The Streets of San Francisco

The Streets of San Francisco

1972 - United States

Based on the novel "Poor, Poor Ophelia" by Carolyn Weston and produced by the legendary Quinn Martin (The Untouchables; The FBI; Cannon and others), "Streets" is probably best-known today as the police drama that launched a young Michael Douglas--son of the legendary film actor Kirk Douglas--to film stardom. It was also the best-known role for co-star and veteran actor Karl Malden, who parlayed his "Streets" role into a series of memorable commercials for American Express Travellers Cheques.

Set in the beautiful Bay Area, Streets of San Francisco focused on widower Mike Stone (Malden), an experienced veteran of the San Francisco Police Department who was assigned to the Bureau of Inspectors Division. His partner was young Steve Keller (Douglas), a college-educated man but inexperienced cop. Lee Harris played their boss, Lieutenant Lessing.

The series began with the shooting death of a fellow cop and a longtime friend of Stone's; he promises the cop's widow to "get the punk who did it". From there, episodes involved such plots as the murders of clergymen who went to the same seminary; a longshoreman who steals cobra venom; and a female impersonator who develops, as "TV Guide" described it, a "murderous split personality". (And like Martin's FBI, "Streets" was literally a running ad for the Ford Motor Company; the detectives drove big Ford LTD's or similar models; the bad guys were always seen in Fords, Lincolns and Mercurys.)

Besides the gorgeous scenes of San Francisco and reasonably plausible scripts, the main reason the show worked was the chemistry between the older Malden and the younger Douglas; the two had a professional and working relationship that was in many ways like father and son. That bond ensured a large and loyal audience; at one point in the mid-1970's The Streets of San Francisco was third-ranked ABC's most-popular series.

In 1976, Douglas left the series to pursue what would become a successful film acting and producing career (he was one of the people behind the scenes of the Oscar-winning "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"). Producers had Steve Keller written out by having him shot and wounded in the final episode of the fourth season by a post-Partridge Family/pre-L.A. Law Susan Dey; after recovering, Keller decides to leave the SFPD and become a teacher. (In 2002, Douglas--in a nod to his television roots--guest-starred in an episode of Will & Grace. He played, of all things, a gay police investigator who had the hots for Will!)

To replace Douglas, Richard Hatch (who would later go on to Battlestar Gallactica) became Mike Stone's new partner, Inspector Dan Robbins. But the dynamic of the show changed; fans thought Hatch was nowhere near as good or as compelling as Douglas. The ratings dropped, leading ABC to cancel the show in 1977.

A stream of now-famous names passed through "Streets" during its five-year run, including Nick Nolte; Dabney Coleman; Leslie Nielsen; Cheryl Ladd; Ned Beatty; and a young bodybuilder who would later become a movie action hero: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Streets of San Francisco was in many ways typical no-nonsense 1970's drama that showed the jobs and morals of cops in black and white terms. But it was Karl Malden and Michael Douglas who helped make it one of the era's most memorable police procedurals.

Published on February 4th, 2019. Written by Mike Spadoni (January 2003) for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

Dragnet

A truly defining early entry in the annals of the embryonic genre of US television police drama series, Dragnet became the seminal template from which all later successful cops shows drew a measure of guidance and inspiration...

Also tagged Us Cops

Picket Fences

In the quaint little town of Rome, Wisconsin, Sheriff Jimmy Brock and his team try to keep the peace whilst being distracted by a student revealing a severed hand during show-and-tell at school, a grim history of town mayors meeting tragic fates, and cow udders spontaneously exploding!

Also tagged Us Crime Series

Highway Patrol

1950s TV police series made on a shoestring budget

Also tagged Us Cops

T.H.E. Cat

Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat, a reformed cat burglar turns bodyguard.

Also tagged Us Crime Series

Cannon TV series

Private detective Frank Cannon would get paid top dollar to investigate, which allowed him to indulge in his personal luxuries such as food, expensive cars and food.

Also tagged Us Cops

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer

A wisecracking anti-hero detective who lives tough in a tough world of murderers, kidnappers, drug dealers and extortionists.

Also tagged Us Cops

Crown Court TV series

Courtroom drama in which the jury, who were made up of members of the public, would decide the verdict.

Also released in 1972

Hill Street Blues

US police series based around the dangerous professional and private lives of the officers who worked out of the aging, dilapidated, Hill Street Stationhouse.

Also tagged Us Cops