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Crime Story is an NBC TV drama created by Gustave Reininger and Chuck Adamson. The executive producer was Michael Mann. The show premiered with a two hour pilot — a movie which had been exhibited theatrically — and was watched by over 30 million viewers. Crime Story then was scheduled to follow Miami Vice on Friday nights, and continued to attract a record number of viewers. NBC then moved the show to Tuesdays at 10 pm to counter program it opposite ABC's Moonlighting.

Set in the early pre-Beatles 1960s, the series pitted two men against each other — Lt. Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and mobster Ray Luca, (Anthony Denison) — in an obsessive drive to destroy each other. As Luca moved from street crime in Chicago, was "made" in the Chicago Outfit and was sent to Las Vegasmarker to monitor their casinos, Det. Mike Torello followed Luca, as part of a special Organized Crime Strike Force.

The first season ended with Ray Luca and Pauli Taglia on the lam, hiding from Torello, in a Nevadamarker desert shack, which is located in an Atomic Bomb test area. An A-Bomb explodes, presumably obliterating Luca and Taglia, in one of the most memorable cliffhangers in television history, leaving viewers wondering whether they were dead or alive, just as the show's creators were wondering if the series itself was dead or alive with NBC.


After the success of the first season of Miami Vice, television producer Michael Mann had complete freedom from NBC to produce another show. Originally, Universal Pictures was going to finance Crime Story but decided not to because it was too expensive. A small studio called New World Pictures Ltd. agreed to finance the show with a chance to sell it overseas while Universal would retain the domestic syndication rights.

According to Mann, the genesis of the project was to follow a group of police officers in a major crimes unit in 1963 and how they change over 20 hours of television, "in 1980, with very different occupations, in a different city and in a different time". He was influenced by the television series Police Story, and based Crime Story largely on the experiences of Chuck Adamson, a former Chicago police detective of 17 years. Mann asked Adamson and Gustave Reininger to write the series pilot and a show bible. Reininger was a former Wall Streetmarker international investment banker who had come to Mann's attention based on a screenplay he had written about arson investigators, and a French film that he had written and produced. Reininger researched Crime Story by winning the confidence of Detective William Hanhardt who put him in touch with undercover officers in Chicago. They sent him on meetings with organized crime figures. Reininger risked wearing a body microphone and recorder. After visiting the crime scene of a gruesome gangland slaying of bookmaker Al Brown, Reininger backed off his Mob interviews. Adamson claimed that the stories depicted in the series were composites rather than actual events that happened, "but they'll be accurate".

In a June 1986 press conference, Mann said that the first season of the show would go from Chicago in 1963 to Las Vegas in 1980. He said, "It's a serial in the sense that we have continuing stories, and in that sense the show is one big novel". Mann and Reininger's inspiration for the 1963-1980 arc came from their mutual admiration of the epic 15+ hour film, Berlin Alexanderplatz, by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Mann said, "The pace of our story is like the speed of light compared to that, but that's the idea — if you put it all together at the end you've got one hell of a 22-hour movie". Mann predicted a five-year network run for the show. However, due to budgetary constraints (the need for four sets of cars proved to be too expensive). Tartikoff eventually allowed their series to move to Las Vegas for the last quarter of the 22 episodes.

NBC head Brandon Tartikoff (who had started his career in Chicago) gave an order for a two-hour movie, which had a theatrical release in a handful of U.S. theaters to invited guests only. Tartikoff also ordered 22 episodes which allowed Reininger and Adamson to tell a story with developing character arcs, and continuing stories (instead of episodic, self standing shows.). Two episodes were made every three weeks with shooting take up more than 12 hours in a day every day of the week. By the second season, an average episode cost between $1.3 and 1.4 million because it was shot on location, set during the 1960s and featured a large cast.

Hilda Stark worked as an art director on the pilot episode and was asked back by Mann after seven episodes to become the show's production designer. To achieve the period look of the show, she and her design team would go to second-hand and antique stores, run advertisements in newspapers seeking articles from the period, and sometimes build furniture if they could not find it. According to Stark, the overall design or look of the show featured "a lot of exaggerated lines. We go for high style — sleek lines... We go for the exaggerated shapes that recall the era". Stark and her team also came up with a color scheme for the show that featured "saturated color, and certain combinations — black, fuchsias — reminiscent of the '50s". She found inspiration from a library of old books and magazines, in particular Life. For the vintage cars in the show, they bought or rented from private owners.

Two famous rock and roll musicians of the past contributed to Crime Story: Del Shannon sang a revised version of his hit "Runaway" as the theme song, and Todd Rundgren started the musical direction of the series with Al Kooper taking over as the series musical director. While early episodes played music of the era or earlier, Kooper later allowed tunes from years after 1963 to appear on the soundtrack.


Before becoming an actor, Dennis Farina was a member of the Chicago police department, as was series co-creator Adamson. John Santucci, who played mobster and safecracker Pauli Taglia, was, in his past, a notorious jewel thief. The museum score depicted in the pilot episode was based on a real heist in which Santucci participated. In his previous career Santucci had been arrested by both Adamson and Farina.

