Someone asked me this question in an email today and I thought I’d share my answers with you.
For me, it’s a toss-up between Jim Rockford (THE ROCKFORD FILES) and Harry Orwell (HARRY O). The runner-ups would be Joe Mannix (MANNIX), Thomas Magnum (MAGNUM PI) and Spenser, though he’s not truly a TV character, since the series was based on the Parker novels.
I also have fond memories of Darren McGavin as PI David Ross in the short-lived series THE OUTSIDER, sort of a no-nonsense precursor of THE ROCKFORD FILES. McGavin also starred in one of the worst PI shows ever, as a detective who’s partner can shrink to microscopic size (SMALL AND FRYE). While we’re at it, Tony Franciosa starred in two of the worst PI shows ever made — MATT HELM (yeah, he was a PI!) and FINDER OF LOST LOVES.
What are your picks for best and worst TV PIs ever?