Over the years, police dramas have become some of the most popular shows on TV. There’s just something viewers love about watching cops hunt down bad guys. The cases may not always end up the way we want them to, but seeing the process always makes for great entertainment. Sometimes, these shows even provide some educational value although they are always fictional. Although lots of police dramas have come and gone, the 90s gave birth to some unforgettable ones. Not only did these shows give the world some interesting cases, but they also created characters that added another layer to the show. Keep reading to see our list of the 10 best police dramas on TV during the 90s.
10. Silk Stalkings
Long before there was Law and Order: SVU, there was Silk Stalkings, another show that was centered around detectives who solved sexually based offenses. Silk Stalkings debuted in 1991 and starred Mitzi Kapture and Rob Estes as Sargeants Rita Lance and Chris Lorenzo. The series was mostly focused on the cases they were trying to solve although there were moments where we got glimpses into the characters’ personal lives. The show lasted for eight seasons and was very popular during most of its run. However, like many shows, it began to struggle when the main cast members left. Both Kapture and Estes departed in 1995 and they proved to be tough acts to follow. Unfortunately, Silk Stalkings has been largely forgotten about over the years, but it truly was a game-changer during its time on the air. In fact, we may have never gotten a show like SVU had it not been for this one.
9. Third Watch
Third Watch debuted in the fall of 1999 and was centered around a group of New York-based first responders. The fact that it didn’t just focus on police officers makes it unique compared to the other shows on this list. However, it still deserves a spot because law enforcement was at the center of many episodes. Like many other police dramas, the show featured an ensemble cast and there were several ongoing storylines as well as some that were contained to a single episode. Third Watch had a knack for finding the perfect balance between suspense and drama and it also introduced viewers to some great characters. The series was canceled in 2005 after six seasons.
8. Homicide: Life on the Street
Set in Baltimore, Homicide: Life on the Street was based on David Simon’s 1991 book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. The series followed members of the city’s homicide unit and was known for offering a gritty portrayal of life as a detective. Since the show was a bit darker than many other police dramas, it didn’t gain as much mainstream popularity. However, Homicide: Life on the Street became known for pushing boundaries and showing a side of police work that is often overlooked in the entertainment industry. During its time on the air, Homicide: Life on the Street was nominated for dozens of awards and won many, including three Primetime Emmy Awards. Even though it’s been more than 20 years since the show ended, Homicide: Life on the Street is still regarded as one of the best police dramas of the 90s – if not of all time.
7. Nash Bridges
Starring Don Johnson as the title character, Nash Bridges aired from 1996 to 2001, and it was very popular for most of its run. Nash Bridges worked in the Special Investigations Unit of the San Francisco Police Department where he had made quite a name for himself. Although many of the cases he dealt with were very intense, Nash was known for having a great sense of humor which often gave the show a lighthearted feel that you don’t often find in police dramas. On top of his work as a police officer, the show also followed Nash’s personal life where, unfortunately, things weren’t going as smoothly. Nash had been divorced twice and he and his teenage daughter didn’t always get along. The show was canceled after its sixth season after it began losing ratings to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The show may have been canceled 20 years ago, but Nash Bridges fans will be happy to know that they haven’t seen the last of him. On November 27, 2021, a Nash Bridges movie will debut in USA. According to Movie Web, “the Nash Bridges movie picks up with Johnson’s character “still running San Francisco’s Special Investigations Unit and confronting a changing city, a new boss and a world in which police work focuses on modern data-crunching and predictive policing.” If the movie proves to be successful, there’s a chance the series can be revived.
6. Diagnosis Murder
Diagnosis Murder was one of those shows that had the ability to appeal to all kinds of people. The show starred the legendary Dick Van Dyke as Mark Sloan, a doctor who helps his homicide detective son, Barry, solve crimes. Barry was portrayed by Van Dyke’s real-life son, Barry. The two proved to be a very dynamic duo and they had a way of getting to the bottom of things. Interestingly enough, the series was almost canceled after its second season because it struggled to pick up ratings. Despite that early hiccup, Diagnoses Murder lasted for eight seasons and spawned five TV movies.
5. Law & Order
Law & Order is easily one of the most iconic police dramas of all time and it’s responsible for an entire franchise of other police dramas. It is also one of the longest-running scripted live-action shows of all time. The series debuted in the fall of 1990, and it became a hit almost instantly. Law & Order was set and filmed in New York City and followed city police officers as they attempted to solve various crimes. The first half of the episodes focused on police apprehending a suspect while the second half was focused on the suspect being prosecuted. The show was canceled after 20 seasons, but it has recently been announced that the show will be returning for another season.
4. Walker, Texas Ranger
Let’s be real, who doesn’t love Chuck Norris? Over the years, he has become a legendary figure in the entertainment industry, and the series Walker, Texas Ranger is part of that legacy. In the show, Norris played a Texas ranger named Sergeant Cordell Walker who was known for his intelligence, courage, and dedication. Walker, Texas Ranger may not have gotten the most favorable reviews from critics, but the show was still popular among viewers. The show resulted in a short-lived spinoff called Sons of Thunder which lasted for only one season. There was also a TV movie based on the series as well as three books. A reboot called Walker premiered in 2021 and is heading into its second season. The new version stars Jared Padalecki as Cordell Walker.
3. New York Undercover
New York Undercover only lasted for four seasons, but it was still one of the best police shows of the decade. Starring Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo as two undercover New York City detectives, the series was considered groundbreaking because it was the first police drama in the United States to have two people of color in the leading roles. As a result, it became a popular part of Fox’s Thursday night line up which also featured Martin and Living Single. The detectives’ jobs were at the center of the episodes, but the show also highlighted their personal lives. In recent years, there has been talk of reviving New York Undercover but unfortunately, it has not been picked up by any networks. However, there is still hope that the reboot will find a home on the Peacock streaming service.
2. NYPD Blue
When people think of 90s police dramas, NYPD Blue is probably one of the first shows that come to mind. The show was set in a fictional New York City precinct. While there are some shows that glamorize life as a police officer, NYPD Blue wasn’t one of them. Viewers saw the offers struggle with the realities of the job as well as personal issues such as alcoholism. In fact, the series was often seen as controversial for its depiction of nudity and other things that were deemed inappropriate. NYPD Blue aired from 1993 to 2005 and it won 84 awards during that time including 16 Primetime Emmy Awards.
1. Law & Order: SVU
Law & Order: SVU is the longest-running scripted live-action series and it has currently been on the air for more than 20 years. At this point, people just expect the show to be renewed every year. In the show, Mariska Hargitay portrays a tough New York City detective named Olivia Benson who is committed to finding justice for victims of sexually motivated crimes. The series follows a similar format to the original Law & Order, except it offers a bit more insight into the characters’ personal lives. During its time on the air, viewers have seen Benson go through several relationships and she has also become a mother. Since its debut, Law & Order: SVU has won 33 awards and there will likely be even more in the future.