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Back in March, I was inspired by a “Best TV Detective” tournament on Twitter to run my own “Best 80s Detective/Crime Show” tournament. I chose to focus on the 80s because I’m a fan of Murder, She Wrote and other 80s shows, and I wanted to run a tournament that had a large but still limited number of possible contenders.
I didn’t want to arbitrarily make choices about which show would make it into the tournament in the first place, so by consulting my own 80s American Detective Show Database, I was able to compile a list of 32 shows that ran for at least two seasons during the 1980s.
The complete list of 32 shows that participated in the tournament includes: Wiseguy; 21 Jump Street; Airwolf; The A-Team; Cagney & Lacey; CHiPs; Crazy Like a Fox; Crime Story; The Fall Guy; Hardcastle & McCormick; Hart to Hart; Hill Street Blues; Hunter; Jake and the Fatman; Knight Rider; MacGyver; Magnum, P.I.; Matlock; Matt Houston; Miami Vice; Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer; Moonlighting; Murder, She Wrote; Philip Marlowe, Private Eye; Quincy, M.E.; Remington Steele; Riptide; Scarecrow and Mrs. King; Simon & Simon; Spenser: For Hire; Stingray; and T.J. Hooker.
The tournament (which I have been calling the “80s TV detective Showdown“) ran between March 5th 2021 and April 19th 2021 on Twitter, with relevant posts using the #80sTVdetectiveShowdown hashtag. There were three main rounds in the tournament which matched up shows in pairs alphabetically. Round 1 cut the original list of 32 shows in half to 16 remaining shows; while Round 2 took those 16 shows and further cut them in half to the remaining Top 8 shows.
Round 3 took the Top 8 shows and, following the usual alphabetical paired matches, resulted in a group of four “Round 3 Losers” and a group of four “Final Round” contenders. The Round 3 Losers were then each matched up against one another (i.e. A vs B; A vs C; A vs D; B vs C; B vs D; C vs D) to determine their ranking for the #8 through #5 spots; while the Final Round contenders were similarly matched up to determine their ranking in the Top 4.
Below, I delve more deeply into the results and ranking of the Top 8 shows.
8. Spenser: For Hire
Spenser: For Hire was a show about a Boston private detective, and was based on characters featured in a series of novels by Robert B. Parker. The show ran for three seasons, from 1985 until 1988. A total of 66 episodes were produced, and the show was revived briefly for four TV movies which aired between 1993 and 1995.
In the 80s TV detective showdown: Spenser: For Hire made it to the Top 8 after beating Simon & Simon in Round 1 (with 57.6% of the votes cast), and beating T.J. Hooker in Round 2 (with 57.1% of the votes cast). However, losing to Quincy, M.E. in Round 3 prevented it from making it to the Top 4, and in the special “Round 3 Losers” round, it lost in all the matches which put it in last place of the Top 8.
7. The A-Team
The A-Team follows Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith and his group of Vietnam War veterans who now use their skills as mercenaries/soldiers of fortune. An overarching story line involves their desire to clear their names after being court martialed for a crime they did not commit. The show ran for 5 seasons from 1983 until 1987. In total, 98 episodes were produced.
In the 80s TV detective showdown: The A-Team made it to the Top 8 after beating Airwolf in Round 1 (with 73.3% of the votes), and beating Wiseguy in Round 2 (with 88.2% of the votes). However, losing to Cagney & Lacey in Round 3 prevented it from making it to the Top 4. In the special “Round 3 Losers” round, The A-Team beat Spenser: For Hire (with 64.9% of the votes) but lost all the other matches, which resulted in it being put in 7th place.
MacGyver follows a secret agent who is known for getting himself out of tricky situations using his superior ingenuity. The show ran for 7 seasons between 1985 and 1992. In total, there were 139 episodes produced, plus 2 TV movies that aired in 1994, after the show’s original run.
In the 80s TV detective showdown: MacGyver made it to the Top 8 after beating Knight Rider in Round 1 (with 60.8% of the votes), and beating Jake and the Fatman in Round 2 (with 73.5% of the votes). However, losing to Hart to Hart in Round 3 prevented it from making it to the Top 4. In the special “Round 3 Losers” round, MacGyver beat both Spenser: For Hire (with 71.7% of the votes) and The A-Team (with 55.9% of the votes) but lost its third match, which resulted in it being put in 6th place.
5. Magnum, P.I.
Magnum, P.I. follows a private investigator living in Hawaii. In exchange for providing security for his estate, the never-seen author Robin Masters permits Magnum to live in his guest house. Magnum is constantly butting heads with Higgins, the major domo of the estate; and he is constantly roping his old Vietnam War buddies into helping him with his cases. The show ran for 8 season from 1980 until 1988, and a total of 162 episodes were produced.
