Cop shows keep us glued to our sofas nowadays. Whether we’re bathing in the beautiful oblivion of another SVU marathon or infatuated with the forensics of one of the CSIs, TV has turned us all into avid followers of the fictional men and women in blue. Back in the 80s however, it was a different kind of crime fighter who dominated the airwaves. Be he a hard-nosed loner or a devoted duo or whatever the combination, the private eye was that decade’s most celebrated hero. Murderers, kidnappers, and crooks were no match for the various sleuths set upon their trail during one glorious hour of television. Here were rank – individually, paired, or in groups – the most memorable private detectives of 80s TV.

#10 – Cody Allen, Nick Ryder, and Murray “Boz” Bozinsky, “Riptide” (1984 – 1986)
Private Eyes of the '80s
Capitalizing on the popularity of successful dramas like “Magnum PI” and “The A-Team,” NBC attempted to combine the two with “Riptide” with a dash of “Revenge of the Nerds” thrown in for good measure. Though it’s not a product of originality by any means, it was created by Stephen J. Cannell, the prolific page-flinging Lord of TV Detectives. Two ex-army bros are joined by a four-eyed computer geek to operate a private detective agency out of a houseboat. And the cases they accepted go way beyond trailing cheating spouses. They were action-packed mysteries involving soaring helicopters, speedboats, and car chases in classic American rides. And breaking at the dawn of the computer age, they were aided by an accident-prone, homemade robot. Like the 80s itself, “Riptide” was fast, explosive, tech savvy, and a little dopey.

#9 – Mike Hammer, “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer” & Spin-Offs (1984 – 1988)
Private Eyes of The '80s
The truest True Detective on our list, Mike Hammer was the brainchild of renown crime novelist Mickey Spillane and appeared in the author’s first novel near the end of the 1940s. Hammer was distinguishable from his fictional contemporaries Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe in temperament and style. While the others were hard-boiled and cynical, Spillane’s creation was brutal and prone to violent rage in his quest to bring criminals to justice. The 80s saw Hammer transported into that decade’s modern day, complete with fedora and wrinkled trench coat, and just as merciless and trigger-happy as his literary counterpart. Actor Stacy Keach was perfectly cast as the gruff private dick who brought the dames to their knees with his irresistible charm and crooks to theirs with his trademark Colt 45.

#8 – Rick and A.J. Simon, “Simon and Simon” (1981 – 1989)
Private Eyes of The '80s
Way before Ron Burgundy ever attempted to keep San Diego classy, that job fell to two bickering brothers on the long-running CBS series “Simon and Simon.” Well, technically, only one Simon held up that mantle -– the other wore a cowboy hat and lived on a landlocked boat. The Simons were polar opposites and the opposing styles and sibling rivalries that reared their heads as they set out to solve crimes was the amusing premise of the show. Rick was a Vietnam vet with street smarts and a love of pick-up trucks who marched to his own drum. AJ was an intellectual with refined tastes who played by the rules. The chemistry between the two and the reliably 80s mystery plot lines kept the family feud going throughout the entire decade.

#7 – Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, “Hart to Hart” (1979 – 1984)
Private Eyes of The '80s
Yes, this duo officially began their TV run in the 70s, but as their superlative credit sequence proves, this ABC drama is quintessential 80s. In a nod to Dashiell Hammett’s legendary fictional husband and wife private detective team, Nick and Nora, “Hart to Hart” followed an amorous, wealthy, high society couple whose jet set lifestyle would always collide with nefarious crimes that needed solving. Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers were perfectly cast as the amateur sleuths whose successful careers would often take a backseat to another pesky mystery at hand. Luckily there was always help behind the wheel – their houseman Max, who each week memorably reminded the audience how hard it was to look after the glamorous couple explaining, before the theme music would kick into full gear, that “when they met… it was murder.”

#6 – Michael Knight, “Knight Rider” (1982 – 1986)
Private Eyes of The '80s
Simon had his brother, the Harts had their butler, the “Riptide” guys had their robot, but perhaps the most awesome 80s TV private eye partner was a high tech Trans Am with the voice of a gentleman. “Knight Rider” crashed onto the scene early in the decade and no one’s life has really been the same since. Before donning his red lifeguard shorts, David Hasselhoff rocked a red turtleneck and leather jacket as a crime fighter brought back from the grips of death, reconstructed with plastic surgery to make him look like an improbable German rock ‘n’ roll god, and paired with an artificially intelligent car. At least one half of this duo was intelligent.

