This fall's television offerings include Grimm, a fantasy take on the police procedural in which a homicide detective must protect humanity from fairytale evil. And Terry Pratchett has a new procedural on the way, set in his Discworld universe.
As original as these ideas might seem, television has been combining police drama and science fiction or fantasy, since the 1940s. Here's our complete history of science fiction and fantasy cop shows, including ones which scored ratings success, and the ones which the networks felt the need to shove in the back of a flying police cruiser.
Top image: GO GADGET GO by kizer180 on DeviantArt
Note: This roundup only includes cop shows — not shows about FBI agents, spies, or agents of a mysterious government agency.
Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949)
Captain Video and his Rangers patrolled the universe from a secret mountain top base, protecting our solar system and far flung colonies from villains like the evil inventor (though unintimidatingly named) Dr. Pauli and sword-wielding Murgo of Lyra.
Captain Video had a sidekick, the Video Ranger, played by Don Hastings (Dr. Bob Hughes from As The World Turns and Commissioner Gordon on Batman: The Animated Series) and a robot, I TOBOR. I TOBOR, the first robot on a live TV show, was meant to be called ROBOT I, but his name was stenciled backwards on his costume.
Captain Video preferred to solve his cases with scientific reasoning rather than violence and ray guns (though he used them when he had to), and the series benefited from the contributions of many up and coming authors. Among Captain Video's writers were Damon Knight, James Blish, Jack Vance and Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Milt Lesser, Walter M. Miller Jr., Robert Sheckley, J. T. McIntosh and Dr. Robert S. Richardson.
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (1950)
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet was based on the Robert A. Heinlein novel "Space Cadet". The show followed Corbett and his fellow trainees at the Space Academy, where they trained to become members of the Solar Guard, traveling to distant planets on their rocket, Polaris. The Solar Guard protected the Solar Alliance from threats as varied as asteroids and space pirates, utilizing a combination of diplomacy, space weapons and the occasional fistfight.
Tom Corbett was very popular and inspired a radio show, comic books, View Master reels, lunchboxes and other paraphernalia. The show's science advisor was Willy Ley, a scientist credited with popularizing rocketry and spaceflight in the US and Germany. Ley, who has a moon crater named after him, wrote a number of books on rocketry and animals— including one on cryptozoology.
Space Patrol (1950)
Commander Buzz Corry (Ed Kemmer, from "Earth Vs. The Spider") led the United Planets Space Patrol in the 30th century against an array of interplanetary villains through a staggering 1,010 luridly-named episodes, with titles such as "Revolt of the Space Rats". The live-action series featured multiple gadgets, such as space-o-phones and "atomolights", and real-time special effects, performed live, on cue, in conjunction with the show as it was recorded. Buzz would capture rogue aliens with a device called The Paralyzer, and later reprogram them into respectable law abiding space-farers with his "Brain-o-graph". Space Patrol began as a regional series out of Los Angeles before being picked up by CBS nine months into its run, where it aired for five years until disappearing from the airwaves in 1955. Controversially, a number of Space Patrol episodes shared striking similarities to recently aired installments of Captain Video, suggesting that for a time the series was merely a recreation of Video's latest adventure.
Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers (1953)
Rod Brown and the Rocket Rangers battled crime and super-criminals (including giant lobsters and a Cyclops) from their nuclear-powered space ship, Beta. Rod Brown was "inspired by" Tom Corbett, and utilized the earlier show's director, writers, concept and special effects, leading to a lawsuit that prevented rebroadcast of the Rocket Rangers series.
Most notably, Rod Brown himself was played by Academy Award winner Cliff Robertson.
Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954)
Rocky Jones led the Space Rangers, a squad of intergalactic policemen who patrolled the United Worlds of the Solar System. The Rangers flew their rocket ship, the Orbit Jet XV-2 (and later, the nearly-identical Moon XV-3), to distant moons and stars, encountering humanoid-like aliens who were easily subdued by little more than fists and stern words. Like interplanetary David Tomas, The Rangers never fired their space pistols.
