Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Who Was the Best 80s TV Detective?

Who Was the Best 80s TV Detective?

Detective shows have been a part of the television landscape for decades, yet they seemed to have hit a new level during the 1980s. In that decade alone, there was a mix of shows coming to an end or just starting up. Viewers sat glued to their TV sets each week, waiting to see how their favorite detective solved a crime or case.

In looking at who was the best one from the 1980s, we’ll have to include a number of different names. Each TV detective had his or her own way of doing business. Also, where the shows were set mattered, too. The shows, for the most part, were well-written and captivated a lot of people. Who actually was the best detective in the 1980s? That’s worth making a list and checking it out.

So, where do we start? How about going with the ladies first?

Jessica Fletcher

Mix up an author who also is a sleuth herself and watch the fur fly. Angela Lansbury held her own on Murder, She Wrote, bringing Fletcher to life. She picked up clues in some of the most interesting ways. At times, her writing abilities might contribute to solving crime. Lansbury brought TV detective Fletcher to life, playing the character for 12 seasons. Don’t look for Fletcher to be a typical gumshoe private eye. That’s not her style. Her approach to solving crimes was to collect as much information as possible. Then, she would add things up and find a guilty party. Lansbury was a solid pick for this character. She had the pedigree to pull it off.

Thomas Magnum

Yes, our man Magnum loved getting out in Hawaii and tracking down criminals on the islands. On Magnum P.I., Tom Selleck chased down the bad buys a lot. He’d climb into his red Ferrari and start wheeling around. Magnum, a formidable TV detective, looked for clues carefully. He’d often get his buddies T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) and Rick (Larry Manetti) in on the action. Magnum also would collect information about the criminal. He used some of the skills that he learned in the military to support him when nailing the guilty person.


While the good lieutenant had a great run in the 1970s, Columbo made a comeback in 1989. Peter Falk, who still loved playing the raincoat-wearing, question-asking character, returned on ABC. Columbo has a style all his own. He’d carefully collect facts and information. Once he had pieces of a puzzle put together, he’d head out to interrogate someone. The mannerisms – cigar in hand, raising his arm to ask “just one more question” – all were there. Columbo could patiently work his way toward the guilty party. There’s no rush with him. The TV movies proved to be smash hits as viewers, old fans and new ones, fell in love with him all over again.

Jim Rockford

Before you start in with the “this show’s not from the ’80s,” I will retort by saying it ended in 1980. What a character Rockford proved to be on The Rockford Files. James Garner masterfully took Rockford in his hands and ran away with him. His style of solving a case, as a private investigator, meant it was pretty much him against the world. Rockford leaned on Dennis Becker (Joe Santos) for help from the police. Of course, Angel (Stuart Margolin) could add a manic touch to an investigation. Jim, though, used his skills and instinct to solve the most heinous crime.

Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs

You know this team had to be included here. Crockett (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) were undercover detectives working in Miami. Of course, they were part of Miami Vice. The cases that these guys would go on allowed them to use their traits when nabbing the criminal. This show, though, presented a colorful look into the fashion of the 1980s. A lot of episodes had Crockett and Tubbs nailing people involved with drug trafficking and prostitution. Again, though, Miami Vice provided viewers with an inside look at 1980s style during the decade itself.

Remington Steele

Pierce Brosnan lit up television sets in the 1980s thanks to this NBC detective series that ran five seasons. Stephanie Zimbalist played Laura Holt, also a private investigator. When no one takes her seriously in town, she ends up making up Remington Steele as her boss. That leads to an ongoing struggle between both characters. Remington Steele followed pretty much down the lines of a procedural detective show.

Maddie Hayes and David Addison

Let’s wrap up this tour of 1980s detectives with this Moonlighting couple. Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis tag-teamed in this hilarious detective show. Maddie stayed behind at the office sometimes while David went out looking for clues. This show had a lot of romantic intrigue and tension-filled moments. You could not call Moonlighting a procedural detective show. It had plenty of twists and turns, action scenes, and a throwback episode to Shakespearean times. Fans loved it, though.