#5 – John “Hannibal” Smith, “Howling Mad” Murdock, Templeton “Faceman” Peck, & B.A. Baracus, “The A-Team” (1983 – 1987)
Private Eyes of The '80s
More Stephen J. Cannell, more Vietnam vets, more high-flying helicopters, more car chases, though this time they usually involved a van driven by Mr. T. People will argue that this foursome (sometimes accompanied by a fifth forgettable babe that didn’t quite fit in) were mercenaries and not private eyes, but when it comes to the A-Team, why argue? Like all the others before and after on this list, Hannibal, Murdock, Face, and B.A. were good guys just trying to bring about a little justice on behalf of innocent victims. Here however, justice took the form of explosions, weapons of war, and showering bullets that never seemed to hit anyone. 80s audiences ate it all up heartily, loving it when all their plans came together.

#4 – Remington Steele and Laura Holt, “Remington Steele” (1982 – 1987)
Private Eyes of The '80s
As you can see this list is dominated by men. In Hollywood, the role of private eye seems to require a set of XY chromosomes. Not only is that pretty much the premise of “Remington Steele,” but the series’ real life conception as well. On TV, female investigator Laura Holt cannot nab any clients because of her gender. People needing a detective, she surmised, were only comfortable with the assurance given off by a man. So she created a fictional male superior to name her agency after and the cases began to pour in. So did a dashing con man who claimed to be the man she herself made up and the two began to solve mysteries together. In real life, NBC was pitched a female-driven private investigator series but the suits insisted such a show needed the assurance given off by a man instead. Art imitating life bearing a great NBC drama with what would have been the best example of sexual friction between an 80s detective duo had our #2 spot never come along.

#3 – Jessica Fletcher, “Murder, She Wrote” (1984 -1996)
Private Eyes of The '80s, Murder She Wrote
The theory that a man makes a better private eye, in reality and fictionally, was obliterated in 1984 as Jessica Fletcher stepped onto the TV landscape. As the wildly perceptive, level-headed mystery writer turned recurring investigator, Angela Landsbury’s wildly popular “Murder, She Wrote” ran the longest of any of the shows mentioned on this list and was the only one here to make it out of the 80s (and well into the 90s.) Though her sleepy, idyllic coastal Maine town of Cabot Cove in that time span procured a murder rate that would rival most of the country’s most dangerous cities – with fans beginning to wonder if Jessica wasn’t offing the victims herself – she always saw what the authorities couldn’t and brought the perpetrators to justice. Our private eyes so far have been cool, suave, tech savvy, or rough. Jessica Fletcher was none of these things. Just a smart, confident, calculating middle-aged woman and audiences couldn’t get enough of her.

#2 – Maddie Hayes and David Addison, “Moonlighting” (1985 – 1989)
Privates Eyes of the '80s
Though “Die Hard” made him a bona fide superstar, it was “Moonlighting” where audiences originally fell in love with Bruce Willis. The ABC series was TV’s first true successful dramedy and brought a groundbreaking style and humor to the private eye format. Maddie Hayes is stunned to find out one day that her accountant has made off with most of her money. What remains are failing businesses strategically set up as tax-write offs. When she enters one to announce its closure, slick, fast-talking bro David Addisson convinces her to keep and nurture it, and the Blue Moon Detective Agency is born. The crackling chemistry between Willis and Cybill Shepherd, along with outrageous scripts reminiscent of the best screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, brought TV to new heights and made the pair the most fun detective duo ever seen on the small screen.

#1 – Thomas Magnum, “Magnum, P.I.” (1980 – 1988)
Private Eyes of The '80s
But hands down, if there’s only one 80s private eye – just don’t call him that to his face – to mention, it’s Thomas Magnum. The mustache, the Ferrari, the Detroit Tigers baseball cap, and Aloha shirts themselves are all you need to evoke the pinnacle of the decade and the genre. Tom Selleck, with his affable charm and GQ good looks, beneath the exotic Hawaiian backdrop elevated Magnum to a level attained by very few fictional TV characters. The mysteries were not the cleverest, scripts not the tightest, performances sometimes of “Love Boat” caliber. But audiences adored the entire package of freewheeling whodunits under the tropical sun. Here was yet another Vietnam vet with a chaperone who made the ladies swoon but had something undeniably special to set him apart as the most memorable TV private investigator from the 80s.





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