Rocky Jones inspired a major marketing blitz of Space Ranger wallets, watches, comic books and records, but the production was beset by off-screen drama. Actor Scotty Beckett, an original member of Our Gang, was implicated in a robbery at the Cavalier Hotel in Hollywood, California, and fled to Mexico, necessitating a recast of his part as Rocky's sidekick Winky. In addition, Maurice Cass, who played science advisor Professor Newton, died of a heart attack. The syndicated series ceased production after 39 episodes, but not before introducing now standard science fiction tropes to television, such as automatically opening doors, forward view screens, confused aliens who worship stranded humans as gods, space pirates and a hero who is irresistible to both human and alien females alike.
Colonel Bleep (1957)
Colonel Bleep was the first color cartoon made for television, beginning as a segment on Uncle Bill's TV Club. The action took place on Zero Zero Island, where the alien Colonel Bleep was drawn by the energy from an atomic blast. With his deputies Squeek, a cowboy-puppet, and Scratch, a caveman revived by an atomic explosion, the Colonel protected Earth from interstellar criminals like Dr. Destructo, Black Patch, and the Black Knight, by absorbing the island's "butomic energy" and then using it to power both weapons and his space unicycle. Though the animation was limited, the series carried itself along with incredible visuals and an excitable narrator (Noah Tyler) who would occasionally scream at the audience (John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren and Stimpy, has cited the series as a major influence). Regrettably, almost no original production material of the show is known to exist today, as thieves stole a van carrying the bulk of Bleep ephemera after the series studio, Soundac, closed its doors. It was around that time Bleep was pulled from regular television rotation, and has remained in limbo, never to return, to this day.
Space Patrol (1962)
This UK marionette space opera (one of the few not produced by Gerry Anderson) follows Captain Larry Dart and the crew of Galasphere 347, an interplanetary police force in the year 2100. The cast included an elfin Venusian, a sausage-obsessed Martian, efficiency expert Colonel Raeburn, and his also-Venusian secretary, Marla.
Space Patrol was the first series to feature an entirely electronic score, composed by producer Roberta Leigh after visiting an electronics store and asking for anything that made interesting noises. The series theme song, which broadcast a full seven months before the premiere of Doctor Who, boasts the title of the first electronic theme in television history.
Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski claims Space Patrol was his favorite TV show as a child.
Fireball XL5 (1962)
In this Gerry Anderson series, Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol piloted the spaceship Fireball XL5, which was manned by a diverse crew of scientists, aliens and robots-including, familiarly, a cranky Scottish engineer. The show was filmed in Anderson's patented Supermarionation, and its closing theme, "Fireball", became a hit in Britain. Sean Pertwee, (the son of the Third Doctor Jon Pertwee), can be heard belting the song out in the film Love, Honour and Obey.
8 Man (1963)
Japan's first cyborg superhero, 8 Man was an android humanized by the life force of the murdered Detective Yokoda, who used his new body to fight crime and bring his killers to justice. Under the alias Hachiro Azume, 8 Man led a double life as a police officer, with his identity known only to his boss Chief Tanaka, and the professor who created him. 8 Man replenished his power by smoking "energy cigarettes", which he carried on a cigarette case fastened to his belt.
The series aired in the U.S. as Tobor the 8th Man (once again, Tobor is robot backwards) in 1965, where legendary animator Ralph Bakshi reanimated the opening sequence.
A darker, more violent continuation of the series documenting 8 Man's successor aired in 1993, titled 8 Man After.
Green Lantern (1967)
In 1967, Filmation produced three Green Lantern animated shorts as part of the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. The shorts pitted space patrolman Hal Jordan against a despotic empress, a breakout on an alien penal colony, and Evil Star, an immortal scientist voiced by Paul Frees.
