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October 10, 2015

The eight greatest TV private eyes

by Bob Sassone, posted Mar 28th 2007 9:29AM

Spenser: For HireWelcome to TV Squad Lists (formerly 'The Five'), a feature where each blogger has a chance to list his or her own rundown of things in television that stand out from the rest, both good and bad.

OK, so yesterday I gave my list of the Five Greatest Police Detectives, and several readers gave their lists. Today I thought I'd do the other end of the invesitgation spectrum, private eyes, amateur sleuths and other investigators. This list was even hard to do. So many great characters.

1. Spenser (Robert Urich): I picked this Boston-based private eye because he seemed to be a great mix of brain and brawn. The type of guy who could go to the ratty gym and knock around some boxer and then go off to a fancy Beacon Hill cafe and have coffee with his girlfriend and talk about politics or literature. He was smart, clever, caring, a wiseass, and ridiculously moral. What else do you want in a private eye?

2. Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett): You can't have any list of great investigators and not include the most classic of investigators.

3. Banacek (George Peppard): While most investigators and P.I.s only had to solve one measley murder, Banacek had to find missing airplanes, armored cars that were taken, and a football player that was snatched on the field, in front of thousands of fans and TV viewers.

4. Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury): You have to have a woman on the list, and who solved more crimes than Jessica Fletcher? Sure, I think people should have started to investigate her because everywhere she went someone was killed and she was the one who just "happened" to solve it. And how many murders occurred in the small town she lived in up in Maine? Still, her resume is kinda impressive, and no one else around her was going to solve those crimes and all those villains would have gotten away scott free.

5. Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin): I put intrepid reporter Kolchak on the list because it's actually pretty incredible what he did week after week. Here was a guy who worked for an independent news service who tracked down deadly monsters and other supernatural foes, and didn't even get to write about them or get any recognition for saving the world. And no one ever believed him! What a lonely life that must have been. And may I add that while he may have seemed a little bumbling, the guy had balls of steel. I'll never forget the episode where he crawled into the back of a car to pour salt into the mouth of a sleeping zombie and the zombie woke up halfway through it. That scared the hell out of me when I was a kid, so I gotta give Kolchak his due.

6. Mike Hammer (Stacey Keach): The classic private eye: didn't care for authority, smoked cigarettes non-stop, and had a buxom secretary that helped him on cases. (David Janssen's Richard Diamond character should go in this spot too, and he had the bonus of working with Mary Tyler Moore's legs.)

7. Robert McCall - The Equalizer (Edward Woodward): He's like Jessica Fletcher, only with a gun and a crafty team of operatives. How can you not like an ex-spy who actually puts an ad in the classified section of a newspaper, telling people to call him if they had problems they couldn't solve themselves?

8. Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck): I think a lot of people underestimated Magnum, because he seemed like a pretty boy, a guy who drives around in a sports car (that wasn't even his), a guy who never had any money, and he wore shorts and a baseball cap all the time. But he ultimately solved the crimes, and had a respect for the occupation. He wouldn't even let you call him a private eye, it was "private investigator," thank you very much.

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Dude, it's Spencer not Spenser.

March 28 2007 at 5:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sorry about thinking you'd missed Columbo. I found him right where he belongs, at the very top of the list, too!

March 28 2007 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I, like a lot of people on here, am AMAZED that you could leave off James Garner's dry, witty Jim Rockford.

Gee, and I thought you were on the mark most of the time - you only partially redeem yourself with the Carl Kolchak mention.

What's wrong with you?

March 28 2007 at 3:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Veronica Mars.

March 28 2007 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a lame list. You never learn anything about most of the characters and never have emotional connection to them. sorry, I'll give you Hammer and Magnum, maybe even Spenser but for the most part the rest of the list is filled with shallow one-dimensional characters that are simple sleuthing archetype with little thought behind them.

March 28 2007 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bob Sassone

Jeri: Columbo was a police detective. Check out the link in the article.

Jeff: You're right, I fixed that, thanks.

March 28 2007 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Derek Bil

Top 8???? Why not Top 7...or Top 9...or WAIT....Top TEN!

If Rockford just missed making the list, wouldn't it stand to reason he would have been #9? Sure, his character was basically a time-transported Bret Maverick pasted over Phillip Marlowe (and funny, isn't it, that Roy Huggins once lost a plaigarism case to none other than Raymond Chandler??), but Stephen Cannell & David Chase nailed this one. Come on, tell us why he didn't make the list, and why it stopped at 8!

March 28 2007 at 12:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Harry O

March 28 2007 at 12:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ditto Jim Rockford, but how about Harry Orwell?

March 28 2007 at 12:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Shawn Spencer and Andy Barker ;)

PS. Shouldn't there be Tom Selleck instead of Magnum, P.I. in the brackets behind Thomas Magnum?

March 28 2007 at 11:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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