The Streets of San Francisco TV show, with Michael Douglas & Karl Malden: Where crime met cable cars (1970s)

About the old Streets of San Francisco TV show at Click Americana

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The Streets of San Francisco is a crime drama television series starring Karl Malden as Lieutenant Mike Stone and Michael Douglas as Inspector Steve Keller. The show blended procedural detective work with character-driven storytelling. Set and filmed in San Francisco, the series used the city’s iconic landmarks as a vivid backdrop for its crime-solving narratives.

The Streets of San Francisco TV show opening titles

Years on air: 1972 to 1977
# of seasons: 5
# of episodes: 119


  • Lieutenant Mike Stone (Played by Karl Malden): A seasoned detective with years of experience, Lieutenant Mike Stone serves as the moral compass and mentor in the series. He is deeply committed to his job and offers a paternal guiding hand to his younger partner.
  • Inspector Steve Keller (Played by Michael Douglas): As a young, eager, and somewhat idealistic inspector, Steve Keller serves as the protégé to Lieutenant Mike Stone. He brings a fresh perspective to the cases they work on and grows significantly over the course of the series.
  • Inspector Dan Robbins (Played by Richard Hatch): Taking over as Mike Stone’s partner after Steve Keller leaves the force, Inspector Dan Robbins brings a sense of ambition and drive to the team. His youthful energy is a contrast to Stone’s seasoned approach, creating a new dynamic in the later part of the series.

The Streets of San Francisco, a crime drama series that originally aired from 1972 to 1977, holds a special place in television history. Known for its blend of procedural detective work and nuanced character development, the show was filmed on location in San Francisco, highlighting its iconic landscapes and landmarks — offering a love letter of sorts to the city.

Karl Malden and Michael Douglas in an old police car - Streets of SF series

 The Streets of San Francisco cast

The cast of The Streets of San Francisco stands as one of the show’s most memorable elements. Led by Karl Malden, an Oscar-winning veteran actor, and Michael Douglas, a rising star at the time, the ensemble achieved a delicate balance between seasoned expertise and youthful exuberance.

Malden’s Lieutenant Mike Stone provided a solid moral foundation, while Douglas’s Inspector Steve Keller brought a fresh, modern edge. After Michael Douglas left the show at the start of Season 5, Richard Hatch later joined as Inspector Dan Robbins, rather seamlessly filling the void while still managing to add his own unique flair.

Actor Richard Hatch in Season 5 of The Streets of San Francisco 1970s TV show
Actor Richard Hatch in Season 5 of The Streets of San Francisco 1970s TV show

Together, the cast created a dynamic chemistry that enhanced the show’s intricate storylines and complex social issues. Over five seasons and a total of 119 episodes, it tackled topics like police corruption, racism, and drug abuse, but also made sure to make time for personal story arcs.

Streets of San Francisco on location

Another thing that really set the show apart was its location shooting. In a time when many shows were confined to sound stages, The Streets of San Francisco presented the city as another character in the drama. Views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and winding Lombard Street lent authenticity and a unique visual flair.

Vintage postcard of downtown San Francisco in the 1970s
Vintage postcard of downtown San Francisco in the 1970s (Transamerica Pyramid the tallest building shown) – See more 1970s SF photos here

The show also had a notable impact on the careers of its main cast. Malden was already an Oscar winner, but his turn as Lieutenant Stone is fondly remembered.

Michael Douglas — the son of acting legend Kirk Douglas — left the show before its final season to pursue a career in movies, a move that turned out quite well for him. How well? Some of the younger Douglas’ first hit movies included The China Syndrome, Romancing the Stone, Wall Street, Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct.

Young Michael Douglas as he starred in the classic TV series Streets of San Francisco
Young Michael Douglas as he starred in the classic TV series

Even today, The Streets of San Francisco maintains a dedicated fan base, thanks to reruns, DVD sets and streaming services. It serves as a nostalgic journey for those who remember its original run and as an engaging time capsule for new viewers.

Both as a snapshot of 1970s America and a showcase for timeless storytelling, the series remains a classic.

The Streets of San Francisco theme song & opening credits

The theme song of The Streets of San Francisco is an immediately recognizable piece that captures the essence of the series. Composed by Patrick Williams, the jazzy, upbeat score sets the tone for the action-packed and emotionally layered episodes that follow.