Captain Nice (1967)
Mild-mannered police chemist Carter Nash invented a secret formula that turned himself into crime-fighter Captain Nice (He chose the name so he wouldn't have to change his monogram) in the self-titled comedy starring William Daniels of Knight Rider and Boy Meets World. As with many other series in the genre, Captain Nice, created by Get Smart's Buck Henry, shared striking similarities with another show airing simultaneously, Mister Terrific, though both were responses to the superhero craze of the late sixties instigated by the success of Batman. Vic Mizzy composed the theme song.
Holmes and Yo-Yo (1976)
In this series, Detective Holmes and his android partner Yoyonivich (played by genre staple John Schuck) fought crime, while keeping "Yo-Yo's" non-human status secret from both criminals and fellow policemen alike — this was tough when Yo-Yo's electronics picked up radio signals from Russia, or when his head would violently spin on its axis when near an electronic garage door.
The series was created by another Get Smart alum, former staff writer Leonard Stern, with multiple episodes directed by John Astin. The character Yo-Yo was modeled after Hymie, the robotic officer of Stern's last gig, Get Smart.
The series, which only lasted thirteen episodes, is currently ranked #33 on TV Guide's List of the 50 Worst TV shows and as of this writing, one of them is available to watch on Youtube.
Future Cop (1976)
Like Holmes and Yo-Yo, this show, based on a TV movie of the same name, paired a veteran cop (Ernest Borgnine) with an android partner. The series was re-piloted as Cops and Robin in 1978, but neither version was a success.
Future Cop was the subject of a lawsuit filed by Harlan Ellison, who claimed the series heavily plagiarized the Partners in Wonder Story, "Brillo", he had co-written with Ben Bova. Ellison won the case and was awarded $300,000 dollars by ABC.
Future Cop was canceled after eight episodes.
Astro and the Space Mutts (1981)
The Jetsons' dog Astro teamed up with friends Cosmo, Dipper, and the human Space Ace as an intergalactic police force, in this odd series which aired as part of NBC's Saturday morning programming block, Space Stars. Together, the quartet combatted such villains as Zodiac Man, Galactic Vac and Julie Newstar.
The Metal Hero Series (1982)
This combo platter of seventeen different Japanese series featured a variety of androids, cyborgs and metal-suited humans serving as space police, protecting Earth from robots, mutants and aliens, running from 1982 until 1999.
The first Metal Hero series, Space Sheriff Gavan, concerned an alien policeman sent to earth to battle other, more malignant invading aliens; Robot Police Jiban, the eighth, was a take on Robocop, in which a rookie cop is gunned down and rebuilt as robotic crime fighter. The thirteenth, Blue Swat, dealt with a secret alien-fighting police organization that was nearly wiped out, and had to be assisted by civilians in order to save the world.
Footage from several different Metal Hero programs were later recycled for U.S. interpretations, such as Big Bad Beetleborgs, and V.R. Troopers, which culled fight scenes from an impressive three independent shows.
Inspector Gadget (1983)
Cyborg policeman Inspector Gadget assists Chief Quimby and the Metro Police in its ongoing quest to foil the evil plans of M.A.D., the crime syndicate led by Dr. Claw. Gadget works with his resourceful niece Penny and genius dog Brain, while making good use of a never-ending supply of "gadgets" accessible by calling "Go-Go-Gadget!"
Inspector Gadget is voiced by Don Adams and is played much like Adams iconic character Maxwell Smart, with Penny in the role of 99.
Perennial voice actress Cree Summer Francks provided the voice of Penny, while Frank Welker (and occasionally Don Francks) voiced Dr. Claw.
Cree's brother, Rainbow Sun Francks, is best remembered as the ill-fated Aiden Ford on Stargate: Atlantis.
In Automan, police officer and computer expert Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) creates a crime-fighting hologram capable of leaving the virtual world and merging with himself to become the superhero, "Automan". Alongside his sidekick, Cursor, a glowing polyhedron that could "draw" objects as needed, Automan would use his powers to not only fight the forces of evil, but give his alter ego further credibility back at the station.
