop private eye who teams up with Brolin's character and they work together in vintage L.A. The show only lasted for thirteen episodes, but it might be worth a watch just to see young Thanos in that questionable haircut.

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J.J. Starbuck (1987)

J.J. Starbuck is anything but forgettable. The show follows J.J. himself, a wealthy Texas oil tycoon who puts work above everything. When his wife and son die one day, he realizes that all of his money can't make him happy, and devotes his life to traveling around and helping others out of binds. With his 1961 Lincoln (complete with steer horns), a ten-gallon hat, cowboy boots, and folksy sayings, J.J. seems more like a cartoon character than a crime solver. Jimmy Dean, the sausage salesman himself, even had a part in the series. Unfortunately, this dog didn't hunt, and the show was replaced after sixteen episodes.

Image: Everett Collection