The 5 Greatest Private Investigators from 1980s Television

The 1980s were a great age to be a cool private eye on TV. These were the direct descendants of the rough and tumble private dicks of the 1930s, but instead of tough talking, cigarette smoking bad asses, they tended to be well-coiffed smart asses at the top of their games. Now I am only listing those who seemed to be purely in the private eye game (the Equalizer is on the fence), so I didn’t put in characters like Quincy ME, who is also amazing. Here are five of the best Private Investigators that the 1980s had to offer.

5. Murray ‘Boz’ Bozinsky from Riptide
Pre-nerd-chic cool, Boz was an ass kicking proto ubergeek. Who was comfortable behind the wheel of whatever technology you threw at him.

4. Remington Steel from Remington Steele
The whole time you were watching Remington Steel, you kept asking yourself, why isn’t this guy playing James Bond yet? That is why Remington Steele is so cool, he exuded the same attitude that Bond did on the big screen, but he did it on the small screen week after week. I might be in the minority, but I actually preferred Pierce as Steele. It allowed him to use his charisma to make a whole new character instead of trying to fit into the Bond mold.

** Have you ever searched YouTube for Remington Steel clips? They have a crazy amount of fan edited music videos for the show. Wonderful stuff.

3. David Addison from Moonlighting
Bruce Willis brought the same smart alec attitude that would make him famous on Die-Hard, to the small screen every week as David Addison on Moonlighting. I re-watched season 1 of the show last year to confirm that the magic was still there and it definitely was. Now here is something I want you to try (and this is part of the reason I re-watched the show), try and think of a case that they worked on during the show. You can’t can you? It is easy to remember the flirting and the singing (oh the singing) and the weird special episodes, but it is very difficult to remember a case off the top of your head. Wish the writers had figured that out when they finally had Maddie and David consummate their relationship.

2. The Equalizer
While most of the characters on this list can kick ass in their own way, only Robert McCall, is ALL about ass-kicking. And boy does he do it well. I was turned onto to this show by of all people my Grandmother, who enjoyed the throwback quality of the show and I have to agreed with her. The Equalizer is like something out of the 1930s transported to an all too bright 1980s. Great show and fun character.

1. Thomas Magnum from Magnum PI
I make no attempt to hide my love for this show. Week after week it is entertaining in ways that you will never expect. In a months worth of shows you could have Magnum traveling to southeast Asia to try and rescue a POW; have a retelling Pygmalion with a British punk rocker; and end with a creepy neo-gothic romance. All the while Tom Selleck’s Magnum PI tackled each episode in a predictable and very human off-beat style. I am very glad he was not able to play Indiana Jones. Magnum PI will always be the quintessential 1980s private investigator.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. The Retroist

    That was a tough call, since I am a fan of Hammer. It was either him or the Equalizer and I thought that the earlier Hammer stuff is better than the 1980s stuff.

    Still a great show. You see the Darren McGavin version?

  2. Cap'n Carrot

    Nice list, and some good shows, but I’m not sure that David Addison counts as a “good” detective. A funny detective sure, but would you really want to hire him? Moonlighting falls apart halfway through the third season and never really recovers, but when it’s good it’s damn good.

  3. The Retroist

    Ha, yeah I guess not technically the greatest detective, but certainly one of the more entertaining to watch.

  4. Brian Boone

    Great list – I read the other day that real P.I.s make about 15 grand a year and their work is mostly trailing cheating spouses and investigating workman’s comp fraud. But I’d still do it if I got to be 10 percent as handsome as Magnum.

  5. cybele

    Pfft – Remington Steele? He was nothing. Laura Holt was the investigator. And she wore hats.

  6. mporcius


    Have you seen “The Girl Hunters,” the Mike Hammer movie in which Hammer is played by Mickey Spillane himself? It still blows my mind to think of a novelist playing the character he created in a movie.

  7. Brian Boone

    Mporcius – you’ve identified a very small niche there. I have to check out that movie. The only other example of this I can think of is Steve Martin starring in Shopgirl, based on his own novel – also worth seeing.

  8. The Retroist

    mporcius – A agree with Brian, you identified a cool little niche. I have never seen “The Girl Hunters”. Went to add it via Netflix and it is not available. On Amazon it is over 60 bucks a copy.

    The hunt is on!!

Leave a Reply