Automan was heavily inspired by the film Tron, which had only come out a year earlier, so executive producer Glen A. Larson hired the film's operating producers, Donald Kushner and Peter Locke, to avoid charges of plagiarism.
Although the series' special effects were created in a completely different way than those used in Tron, the look of Automan, his Autocar, his plane and helicopter, were glowingly similar. Thirteen episodes of Automan were produced, but only twelve aired before getting the axe by ABC.
The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers (1986)
This animated space western pitted the Galaxy Rangers, protectors of the Bureau for Extra-Terrestrial Affairs, against the forces of the Crown Empire, ruled by the Queen of the Crown in the year 2086. Created by Robert Mandell, director of the 1986 film F/X and the pilot episode of the X-Files, the series maintains a strong cult following, praised by fans for its strong characterization, unusual sense of humor, and vocal performances from its cast, which included Earl Hammond, and Jerry Orbach as the captain of the rangers, Zachary Foxx.
Star Cops (1987)
In this series, set in the year 2027, the International Space Police Force (Star Cops) protected the colonies of the Solar System, led by Commander Nathan Spring (David Calder).
"Spacemen are ten-a-penny. What they need out there is a good copper." —Commander Spring.
The Star Cops investigated crimes both conventional (murder) and paranormal (future-murder), but the series failed to find an audience and was cancelled after a mere nine episodes. Creator Chris Boucher lamented, "the series was too outlandish for crime drama fans and not outlandish enough for science fiction fans and that ultimately it appealed to neither".
In 1999, SFX Magazine compiled an expert panel, including Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, to judge the top fifty sci-fi shows of all time. On that list, Star Cops charted at unlucky thirteen.
When the mafia held Empire City in its clutches, Agent Baldwin P. Vess (Codename: Bulletproof) was sent in as a last resort. After sustaining serious injuries in a car wreck on the line of duty, Bulletproof was rebuilt with a cybernetic torso, and assembled C.O.P.S. ("Central Organization of Police Specialists") the "finest law enforcement agency there is the country" to bring down the mob. With his new team, Vess and company battled the C.R.O.O.K.S. in the year 2020 to "fight crime in a future time".
This animated series from DIC, based on a line of Hasbro action figures, ran for sixty-five episodes between September 1988 and February 1989. C.O.P.S. later resurfaced in 1993 on CBS Saturday morning's under its repackaged titled, CyberC.O.P.S.
Alien Nation (1989)
After a flying saucer crashes near LA and its alien inhabitants, slaves in their own world, assimilate into the population. One alien becomes a police detective, working with a human partner to solve crimes and protect the aliens from their "Overseers", who have returned to claim their chattel. Though the series only lasted a single season, popular demand and a change of management at Fox led to an unheard of five additional TV movies, the first airing four years after its cancellation.
Syfy is currently developing a new series with producer Tim Minear.
Twin Peaks (1990)
In this trailblazing series from executive producers Mark Frost and David Lynch, Special Agent Dale Cooper aided the local police in solving the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer in the small Washington town of Twin Peaks. The investigation led to a number of complicating supernatural elements, bringing the detective to a transdimensional confrontation with Laura's killer, and evil incarnate, " Killer Bob".
Mann & Machine (1992)
Sgt. Eve Edison (Yancy Butler) was a sincere and by-the-book gynoid partnered with wisecracking, robot-hating Det. Bobby Mann in near-future Los Angeles. The pair solved crimes while learning to respect each other under the watchful eye of Capt. Margaret Cleghorn (S. Epatha Merkerson).
Besting its similarly-themed antecedent Future Cop by one, Mann & Machine was cancelled after nine episodes, though only four aired as part of NBC's Spring schedule – the remaining five were relegated to summer filler. At the time of its release, sci-fi cop show stalwart Yancy Butler was praised for her performance, but the show reminded critics too much of Holmes & Yo-Yo.
