Angie Dickinson as "Pepper" Anderson, "Police Woman"
Fom 1974 to 1978, Dickinson starred as an LAPD undercover cop (the kind who often has to pose as a hooker or a stripper) in this groundbreaking series, said to be the first drama to showcase a woman in the title role.
If you don’t know this amazing British police procedural series (actually seven separate movies or miniseries), rent them immediately. Spanning 15 years of Mirren’s career, they are the best thing she has ever done (and that’s saying a lot)-a tour de force of sustained character development and riveting crime drama to boot.
Sharon Gless as Christine Cagney and Tyne Daly as Mary-Beth Lacey, "Cagney & Lacey"
These Manhattan detective partners were precursors of Law & Order: SVU‘s Olivia Benson, facing inner demons (Cagney’s alcoholism) while tackling some controversial subjects, including date rape and racism. The actresses traded Emmy wins through most of the ’80s.
S. Epatha Merkerson as Anita Van Buren, "Law & Order"
Merkerson has been with this 20-year-old NBC series longer than any other actor, but she didn’t start out as Lieutenant Van Buren. In the show’s first season, she guested as the mother of a boy who’d been accidentally shot; when the producers were re-casting the squad chief for season four, they remembered her performance. Van Buren is TV’s longest-running black character. "If you told me [growing up] that I’d be playing a cop," Merkerson (who was a teenager in riot-rocked Detroit) told People, "I would have laughed in your face."
Hill Street Blues was a big step forward in police drama, featuring elements we take for granted now: lots of sharply drawn characters, multiple storylines, handheld camera, black humor. Betty Thomas earned seven Emmy nominations (she won in 1985) as rookie-turned-sergeant Lucy Bates; she later became a film director (_The Brady Bunch Movie_, 28 Days). Let’s be careful out there!
This Oklahoma City detective is as fierce, furious and flawed as anyone in prime time. "What’s interesting is to see someone go, god, I want to go off the cliff," Hunter told MORE. "Grace loves dealing with chaos." The last nine episodes of this daring TNT series are set to air this summer.
"One black, one white, one blonde" was the tagline for this too-cool-for-school late-‘60s series, in which three disaffected young people were transformed into a hip undercover L.A. police team. Lipton, Michael Cole (right) and Clarence Williams III starred. Infinitely groovier than the 1999 film version with Claire Danes.
When Close did research for her Emmy-nominated 2005 turn as steely Captain Monica Rawling, she hung out with a female New York precinct commander. "The hardest thing about the job was being a woman and not letting it matter," was the lesson Close said she learned.
Photo by: Sonja Flemming/CBS 2009 CBS Broadcasting Inc.
Sonja Sohn as Kima Greggs, "The Wire"
This gay Baltimore detective was confident on the job but struggled with her personal life when her partner got pregnant. The Wire was named one of the decade’s best series by many pundits looking back at the 2000s.
Photo by: Adam Taylor/Warner Bros. 2009 Warner Bros.
Kim Delaney as Diane Russell, "NYPD Blue"
Russell, a recovering alcoholic who grew up in an abusive family, was plenty tough on this drama, which bowed in 1993. But it was her tender relationship with Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) that made her one of TV’s most memorable cops.
Photo by: Eric Liebowitz/CBS 2004 Broadcasting Inc.
Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon, "In Plain Sight"
McCormack (here with guest star David Denman) plays a U.S. Marshal who works with the federal witness protection program. "She’s not that likable," McCormack told MORE. "She’s got a lot of jagged edges." Season three is due this spring on USA.
Melissa Leo as Kay Howard, "Homicide: Life on the Street"
Leo (later Oscar-niominated for Frozen River) played a no-nonsense, deglamorized Baltimore detective-a part originally written for a man-in this critically acclaimed 1990s series. "You can’t show up to work in a homicide unit in skirts and heels," she recalled telling the producers. "You’ve gotta have trousers on."
Dropped by NBC but picked up by TNT, which is now rerunning season one, Southland helps fill the gap left by the demise of The Shield and The Wire. King plays an LA detective who balances a never-ending caseload with taking care of her elderly mother.
Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson, "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit"
For 11 seasons now on NBC, Detective Benson has felt the pain of New York’s victims of abusive crime. Playing the character has even inspired Hargitay to create the Joyful Heart Foundation, which helps victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
TO VIEW A SLIDESHOW OF STARS WHO STARTED ON SOAPS, CLICK HERE