In the 80s TV detective showdown: Magnum, P.I. made it to the Top 8 after beating Matlock in Round 1 (with 62.7% of the votes), and beating Miami Vice in Round 2 (with 82.9% of the votes). Although losing to Murder, She Wrote in Round 3 prevented it from making it to the Top 4, the show did beat all the other contenders in the “Round 3 Losers” round: it beat Spenser: For Hire with 74.4% of the vote; it beat The A-Team with 73.1% of the vote; and it beat MacGyver with 65.1% of the vote, As a result it has been placed in the 5th place slot.
4. Quincy, M.E.
Quincy, M.E. (often just referred to as Quincy) followed the cases of a Los Angeles Medical Examiner who often investigated cases that at first appeared to be suicides or accidents. The show ran for 8 season from 1976 until 1983, which means that almost exactly half of its 148 episodes first aired in the 1970s while the other half aired in the 1980s.
In the 80s TV detective showdown: Quincy, M.E. made it to the Top 4 after beating Remington Steele in Round 1 (with 64.4% of the votes), beating Scarecrow and Mrs. King in Round 2 (with 54.5% of the votes), and beating Spenser: For Hire in Round 3 (with 65.2% of the votes). However, it failed to beat any of the contenders in the Final Round, so it was ultimately put in 4th place.
As far as I’ve been able to find, the show is not available to stream anywhere, but it is currently possible to purchase some seasons on DVD.
3. Cagney & Lacey
Cagney & Lacey follows two female police officers/detectives working for the New York City Police Department. Christine Cagney is single and career-oriented; while Mary-Beth Lacey is a married mom. A major theme of the show revolves around the challenges of being a woman on the force. The show began with a pilot movie in 1981, and then ran for 7 seasons between 1982 and 1988. A total of 125 episodes were produced, and a subsequent 4 TV movies aired between 1994 and 1996, after the show’s original run.
In the 80s TV detective showdown: Cagney & Lacey made it to the Top 4 after beating CHiPs in Round 1 (with 79.5% of the votes), beating Crazy Like a Fox in Round 2 (with 83.7% of the votes), and beating The A-Team in Round 3 (with 69.2% of the votes). In the Final Round, it beat Quincy, M.E. (with 59.4% of the votes), but failed to beat any of the other Final Round contenders, which ultimately put it in 3rd place.
2. Murder, She Wrote
Murder, She Wrote follows a mystery writer named Jessica Fletcher, who becomes a sensation after publishing her first novel in mid-life following the death of her husband. Based in the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine, Jessica is more often than not seen travelling to either promote her books or to visit her many friends and relatives. Everywhere she goes, she seems to stumble upon murder. The show ran for a total of 12 seasons from 1984 until 1996, which means that almost exactly half of the show’s 264 episodes aired in the 1980s while the other half aired in the 1990s. The regular series was followed by 4 TV movies which aired between 1997 and 2003.
If you’re looking to watch Murder, She Wrote, you can check out my page that lists all available options.
In the 80s TV detective showdown: Murder, She Wrote made it to the Top 4 after beating Philip Marlowe, Private Eye in Round 1 (with 89.3% of the votes), beating Moonlighting in Round 2 (with 91.9% of the votes), and beating Magnum, P.I. with 61.5% of the votes). In the Final Round, it beat Quincy, M.E. (with 68.5% of the votes) and Cagney & Lacey (with 66.9% of the votes). However, it was put in 2nd place after failed to beat the show that was ultimately declared the winner…
1. Hart to Hart
Hart to Hart follows millionaire couple, Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, who live in Los Angeles and frequently find themselves embroiled in criminal cases—which is fine for them since they love solving mysteries. The show ran for 5 seasons between 1979 and 1984. A total of 110 episodes were produced during the show’s original run, and these were followed by 8 TV movies that aired between 1993 and 1996.
In the 80s TV detective showdown: Hart to Hart made it to the Top 4 after beating Hill Street Blues in Round 1 (with 66.7% of the votes), beating The Fall Guy in Round 2 (with 90.6% of the votes), and beating MacGyver in Round 3 (with 82.4% of the votes). In the final round, Hart to Hart beat all the other contenders: it beat Quincy, M.E. (with 82.9% of the votes), Cagney & Lacey (with 78.9% of the votes), and Murder, She Wrote (with 55.9% of the votes).
Hart to Hart fans came out in droves to vote in the final round: between 211 to 256 people voted in the three Final Round matchups involving Hart to Hart. (Compare that to the 155 to 170 votes cast in the three Final Round matchups that did not involve Hart to Hart.) From what I could gather, based on the comments on Twitter, many fans who aren’t frequent Twitter users had heard about the tournament and were encouraged to vote by other fans in a Hart to Hart Facebook fan group. In my opinion, any fandom that cares so much to spread the word and vote definitely deserves having their favorite show win.
Congratulations to all the Hart to Hart fans!
And a big thank you to everyone who voted in the 80s TV Detective Showdown!