These days, you can occasionally find Mann & Machine on Syfy, airing in all-day marathons.
Forever Knight (1992)
Eight hundred year old Vampire Nick Knight worked the night shift as a Toronto police detective, looking for redemption and a way to become human again. His special skills allowed him to solve crimes his colleagues missed, but also brought him into contact with dangerous vampires from his past who hoped to lure him back to his murderous old ways.
Essentially a Canadian precursor to "Angel" and "Moonlight", Forever Knight began as TV movie in 1989 titled "Nick Knight" and starring Rick Springfield. CBS decided not to pick up the series until three years later, recasting Knight with actor Geraint Wyn Davies in the process. Forever Knight ran for three seasons, garnering a number of awards and critical acclaim along the way. After its cancellation, the series continued with a line of original novels.
Space Rangers (1993)
In this series, a small band of "Space Rangers Corps" guarded Earth colony Fort Hope on the distant planet Avalon from intergalactic crime and space Banshees. Though starring Academy Award Winner Linda Hunt, CBS jettisoned Space Rangers after just six episodes.
Time Trax (1993)
When evil Dr. Mordecai Sahmbi used his time machine Trax to send criminals two hundred years back in time to 1993, police detective Darien Lambert was tasked to follow them back. His tools for the mission were SELMA (Specified Encapsulated Limitless Memory Archive), a supercomputer disguised as a credit card, which communicates via the hologram of a British nanny, and an MPPT (Micro-Pellet Projection Tube) able to stun the criminal and transport him back to the future.
Dale Midkiff played Lambert in this Australian/U.S. series from creator Harve Bennett, co-starring Mia Sara and Peter Donat as Dr. Sahmbi.
Time Trax, which inspired a video game adaptation for the Super NES, ran two seasons. It was the final series produced by Lorimar Television, before the company's absorption by Warner Bros.
Robocop: The Series (1994)
Although based on the Paul Verhoven film, Robocop: The Series was a decidedly less violent and more family oriented take on the character. As in the movie, the show concerned Cybernetic policeman Alex Murphy fighting corruption and crime in near-future Detroit. This time, however, Robocop's non-lethal methods meant the show's major villains could reappear regularly throughout the series.
Despite the name and brand recognition, Robocop was yet another TV show in the sci-fi cop genre unable to survive past its first season. Robocop was preceded by an animated series in 1988, which lasted twelve episodes.
Space Precinct (1994)
In 2040, former NYPD detective Patrick Brogan fights crimes committed by aliens and humans alike while running the Demeter City police force on the planet Altor. Ted Shackelford (Dallas' Gary Ewing) starred as Brogan. As with most of these shows, the series only lasted a single season, as audiences seemed confused as to whether the program was aimed at adults or children.
This BBC series, and the second featured here to be created by Gerry Anderson (his most expensive project), is one of the few directorial efforts of John Glen beyond his five EON James Bond films he helmed during the 1980's. Piers Haggard (director of The Blood on Satan's Claw) also contributed.
Crime Traveller (1997)
In this eight episode series, also for the BBC, Detective Jack Slade was an unorthodox police officer often at odds with his superiors. He discovers forensic scientist Holly Turner has inherited her physicist father's time machine, and the two team up to go back in time to witness crimes as they happen. Unfortunately, and rather counterintuitively, due to the show-specific rules of time travel, the duo cannot prevent these crimes as that would "change the past".
Crime Traveller was created by novelist Anthony Horowitz, who is slated to write the forthcoming sequel to The Adventures of Tintin, based on "Prisoners of the Sun".
Based on the Jean-Claude Van Damme film of the same name, this show followed "Time Enforcement Commission" agent Jack Logan, tracking down criminals who meant to change the past. In this series, Logan was played by Ted King (Charmed) working with a historian (Kurt Fuller) and science advisor (Christi Conaway) to avoid altering the time line. Although the show was budgeted at a then-outrageous $1,500,000 per episode, it never caught on and was cancelled after only nine weeks – around the gestation period of the average dog.
