San Francisco, CA

The Cop Series That Shows San Francisco in its 70's Liberal Heyday

Amancay Tapia
Photo byQuintin Gellar/Pexels

“The streets of San Francisco” was a very popular 1970s (September 16, 1972, and June 9, 1977) cop tv series that showed the Golden gate city in all its 70s glory. At the time in the United States, the 1960s counterculture movement was coming to an end, the sexual revolution was in full swing, the disco era was about to reach the zenith and San Francisco, was at the center of all it all.

A key event for the city's liberal leanings was the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Afterwards, in the late 60s, many "hippies" from all over the United States, met on Golden Gate Park and the thriving Haight Ashbury neighbourhood. They built a community based upon counterculture ideals, drugs, and music and their social experiment would soon spread throughout the nation. Many of those 60s hippies stayed and became environmentalists or women's rights activists. Before then, in the 1950s, the Beat Generation poets such as Allen Ginsburg, had settled in the Bay Area.

By the 1970s San Francisco was a cultural trendsetter, a global hub of culture, and "The Streets of San Francisco" manages to capture this special time really well so it is worth watching for this reason alone.

The main characters of the series are two homicide detectives for the SFPD, played by charismatic Karl Malden and a young and charming Michael Douglas. Stone (Karl Malden ,1912–2009) is the street-smart veteran police officer and Keller(Michael Douglas , born 1944) is the college-educated rookie. The duo team up, and together they solve crimes in and around San Francisco.

Paternal and lovable Stone represents the establishment, whereas ladies’ man Keller, embodies the freewheeling 70s. While working together they come into contact with a variety of characters including hippies, spaced-out druggies, glam disco queens or conservative businessmen. According to the Woodmere Art Museum "To make the show more authentic, both actors spent time observing the San Francisco police, and the officers there took a liking to both of them".

The combination of a standard cop-show format and a peek at lifestyles that back then were considered fringe and edgy, helped to make this show a big hit almost 50 years ago. The cop show also has one of the best opening themes ever.

The way the police officers solve crimes is not particularly groundbreaking, the structure is a bit formulaic and the crimes are always wrapped up in the final act, often following chase scenes or fight scenes that are rather gentle by today’s standards. However, structure or how the two main characters solve crimes, is not why a younger generation will love the show today. You will love it because the show has a very unique appeal, the always charming city of San Francisco and the way it captures the city back in the 70s.

San Francisco, one of the most liberal cities the world has ever known, is a main character in every episode and that alone, made the show appealing back in the 70s when it first aired, and makes it interesting nowadays to anyone who loves or feels curious about the city.

“The streets of San Francisco” is a product of its time, but above all, it is a great legacy to San Francisco and every episode plays like a video time capsule of the era. Through its vibrant history, San Francisco has allowed its past to shape what it is today. Just ask those who were lucky enough to live through that period in San Francisco!

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