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Series / The Streets of San Francisco

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A crime drama series that ran on ABC from 1972–77, produced by Quinn Martin Productions (with Warner Bros. Television in Season One) and shot on location in San Francisco.

The series starred Karl Malden as Det. Lt. Mike Stone, a veteran homicide cop, with Michael Douglas (in his Star-Making Role) as Det. Insp. Steve Keller, Stone's younger partner. Douglas left the show at the start of its fifth and final season, and was replaced by Richard Hatch as Det. Insp. Dan Robbins; this change was not popular with viewers (since Battlestar Galactica hadn't been created yet), leading to declining ratings and the show's cancellation.

Unique among crime shows since, the show's actors and writers took great pains to ensure an authentic portrayal of the San Francisco Police Department.

A reunion telefilm, Back to the Streets of San Francisco, produced by Spelling Television, the successor-in-interest to QM Productions, aired on NBC in early 1992.


  • Accidental Murder: "Deadline", "The Runaways", "Once A Con", "Most Feared In The Jungle", "The Twenty-Five Caliber Plague" and "Bitter Wine".
  • An Aesop: "Men Will Die" is very critical of how rape is treated both in terms of the victims and the criminals.
    • "The Twenty-Five Caliber Plague" is almost an episode-length PSA on the dangers of easily gotten guns.
  • The Alcoholic: Officer Joe Landers (Leslie Nielsen) in "One Last Shot", whose drinking leads to a botched arrest of a suspect and the accidental shooting death of his partner.
  • Asshole Victim: The victim of the week in "A Trout in the Milk" is a womanizing artist.
  • Always Murder: Well, since Stone and Keller (and Robbins) work in the homicide division...
  • And Starring: Michael Douglas gets "Special Guest Star" billing on his final episode(s) the two-parter "The Thrill Killers"; as does Mark Hamill on the 1977 episode "Innocent No More" (Star Wars opened several months after the episode first aired).
  • And This Is for...: "Deadly Silence," "Monkey Is Back", "Poisoned Snow" and "Clown Of Death" (among others).
  • Berserk Button:
    • In "Dead Lift," making fun of fitness freak Josef or otherwise belitting him is a very good way to get yourself killed. As demonstrated in Act I.
    • Leopold Summers take his job as a teacher very seriously ("School Of Fear"). So when a fellow teacher gets killed...
  • Bittersweet Ending: "School of Fear." Two of the four kidnapped problem students return to school, the only girl amongst them drops out, while the remaining one might or might not come back. As a teacher points out to Stone and Keller in the Epilog, "you can't win them all."
  • Berserk Button: Do not threaten Jeannie Stone (see Papa Wolf below) as seen in "Beyond Vengeance"
  • Book Ends: "The Thrill Killers, Part 1" starts with Steve arriving at a trial from a hearing where it's been determined he didn't go out of bounds in shooting a suspect. It ends with Steve, having been shot himself by a suspect, en route to a hospital.
  • The Butler Did It: "Death and the Favored Few."
  • Cain and Abel: Dimitri Kampakalas (Scott Marlowe) and his brother Jason (Paul Michael Glaser) in the episode "Bitter Wine". Jason served a prison sentence for a double vehicular homicide that his brother committed, so that Dimitri could operate the family winery. When Dimitri carries out his plan to torch the winery for the insurance money and a security guard is killed in the process, guess whom he frames for the crime?
  • Circus Episode: "Clown of Death", where Stone and Keller investigate the murders of three performers in a traveling circus.
  • Creator Cameo: Lawrence Dobkin, who played the villain in the series' pilot film, also directed two first-season episodes, "A Trout In the Milk" and "Act of Duty".
    • Nicholas Colasanto was one of the main guest stars in the first season episode "Death Watch". He would return two seasons later to direct the episode "The Programming of Charlie Blake".
  • Crime After Crime: Too many examples to count but to supply one: in the episode "The Twenty-Five Caliber Plague", the titular "plague" is a tiny pistol that goes from one person to another after its original owner disposes of it in a trash can after blasting dead a bookie's goon that was beating him up, and they use it to shoot someone.