Notable Guest Appearances

The series featured many well-known actors and actresses before they were well known.
  • David Caruso appeared as Johnny O'Donnell in the pilot (episodes 1 and 2). He appeared in flashback scenes in episode 12, and in episode 19 of the second season.
  • Julia Roberts appeared as a juvenile rape victim in "The Survivor" episode in season 1. It was her first TV appearance.
  • Kevin Spacey appeared in second season premiere as a crusading, Kennedy-esque Senator. This was his first major television appearance.
  • Deborah Harry appeared in the second to last episode of season 1, "Top Of The World", as the girlfriend of mobster Ray Luca. She did not sing.
  • Gary Sinise appeared in the season 1 episode "For Love Or Money", as Howie Dressler, a husband forced to steal to pay for his wife's iron lung. He also directed two episodes, credited as "Gary A. Sinise."
  • Ving Rhames appeared in the season 1 episode "Abrams For The Defense," as Hector Lincoln, a husband and father accused of assaulting his landlord. This was Rhames's second television appearance.
  • William Russ was featured during the opening credits of the first season, even though his character (an MCU detective) was murdered in the pilot.
  • Christian Slater played a teenager who discovered a body in the episode "Old Friends, Dead Ends".
  • Paul Guilfoyle appeared in "Hide and Go Thief" as a criminal who gets into a shootout with the MCU. His hostage was played by Lorraine Bracco. Bracco's sister Elizabeth played a hostage in the pilot episode.
  • Michael Rooker played a uniformed police officer in the pilot episode.
  • Lili Taylor played a waitress in Frank Holman's Diner in the episode "Hide and Go Thief".
  • Pam Grier played Suzanne Terry, an investigative journalist and girlfriend of federal attorney David Abrams, in five episodes spread out over both seasons.
  • Jazz musician Miles Davis made a cameo in the first season episode "The War," and shared the scene with Stephen Lang.
  • Jazz musician Dexter Gordon appeared in the second season episode "Moulin Rouge"
  • Stanley Tucci played bomber Zack Lowman in "The Battle of Las Vegas".
  • David Hyde Pierce appears in the second season episode "Mig 21," as NSAmarker Agent Carruthers (billed as David Pierce). That episode also featured George Dzundza, who would have later success on Law & Order.
  • Season Two episode "Protected Witness" featured both Laura San Giacomo as Theresa Farantino, and Billy Zane as Frankie 'The Duke' Farantino.
  • Michael J. Pollard played pimp Leon Barski, and William Hickey played Judge Neville Harmon in "The Brothel Wars."
  • Dennis Haysbert appeared in "Moulin Rogue" and "Seize the Time" as the bookkeeper of a jazz club.
  • Among others, Eric Bogosian playing the Outfit's attorney Dee Morton, Michael Madsen, playing Outfit associate Johnny Fossi, Vincent Gallo, Armin Shimerman, and Jim True-Frost.


When the show debuted on September 18, 1986, following Miami Vice, the two-hour pilot had a 20.1 national Nielsen rating and a 32 percent audience share. The ratings dipped when it was counter-programmed against ABC's Moonlighting. By October, the show dropped below a 22 Nielsen share, where a series is deemed a "failure". Despite low ratings, Crime Story was picked up by NBC to finish the1986-87 season. This prompted the network to move the show to Friday nights after Miami Vice on December 5, 1986 where its ratings improved but it still lost to Falcon Crest. NBC temporarily pulled Crime Story off the schedule on March 13, 1987. In order to get more people to watch, Farina and other cast members promoted the show in five U.S. cities.

The New York Times wrote, "With its first-rate cast, Crime Story might have had the offbeat, compelling authenticity of an Elmore Leonard novel. But the show looks suspiciously as if it would be more than willing to settle for the mindless glitz of Miami Vice". In his review for the Washington Post, Tom Shales wrote, "When the smoke clears away, a viewer may feel impressed yet unmoved. But then, if all the smoke cleared away, there'd be no show". John Haslett Cuff, in his review for the Globe and Mail, wrote, "The characters and locales are as greasy as the rain-soaked streets, and in the show's best moments there is a dangerous glitter that happily transcends the cartoon violence of too much television". Time magazine's Richard Zoglin praised the show for being "the most realistic TV cop show in years, yet the emotions reach almost baroque heights".


Time ranked Crime Story as one of the best television programs of 1986 and of the 1980s.


Crime Story and its imitator Wiseguy were the prototypes for today's arc-driven television series, such as 24 and The Sopranos that have continuing story lines over multiple episodes.

In addition, Martin Scorsese directed and produced his movie "Casino" loosely basing it on elements of "Crime Story," which was recognized at the "Casino" premiere as an inspiration. Joe Pesci played the Spilotro character. With Spilotro dead, "Casino" writer Nick Pileggi was able tell much more of the details surrounding the Chicago "Outfit" and its Casino operations in Las Vegas.

After the first season, the show was nominated for three Emmys, all in technical categories.

DVD Releases

Anchor Bay Entertainment has released the entire series on DVD in Region 1.

A Region 4 release of Season 1 has been classified by the OFLC."

DVD Name Ep # Release Date Additional Information
Season 1 22 November 4, 2003
  • Includes a 4 Page Collector's Booklet
Season 2 22 September 20, 2005


  1. Season 2 DVD box set, liner notes, 2005, Anchor Bay Entertainment.

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