The Streets of San Francisco

TV review by
Will Wade, Common Sense Media
The Streets of San Francisco TV Poster Image
Classic cop series offers look at important time, place.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Crime never pays (not surprising for a sometimes formulaic cop series). Many episodes touch on the complex, rapidly evolving social mores of the era, including the sexual revolution and the drug culture.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The series focuses on the warm relationship between a veteran detective and his much younger partner. The older cop is a classic by-the-book gumshoe with instincts honed by years on the job, while the younger one has much less experience but brings a better sense of youth culture, an important skill for a series that took place in the in 1970s when the generation gap was vast.


Many episodes feature fistfights, shootouts, and other violent encounters, though the action is rarely explicit.


No explicit sex or nudity, but a fair amount of implied coupling. The single Inspector Keller is portrayed as something of a ladies’ man, and stories sometimes hinge on romantic entanglements and one-night stands. These plots seem rather tame today but were considered somewhat racy in the early 1970s, painting San Francisco as a city at the forefront of the sexual revolution.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many episodes feature scenes at bars and parties where people are drinking. Some characters smoke, which was normal behavior in the early '70s. Given the time period and the San Francisco setting, drugs are pretty much a required element -- expect plenty of references to characters using drugs, including marijuana and heroin, and some scenes where people seem to be on drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this classic 1970s cop series offers a window into San Francisco's counterculture movement, as seen through the eyes of the establishment. The cases bring the main detective characters into contact with people from every walk of life, including hippies, drug dealers, businessmen, and every other element. The combination of a standard cop-show format and a peek at lifestyles that were considered “fringe” to much of the country at the time made the show a big hit; now it plays like a video time capsule of the era. Expect some drinking, smoking, and drug use, though the violence and implied sexuality are tame compared to today’s police shows.

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What's the story?

Mike Stone (Karl Malden) is a veteran police detective, with well-trained instincts after years on the job. His much younger partner, Steve Keller (Michael Douglas), complements Stone’s experience with keen insights into the youth culture as they prowl THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO investigating crimes. The mysteries are intriguing, though not necessarily groundbreaking, and probably not the most important part of the show. No, the real reason for the show’s appeal -- both in the 1970s when it originally aired and now -- was the way it made the city of San Francisco an important third character.

Is it any good?

The show is clearly a product of its time -- just look at the cops’ polyester suits and the far-out love beads on that hippie eyewitness. The structure, too, can be a bit formulaic, with its standard-issue conflict between Stone’s street smarts and Keller’s book smarts. And, of course, the crimes are always wrapped up in the final act, often following chase scenes or fight scenes that seem tame by today’s standards.

But the series also offers an intriguing, entertaining view of an important era. The counterculture movement was winding down, the sexual revolution was in full swing, and the disco era was heating up. San Francisco was at the center of all of this, and The Streets of San Francisco captured it all. Stone was the establishment -- paternal, gruff but lovable, and a bit befuddled by the young folks. Ladies’ man Keller, with his constant stream of girlfriends, embodied the freewheeling '70s. And the various characters they encountered while seeking out clues ran the gamut from spaced-out druggies to glam disco queens to conservative businessmen. The show wasn’t ahead of its time -- it was its time, and that’s why it’s worth revisiting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about cop shows. How does this show compare to today’s police procedurals? Do the crimes and the level of violence seem less intense? Do you think life was less dangerous in the 1970s, or is it that modern shows offer more realistic portrayals of violent crimes?

  • Families can also discuss the hippie movement. Who were the hippies, what were they doing in San Francisco, and how did they change the world? Do you think the counterculture is portrayed accurately in this show? How are hippies usually depicted on TV?

TV details

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