  • Crime and Punishment Series
  • Death by Falling Over: In "Deadline", reporter Chris Bane (played by Barry Sullivan) knocks down his girlfriend during an argument on the beach, killing her.
    • In "Most Feared In The Jungle", single young mother Barbara Talmadge (Kitty Winn) struggles with the matron at the unwed mothers' home where she lived before her baby was stillborn, she's convinced her baby's alive and was taken from her (she's right). Matron winds up on the ground. And that's all she wrote.
    • In "The Runaways", George Morgan (Larry Wilcox) breaks into a pharmacy to get medication for his sick younger sister. He's surprised by the pharmacy owner, who thinks he's a junkie and scuffles with him, causing the owner to fall and fatally strike his head on a weight scale.
  • Death of a Child: One of the victims of the Saturday Night Special at the center of "The Twenty-Five Caliber Plague" is a little boy who's shot by of his friends who finds the gun and then pulls out the clip and thinks its empty. It isn't...
    • In "The House on Hyde Street", one of the three boys who break into Harlan Edgerton's (Lew Ayres) house falls from a ladder and fatally breaks his neck. The boys lie to the cops, saying that Harlan caught and killed the boy. Harlan, who's not all there, tells Stone and Keller, that his brother, who was killed in World War II, is the killer.
  • Dirty Cop: Several examples...
    • Officer Andrea McCormick in "Shield of Honor", who helps to set up a police informant in protective custody to be killed.
    • Inspector John J. Connor (Leslie Nielsen) in "Before I Die", a dying cop who's out to assassinate the mobster he never was able to bust.
    • Officer Jimmy Vega in "False Witness", who plants evidence to nail a pusher.
    • Inspector George Turner (Clu Gulager) in "Poisoned Snow". His fiancée, who's a fellow narc, is fatally gunned down during a raid on a pusher. In revenge, he gets ahold of the pusher's stash and cuts it with strychnine, which results in a number of users falling over dead.
    • Detective Eddie Boggs (Ned Beatty) in "Hang Tough", another narc who plants a knife on a suspect he roughed up, to justify his actions.
  • Disposable Woman: In "The Drop," the girlfriend of a kidnap victim is gunned down by one of the kidnappers (and later passes away in hospital), as the guy is taken, purely so that Mike Stone can be involved with the case (and the killer specifically wants Stone to make the drop so he can take revenge). The hostage never mentions her again. Dude, your girlfriend was shot and mortally wounded in front of you!
  • Doom Magnet: If Jeannie's in an episode with a friend from university, the friend is screwed.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jean (Stone's daughter)'s friend Nancy in "Men Will Die" - she's raped by two men at the start of the episode, and the traumatized woman subsequently shoots and kills one of them - but because there isn't any conclusive evidence of her rape, she's eventually held for trial for murder... driving her to jump off a stairwell in the courthouse. Thankfully, she does recover. (And yes, the other guy does get caught.)
    • Boggs in "Hang Tough." Unlike Jean's friend, he succeeds.
  • Dub Name Change: In West Germany, Steve was named "Heller", because there was already a "Kommissar Keller" (Erik Ode) on West German television.
  • Everybody Lives: "Who Killed Helen French?" and "Time Out."
  • Everybody Owns a Ford: The series was sponsored by Ford Motor Company, and half of the vehicles shown were new Ford cars. In the early episodes, Keller and Stone drove a brown 1971 Ford Galaxie four-door sedan and the entire SFPD cruiser fleet consists of Ford Galaxies.
  • Framed Face Opening: The Title Sequence has Detectives Stone and Keller over a blocky splotch design. Said design was also used for the guest cast montage.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: "Let's Pretend We're Strangers." Billy, who's suspected of murdering a young woman, has been gotten off by his legal aid lawyer - but then he tells her that he didn't kill anybody, and mentions the woman and another person (who he also killed because he spotted him leaving the scene of the crime) by name... even though he shouldn't have known about the latter.