YouTube video

City is a romantic star in Streets of San Francisco (1972)

By Austin Phillips – Times Herald (Port Huron, Michigan) September 22, 1972

Millions of Americans who have known her company for even so little a time as a day or two or a weekend have ever-after been head-over-heels in love with one of the most seductive, enchanting, perplexing, mystifying, beautiful and unpredictable personalities in the world — the city of San Francisco.

The longing to go back — to see her once again — has counted for more penny-pinching, scrimping, scheming and devising than any computer could possibly sum up.

It’s little wonder, then, that ex-officio San Franciscans coast-to-coast are expected by ABC network brass to be glued to home screens Saturday evenings from 9 to 10 Eastern Time when The Streets of San Francisco airs weekly during the new season.

The stars of the classic TV series The Streets of San Francisco (1970s)

“Eyes” for the cameras are those of Karl Malden as Lieut. Mike Stone and Michael Douglas (son of Kirk Douglas) as his young partner, Steve Keller. Those eyes have a great deal to span — and an amazing ”lady” to deal with in their weekly adventures in the hour-long police-procedural series.

San Francisco covers 44.6 square miles of territory on San Francisco Bay. Her people are jammed into a population density second only to that of New York City.

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Presumably, the series will capture the feeling of the entire region embracing Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Mateo counties, which make up the San Francisco-Oakland Metropolitan area — plus wherever else the scriptwriters plot their tales.

In any event, there is enough pictorial pleasure built into San Francisco to keep viewers popeyed by the hour. You may well expect the cameras to swing from the foot of Telegraph Hill to the nighttime world of North Beach — from the grandest of hotels to the rag-tag depths of Haight-Ashbury.

The detective will take you from Chinatown to the glittering heights of Nob Hill. Anyone who loves San Francisco can expect to visit Fisherman’s Wharf more than once, to enjoy the grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge and, perhaps, a chase through usually serene Golden Gate Park.

That’s because The Streets of San Francisco is a story of a city and its people — and the action can be anywhere — perhaps will be. (And if we don’t get a few episodes from the dizzying perspective of a cable car trundling downhill, and a view of the gripman yelling “Kwafedecerve” — “Lookout for the curve” — here’s one viewer who is going to be greatly disappointed.)

This is, mainly, an on-location show; outside of standard office-type sets and such, who needs sets when there’s a whole, beautiful city that’s a set in itself, just begging to be filmed?

Even though it’s his video series debut, if you don’t recognize Karl Malden — shame on you. He holds an Oscar for his role in A Streetcar Named Desire, and gave memorable performances in On the Waterfront, The Cincinnati Kid, and Patton — to just jog your memory a bit.

Actor Karl Malden playing basketball in The Streets of San Francisco television series
Actor Karl Malden playing basketball in The Streets of San Francisco television series

As Lieut. Mike Stone in the series, he plays a cop’s cop, an officer who came up through the ranks. He loves his city not only for her beauty but in spite of her faults, and the many ills that plague her citizens — homicides, gambling, narcotics, and pure, ornery cussedness.

Michael Douglas, who plays a junior-grade detective, Steve Keller, is no stranger before the camera. He played in such films as “Adam at 6 A.M.” and “Summertree,” and his guest appearance credits on television make a long list.

Steve Keller is an entirely different type of officer than his superior. He’s a bachelor, college-educated, ambitious, moody, emotional. He hasn’t the experienced veneer of the older officer with which to cover his strong likes and dislikes. Mod clothes, girls, sports — and Mike Stone — top his list of “likes.”

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The interplay of reactions between the two officers adds a human touch to the stories and gives us two sets of eyes through which to view San Francisco.

The Streets of San Francisco - Malden with Desi Arnaz Jr
The Streets of San Francisco – Malden with Desi Arnaz Jr

Say you like action? Say you like drama? Say you like suspense? Well, the man pulling the Strings behind the scenes would seem to qualify in supplying these factors.

He’s Quinn Martin, executive producer. If you’ve viewed The FBI, Cannon, The Fugitive, The Untouchables, Twelve O’Clock High — you’ve experienced the results of Martin’s hand on the emotional throttle of the actions which appear on the home screen.

Directors for the various episodes of The Streets of San Francisco will, hopefully, be selected for their ability to handle a lady of such mercurial nature as San Francisco, in all her beguiling and tempestuous moods.

How the series will fare in the months ahead depends on how many viewers fall in love with San Francisco. For those already in love with her — whose sweetheart could do anything wrong?

