Writing crime fiction and early influences: television detectives

I had an interesting conversation with a writing buddy the other day, which centred around the question: which TV detectives did you grow up with? We started off by citing the usual suspects from UK television, but then that started me thinking about some of the American TV shows that I loved when I was younger – not the true to life ones, but the ones that were pure entertainment.

Black and white photo of a 1950s detective

I think that these ones still resonate with me because, often, we’d only get to see them when spending a weekend at our grandparents’ house, and because my grandmother loved them.

Most of the investigative detail was decidedly sketchy, but, hey – bad guys were stopped, and the good guys always won.

There was also a heap of cheesy humour and obligatory car chases. Perfect for primary school kids to watch, in my humble opinion 🙂

So, without further ado, here’s a blast from my past for you…


Hart to Hart TV show starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers

Hart to Hart

Want extra cheese with your cheese? Look no further than this glamourous detective couple.

As a young kid, I loved this show featuring a wealthy couple who worked as detectives, because otherwise what else would they do with all that time on their hands? Stars Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers really piled on the cheese, too – but it always looked like they were having a hell of a lot of fun with it, and I think that’s what made people tune in every time to watch it.

Magnum PI

I’ll be honest, I was more enamoured with the Ferrari than Tom Selleck, but this was another of my grandmother’s favourites for Saturday night entertainment. Filmed in Hawaii, it also featured John Hillerman who played Jonathan Higgins. Selleck’s detective character lived in the guest house of a beach-front property owned by a billionaire, who was never seen or mentioned.

That Ferrari though? Definitely the star of the show for me.

Magnum PI TV show starring Tom Selleck


Scarecrow and Mrs King TV show starring Kate Jackson

Scarecrow and Mrs King

Remember this one? Cheating a bit here, as it’s not really detective-based, but it was entertaining.

Divorcee Kate Jackson gets mixed up with a spy (codename: Scarecrow, and played by Bruce Boxleitner of Tron fame) and the stories had me riveted to the sofa as a kid. The chemistry between the two was brilliant, and if you can hunt around for some old episodes online, I’d highly recommend it.


I’d forgotten about this show until Scared to Death was published, and then someone mentioned this old American TV show to me in passing because of the name.

Based in Detroit, it featured actors Fred Dryer as Sergeant Rick Hunter and Stepfanie Kramer as Sergeant Dee Dee McCall. Out of all the American cop shows I watched as a kid, I think this was one of my favourites – probably because it was a lot more action-packed and violent than some of the others. I do remember that it was on a lot later at night, so we weren’t often allowed to watch it!


Hunter TV detective show starring Fred Dryer



moonlighting TV show starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Sheppard


As I moved up to secondary school in the UK, Moonlighting was launched on TV, and everyone fell in love with the on-screen antics of Bruce Willis and Cybil Sheppard. I’m sure half the time, Willis was ad-libbing, because it looked like he was having way too much fun on screen.

Unfortunately, the episodes were always moved around the viewing schedules in the UK and I eventually lost interest. I couldn’t have been the only one, because the series ended after five seasons and Bruce went onto saving the world wearing a white vest. Yippee ki yay!

So, there you have it – a motley collection of American TV detectives whose methods were nothing like real life, but who kept a whole generation entertained every weekend. I know I’ve missed out loads due to space, so which ones would you add to this list?


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