Dead NYPD Detective Zeke Stone was sent to hell after murdering the man who raped his wife, because, as the Devil, played by Smallville and Gremlins 2 star John Glover explains, "he enjoyed it." The Devil tasks Stone to return 113 (or a five-season episode order) escaped spirits to Hell by piercing their eyes —the windows to their souls.
Peter Horton played Stone, and the series also featured guest stars Teri Polo, Lori Petty and Stacey Haiduk.
Brimstone was yet another single season casualty, though the CW's 2007 series Reaper was very nearly a comedic remake. Sharing a similar premise, Reaper alchemically swapped John Glover for the equally endearingly blithe Satan, Ray Wise, and ran for two seasons.
Special Unit 2 (2001)
A super-secret Chicago police unit tracked the city's "Links" population, a collection of monsters from mythology and folklore. Jaded detective Nick O'Malley lost his first partner to "The Chameleon", and was now partnered with straight arrow Kate Benson. Special Unit 2 worked out of a Chinese laundry, and explained its cases to a confused public as toxic spills, gang fights and such.
Links included Medusa, Sandman, Jack the Ripper and the Pied Piper, who posed as a children's TV host.
Interestingly, the upcoming series Grimm is thematically similar, though limits itself to fairy tale creatures.
Special Unit 2 lasted two seasons, totaling nineteen episodes.
Nine years after Mann & Machine, Yancy Butler starred as Sara Pezzini in Witchblade, based on the comic book from Top Cow/Image. In the series, Detective Pezzini comes into possession of the Witchblade, a sentient artifact that only bonds with women. The weapon not only gives its owner extraordinary power, but also exposes her to immense danger.
Though garnering both high ratings and critical acclaim, the series was cancelled after its second season, due to series star Butler entering rehab.
Power Rangers SPD (2005)
In the eleventh incarnation of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Space Patrol Delta is set on Earth in 2025 as the planet is invaded by the evil Troobian Empire. When the SPD A squad disappears, the B squad takes over, under the leadership of the canid alien Anubis "Doggie" Cruger.
Uniquely, the S.P.D. were in possession of "Judgment Scanners", which would electronically weigh the sins of the monsters they combatted, giving the Rangers the moral advantage before blasting them with their anti-matter cannon, which transformed into a robotic dog.
Sheriff Jack Carter polices a secret town of scientific geniuses, solving crimes with the help of deputies Jo Lupo and android Andy (Battlestar Galactica's Captain Kelly) and various phenomenal inventions.
Eureka, currently in its fourth season, is the only series in the genre to remain on the air, and the longest running since the 1950's.
Life on Mars (2006)
Police officer Sam Tyler was hit by a car in 2006 and woke up in 1973. Stuck in the past, he used modern methods to solve local crimes, all the while trying to find his back to his own time.
Originally a BBC production that lasted two series, the show was remade for American television in 2008, and cancelled after one season. The British version also spawned a successful spin-off, Ashes to Ashes, in which a detective is shot and finds herself flashing back to 1982.
The Dresden Files (2007)
In this series, Harry Dresden was a wizard who consulted with the Chicago police on unusual cases involving the supernatural. Based on a series of novels by Jim Butcher, this show boasted Nicholas Cage as its executive producer. The Dresden Files ran twelve hours before Syfy dropped the axe.
New Amsterdam (2008)
NYPD homicide detective John Amsterdam (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau - Jamie Lannister from Game of Thrones) was 400 years old, blessed with immortality and unable to age until he found his one true love. He used his knowledge of history (he lived it!) to solve crimes, while looking for the woman who will set his spirit free.
Regrettably, Amsterdam must still be looking, as the series was cancelled by Fox after only eight episodes. The final episode was appropriately titled, "Love Hurts".