The Streets of San Francisco TV show DVD cover

Two views of San Francisco (1975)

By The Vernon Daily Record (Texas) September 7, 1975

After co-starring for several years on ABC’s long-running hit, The Streets of San Francisco, Karl Malden and Michael Douglas still emerge with differing views on the city and the show. The reason is each man represents an entirely different style of living.

The Streets of San Francisco lead actors in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

Malden is a well-married man. He lives in a comfortable apartment hotel during the shooting season here. He also works hard and doesn’t go out and play very much. Consequently, he can see only San Francisco’s considerable beauty and he is in love with the city.

Douglas makes a point of living in a different section of the city each year, and this is the fourth for the show. He is single (although he is still with Brenda Vaccaro, but she has her own career to pursue) and gets out more and meets more people.

“This is the most snobbish town I’ve ever seen,” says Douglas. “I’m talking about the old San Francisco people. They object to our show because they say it only talks about the crime in San Francisco.

“I point out to them that, in reality, San Francisco is one of the most violent cities in the United States. But they live in their hilltop mansions and they don’t know what is going on.”

Actor Michael Douglas in The Streets of San Francisco TV show (1970s)

The company was shooting on the San Francisco waterfront, at Pier 36. Two ships, the American Corsair and the Pioneer Crusader, were tied up at the pier. Malden and Douglas were supposed to drive up in their unmarked police car, en route to discovering a murder victim.

The two work well together and have mutual respect and liking. But that doesn’t keep them from disagreeing. One area of disagreement is gun control. As soon as he has finished his scene, Malden turns his gun over to the prop man and you can see he is happy to get rid of it.

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The veteran actor is all for very strong gun control, stronger even than what has been proposed. “I think,” he says, “that all guns should be left in something like an armory. People who want to go hunting would then check them out. They could come and clean them or do anything else they want with them, but they would never be able to take them home.

“I make a point of using and showing my gun as little as possible on the show. Mike and I disagree about this and often argue about it. I know my view is unpopular with much of the general public. We did a show last year about guns — it followed a Saturday night special through various hands and various killings — and we got more hate mail than ever before.”

Malden also has liberal views about what TV should be able to show — even including nudity. “I feel nudity would be OK on TV,” he says, “as well as anything else, if it’s done properly. It’s time for television to grow up.”

He says he has watched strong scripts get softened by network interference. “It’s amazing,” he says, “how our scripts get watered down. A script will come in and I’ll read it, and it will be hard-hitting and real. But, by the time the network finishes with it, there will be very little left.

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“We have a new producer this year (William Yates) and it is going to be interesting to see how he manages…”

The show utilizes as much of San Francisco’s scenic delights as possible. They shoot all over the city. Once, Malden says, they were doing a sequence at the San Francisco Police Department’s Communications Center.

Malden and Douglas - Stars of the old The Streets of San Francisco TV show from the 70s

During a break in the filming, the men there proudly showed the actors a new gadget that could instantaneously get a read-out from the state Motor Vehicle Department headquarters in Sacramento. To demonstrate how it worked, they fed in the names of Malden and Douglas.

Immediately, out came the report on Malden — details of the car he owned, how it was fully paid for, how the driver had had no tickets.

Then the machine started clattering with Douglas’ record. It never stopped, as outpouring information about unpaid tickets and other embarrassing events. Everybody laughed — but Douglas. (Since that event, he has switched from a high-speed Porsche to a Honda, which, he says, can’t go fast enough to get him in trouble.)

Reasons for the show’s success

Each of the two actors thinks there are three reasons for the success of The Streets of San Francisco, but the reasons differ. Malden lists them this way:

1. Production values by Quinn Martin — “The money is up there on the screen.”

2. “The accidental thing, the good chemistry between Mike and me.”

3. San Francisco — “It’s such a beautiful city to photograph.”

Douglas lists three causes, too. He believes, as does Malden, that the stars and the production are key factors, but, for his third reason, he cites “good stories.”

Malden and Douglas are both happy with the show, of course, and enjoying its success. But Karl Malden looks back on how he tried, in vain, to get the series shifted from San Francisco.

“When Quinn Martin first approached me to do the show,” he says, “I tried to talk him into using my hometown, Chicago, instead. What a dope I was!”

The Streets of San Francisco TV show Season 5 DVD cover

DON’T MISS: San Francisco in the 1970s: See photos of vintage downtown SF

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