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One of TVs best cop shows - “The Streets of San Francisco: The Complete Series”

Updated: Mar 11, 2023


Michael Douglas as Inspector Steve Keller and Karl Malden as homicide Detective Lt. Mike Stone, examine a dead body during the series first episode.

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DVD; 1972-1977; Not Rated

Best extra: Vintage interview with Karl Malden and Michael Douglas

TV COP SERIES have captivated primetime viewers for decades. During the 1950s, “The Naked City” was filmed entirely on location in New York City, but in the '60s, “Dragnet” and “Adam-12” became formula hits turning Los Angeles into cop heaven. For the next 50 years, nearly every cop show was produced in or around LA. The “C.S.I.” franchise used Hollywood soundstages, with Long Beach or downtown L.A. subbing for Las Vegas, Miami or NYC in many scenes.

In 1972, executive producer Quinn Martin (“The Fugitive”) wanted to break away from sunny L.A. and headed to San Francisco. His trademark one-hour format – four acts and an epilogue – was filmed entirely in the City by the Bay, making it a prime character just like NYC for “Law & Order” and Baltimore for ‘90s series “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

Inspector Steve Keller (Michael Douglas) did most of the driving during their investigation.

Martin recruited two unlikely acting partners to play generation-gap crime solvers. Oscar-winner Karl Malden (“A Streetcar Named Desire”) was cast as homicide Detective Lt. Mike Stone, a 20-plus-year veteran with street smarts galore. Michael Douglas, in his first major role, played flashy college grad Inspector Steve Keller. Together, they made one of the best cop series of the 1970s. Production values were unmatched, putting viewers onto the streets day and night, with cameras mounted inside and outside of the investigators' unmarked Ford Galaxy.

Paramount's massive box set includes all 120 episodes, with Patrick Williams (“Breaking Away," “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) jazzy theme song, spread over 32-discs. It opens with the “Pilot," where Stone first calls Keller "Buddy boy” and guest stars Robert Wagner a primary suspect in a murder. Initially, the series struggled opposite CBS's Emmy winning shows “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Bob Newhart Show.” At midseason, ABC took desperate measures and moved "Streets" to Thursday night, where it found its audience.

Part of Malden's attraction to the series was the opportunity to work with a number of top-notch guest stars each week. In Season One the guest lineup included Stefanie Powers, Dick Van Patten, David Soul, Peter Strauss, Bernie Casey, Harold Gould, Brenda Vaccaro and Oscar-winning character actor Edmond O'Brien ("The Barefoot Contessa”) as Stone's longtime friend, Officer Gus Charnovski, gunned down during a robbery.

During the Season Two opener, “A Wrongful Death,” Keller is forced to hand over his badge and gun after he shoots and kills a 15-year-old during a robbery. Martin Sheen guests during the second episode, "Betrayed,” as a stockbroker living a double life, and must determine if he'll surrender or jump from a cliff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Martin Sheen guests as a stock broker during the second episode of Season Two.

Season Three has Leslie Nielsen as alcoholic detective Joe Landers, who accidentally shoots his partner in “One Last Shot.” Brenda Vaccaro returns to the guest lineup in "The Most Deadly Species," this time as a female assassin who moves next door to Keller, hoping to obtain information for her next mob contract.

Veteran TV actor Clu Gulager (“The Tall Man,” “The Virginian”) plays Inspector George Turner, a narcotics cop, during the Season Four opener, "Poisoned Snow. He spikes a batch of cocaine with rat poison after his partner is killed in a drug bust. There's just one problem; he doesn't realize his son, played by a pre-"Star Wars" Mark Hamill, is a user.

Douglas left the series at the start of the fifth and final season, after winning an Oscar as co-producer for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.” “The Thrill Killers” was written as a two-part arc," in which Keller plans to step down and become a professor of criminology at the Berkeley campus of the University of California. He is seriously injured in the manhunt of an underground terrorist group based on the Symbionese Liberation Army that's taken a 12-member jury hostage during a trial of one of its members.

(1) Pre-"Star Wars" Mark Hamill stars as the son of Inspector George Turner, a narcotics cop, during the Season Four opener. (2) Inspector Keller is seriously injured in the manhunt of an underground terrorist group.

Richard Hatch (“Battlestar Galactica”) replaced Douglas as Stone's partner, Inspector Dan Robbins. The chemistry between Malden and Hatch never quite clicked, and ABC moved the series down from 10 p.m. to the nine o'clock hour on Thursday, opposite another Quinn Martin series, “Barnaby Jones" on CBS. Ratings plummeted.

“Streets" was nominated for 16 Emmys, including three times for Outstanding Drama Series, four nods for Malden for Best Lead Actor and Douglas three times for Best Supporting Actor.

Overall, the imagery (1.33:1 aspect ratio) was mostly filmed with handheld cameras, using wide-angle lens providing a stylized documentary look. The first disc, with the "Pilot” and the first episode, “The Thirty-Year Pin,” are clean without any noticeable marks or scratches; the sharpness and color fidelity is quite good for a standard-def source. The rest of the episodes also hold up well, although several are plagued with marks, unbalanced contrast levels, and inconsistent sharpness sourced from old and tired 35mm prints. The audio has the original mono track and includes English subtitles.

Richard Hatch ("Battlestar Galactica") replaced Douglas as Stone's partner, Inspector Dan Robbins.

Clearly, the series from CBS/Paramount merits a 2K or 4K remastering treatment. Recently, Mill Creek Entertainment released the 1970s series "The Rockford Files: The Complete Collection” on Blu-ray, which looks pretty darn good in HD.

We hope Stone and Keller and the enthralling “Streets of San Francisco” gets a second chance in HD.

— Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer


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