  • Idiot Ball: As demonstrated in "One Last Trick" - on finding somebody's after her, Carol tells Joy to leave immediately and not bother to pack. She's next seen carrying a small case... had she taken Carol's advice she might not have been offed at the end of Act II).
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Seen in one episode. The tracking device is large and obvious (although not blinking or beeping), but it is planted on the back bumper of the car after the hero has gotten in, thus justifying them not noticing it.
  • In-Series Nickname: Stone regularly calls Keller "buddy boy."
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Probably the funkiest outside of Barney Miller.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: In "Timelock", Bobby Jepsen has been released from prison, where he'd been serving time for manslaughter, with the proviso that he find a job within 72 hours. Shako, who'd been in prison with him, sees him on the street and presses him for information about a contract that was made on his life. Bobby, who doesn't want to be seen with him, as it would violate his parole, argues with him as they're standing on a street corner waiting for the light to change. Someone comes up behind Shako and shoves him into the path of a moving truck, killing him, and then vanishing. All of the witnesses on the corner I.D. Jepsen as the killer. He's arrested after running into a bar to make a phone call to someone who could help...Lt. Mike Stone, who coached him as a child in Little League.
  • Killed Off for Real: Steve in the Reunion Show.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In "Dead Or Alive," the wealthy father of a young woman who's beaten, raped, and murdered offers a reward of a million dollars for the killer's capture. The greed the reward generates results in three people being hospitalized, including the killer (who's shot by a shopkeeper with dollar signs in his eyes while trying to escape from Stone), and the episode ends without their fates known. It also results in a cop on the verge of retirement getting a friend of his involved in a scheme to catch the guy and split the reward, which winds up with the cop being kicked off the force and his friend being shot and killed. And the father may or may not be facing charges of complicity and involvement with murder himself, since it was basically his fault.
    • In "Poisoned Snow," a cop's girlfriend is shot and killed by a junkie while she's trying to arrest him, which drives the man to lace a dealer's cocaine with rat poison in hopes that the junkie who killed her will take a fatal dose. He does... as do many other junkies throughout San Francisco. Including his own son.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: In "River of Fear", con artist James Cooper, posing as Dr. William Dunson, marries the cellmate of his widow (who died in prison under suspicious circumstances) in order to find out where he hid the fortune in cash he stole. He strikes her in the back of the head with a telephone receiver, then puts her in the bathtub to make it look like slipped, hit her head and drowned.
  • Not Me This Time: In "Let's Pretend We're Strangers," Billy (who has a record of petty crimes) insists that he wasn't responsible for killing a woman in her apartment. He was.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: In the episode "Asylum", Keller poses as a mental patient to enter a mental health facility where a couple of patients died mysteriously.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Jerkass DJ (Larry Hagman) in "Dead Air", realizes too late his Nice Character, Mean Actor rant to his engineer about his audience has just become an Engineered Public Confession to all his listeners. The end of the episode reveals he's working at another San Francisco radio station as a country music DJ.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Meredith Baxter's Southern accent in "Deadly Silence" is a bit uneven.
  • One-Word Title: "Timelock", "Deadline", "Harem", "Inferno", "Commitment", "Rampage", "Solitaire", "Breakup" and "Runaway".
  • Opening Narration: In keeping with series from QM Productions, each one was episode-specific (although "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" also has one at the beginning of the first act to set up the episode). Here's one for instance from season five (which runs so long the theme music actually goes back to the beginning and starts again):
    "The Streets of San Francisco, a Quinn Martin Production. Starring Karl Malden. Special Guest Star Michael Douglas. Also Starring Richard Hatch. With Guest Stars In Alphabetical Order: Patty Duke Astin, Darleen Carr, Tina Chen, Jan Clayton, Susan Dey, Norman Fell, Gary Frank, Paula Kelly, Jim McMullan, Doris Roberts, James Shigeta, Barry Sullivan, Dick Van Patten, Joseph Wiseman. Tonight's Episode: 'The Thrill Killers - Part 1.'"note 
  • Papa Wolf: Comes out when Stone's daughter starts dating a motorcycle cop in "Hot Dog."
