The Streets of San Francisco was a '70s-era police drama made on location in San Francisco. It starred Karl Malden and Michael Douglas as two detectives and ran for five seasons, between September 1972, and June of 1977, on ABC.
The series started with a pilot movie of the same title, which in turn was based on the detective novel Poor, Poor Ophelia by Carolyn Weston. Edward Hume, who wrote the script for the pilot, was credited with developing the series based on Weston's novel.
Malden and Douglas had a strong professional and personal relationship from their time together on the series. Twenty years later, sharing the stage at the 1996 People's Choice Awards, Malden said Douglas was “the son I never had” and revealed that he'd wanted Quinn Martin to cast Douglas for the series. Douglas returned the compliment by calling Malden “my mentor.” Both said they enjoyed working with the other.
The show told the story of two police officers investigating homicides in San Francisco. Karl Malden played the lead — veteran cop and widower Lt Michael Stone, with 20+ years of police experience, now assigned to SFPD's Bureau of Inspectors Homicide Detail. He was partnered with young, plainclothes detective Assistant Inspector Steve Keller (Michael Douglas), a college graduate, aged twenty-eight, who had no police force experience.
The generational conflict is initially played up in the show's pilot. Keller's "fancy degrees in criminology" don't impress Stone. When Keller wonders if a dead woman found floating in the bay is a suicide, Stone scoffs: “If you were born in this town, you'd know that the current under the bridge flows out to sea and not in.” An unapologetic slob, Stone wears the classic detective's trench coat, in contrast to Keller, who Stone calls "the best dressed cop on poverty row". But over the long haul of the series, Stone emerges as a patient mentor to his younger and very talented colleague.
Stone would become a second father to Keller as he learns the rigors, rules and procedures of detective work. Keller is eventually promoted to full inspector. As the series progressed, Douglas became a star in his own right.
Early in the fifth season, Douglas left the show after successfully producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1975. He went on to establish a hugely successful film career. Series writers explained his character's absence by having him take a teaching position at a local college. Lt. Stone was partnered with another detective, Insp. Dan Robbins (Richard Hatch). Audiences didn't like the change and tuned out in droves; the show was cancelled in 1977. That same year the Mystery Writers of America awarded writer James J. Sweeney an Edgar Award for his teleplay for the acclaimed fourth season episode "Requiem for Murder".
To research their roles and add a level of authenticity to the show, Malden and Douglas spent time with SFPD detectives, who took a liking to them. Producers of the show worked hard to merge it as seamlessly as they could into the fabric of the city. The series was filmed entirely on location in San Francisco. A warehouse converted to an interior scene sound stage was located at the dead end of Kearny Street, below Telegraph Hill, where it stands to this day.
The Streets of San Francisco was a magnet for ambitious guest-stars, many of whom would go on to have successful careers. They included: Pernell Roberts, Edmond O'Brien, Ricky Nelson, Ron Glass, Susan Dey, Marion Ross, Van Williams, Paula Kelly, Don Johnson, Tom Selleck, Leslie Nielsen, James Woods, Nick Nolte, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martin Sheen, Dabney Coleman, David Wayne, Vera Miles, Brenda Vaccaro, Desi Arnaz, Jr., Tony Young, Cal Bellini, Marshall Colt, Pat Conway, Patty Duke, Denver Pyle, Richard Egan, Richard Eastham, Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr., Don Keefer, Wright King, Flip Mark, Nora Marlowe, John Ritter, Robert Wagner, Wayne Maunder, Dick Van Patten, Mark Hamill, Stefanie Powers, Tom Bosley, Larry Hagman, Tim O'Connor, Bill Bixby, John Davidson, Eve McVeagh, Norman Fell, Anthony Geary, Charles Aidman, Beverly Washburn, Michael Constantine, Len Birman, Paul Michael Glaser, David Soul, Luther Adler, Laurie Heineman, and Meredith Baxter, among many others. Michael Douglas's own mother, Diana Douglas, guest-starred in a season two episode, "Chapel of the Damned". Character actor Robert F. Simon appeared eight times as Captain Rudy Olsen.