  • Pilot Movie: Based on the novel Poor, Poor Ophelia by Carolyn Weston.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Newly-minted Captain Keely in "The Glass Dart Board," whose chart-centric approach to his job interferes with Stone and Keller's search for a sniper randomly shooting at a high-rise - and Keely having a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moment when he personally ruins an operation to locate the sniper which would have worked if he hadn't come flying in (literally, in a helicopter). In fairness, Keely does eventually realize he's an embodiment of The Peter Principle and returns to where he can be useful.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: "Superstar," about a New York cop who comes to San Francisco to find his partner's killer and sticks around - in other words, McCloud in reversenote  - led into the short-lived Spinoff Bert D'Angelo/Superstarnote  ((which actually began its network run two weeks before the episode aired).
  • Put on a Bus: At the start of season 5, Keller leaves the force to begin a teaching career.
  • Psycho Lesbian: "Once A Con."
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: The title character of "Police Buff" is given one by a cop when he tries to express his sympathy over a killer going free (and gets berated for being a coward). The P.B. later gives a stronger variant to himself back at home - which leads to him taking actions into his hands...
  • Recycled Premise: season 4's "Underground" essentially repurposes the 1975 unsold QM Productions Pilot Movie Crossfire (in which a cop has to go to deep undercover on special assignment without other officers knowing.The cop has personal reasons for taking the job.
  • Reunion Show: 1992's Back to the Streets of San Francisco, with Karl Malden and Darleen Carr (who played the recurring character of his daughter Jeannie on the original series). Michael Douglas doesn't appear, although he did play a San Francisco cop in another production that year. The hunt for Keller's murderer is a major plot element.
  • Roguish Romani: In "The Year of the Locusts", a band of modern-day Gypsies descends on San Francisco, its aging patriarch unaware that the younger generation has moved on from the traditional flim-flam to million-dollar heists and murder.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target: In "Legion of the Lost", Roy Richardson is a greedy businessman who seeks to ensure that the rightful heir of his boatyard corporation, Paul Thomas, never claims his inheritance. Knowing that Paul is currently homeless and living among vagrants, Richardson has his hatchet man, Terry, go about beating homeless men to death over the course of several nights, leaving three bodies in his wake. Richardson then tries to have Paul himself beaten to death, hoping for it to look like just another serial killing, and Paul's best friend Jake is killed in the process.
  • Setting as a Character: Quinn Martin called the titular city "the third star of the series".
  • Shout-Out: Writer Rick Husky was a member of the "Memphis Mafia", the name for Elvis Presley's close circle of friends, and he often used the names of other 'mafia' members for characters in his scripts. In his script for the episode "Target: Red", the villains are named Jerry Schilling and General Robert 'Red' West, after friends of his in the Memphis Mafia. Additionally, another character is named Myrna Schilling, after Jerry's wife, a background singer for Elvis, another character is named Lamar Fisk (there was a similarly named member of the Memphis Mafia, Lamar Fike), and yet another character in the episode is named Vernon Presley, after Elvis's dad.
    • The front desk's Sergeant's name is Sekulovich. Karl Malden's real name was Mladen Sekulovich. His parents were so hurt that he changed his name for stage purposes, so he asked the series' producer if they could include a character named Sekulovich to honor his parents and they obliged.
  • Shown Their Work: The authenticity of the portrayal of the SFPD.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Inspector Dan Robbins, Richard Hatch's character.
  • Time Marches On:
    • "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" concerns a Vietnam draft dodger back in San Francisco after running to Canada. In between filming of the episode and its first airing, then-President Gerald Ford stated that amnesty would be given to such dodgers. As a result, the episode has a rare second voiceover from Hank Simms specifying that the episode takes place before amnesty was declared.
    • In-universe, Roy Devitt - a lieutenant in the first season - makes captain by the final season.
  • Title Drop: "Rampage".

Alternative Title(s): The Streets Of San Fransisco