13 Classic Shows to Watch if You Love Elsbeth & Where to Find Them

at .

Amateur sleuth shows used to be popular in the pre-CSI era of television.

These series showcased detectives who were not police officers, were often quirky, and could best the cops at solving murders -- if they could get them to listen.

You're right if you think that sounds exactly like CBS' Elsbeth. Elsbeth has more in common with amateur sleuth series of the past than with the show it spun off from, The Good Wife.

Lead Photo - Classic Detective Shows

Elsbeth is a modern take on classic shows like Columbo, Murder She Wrote, and Diagnosis Murder. Most shows it owes a debt to are no longer on television, but streaming services have given them new life.

Elsbeth Heralds the Return of Amateur Sleuth Shows

Amateur sleuth shows are part of the cozy mystery genre.

Nowadays, they've fallen out of favor -- these mysteries mostly air as movies on the Hallmark channel.

There was a time when every channel had at least one amateur sleuth show filled with silly TV tropes, such as the traveling detective who stumbles across a murder wherever she goes.

That changed after CSI premiered. This police procedural was the first to focus on using forensics and other scientific methods to solve murders or feature police detectives who also had robust personal lives, and its popularity led to a seismic change on the TV landscape.

Nowadays, we are drowning in police procedurals, making an amateur sleuth series like Elsbeth feel refreshingly original.

We've compiled a list of classic series that Elsbeth fanatics might love. Please scroll down to check it out!

Peter Falk as Columbo


Columbo undoubtedly was the show that sparked the idea for Elsbeth. 

The series followed the same format.

Each episode began with a murder that Columbo (Peter Falk) had to solve.

This made the series different from a traditional whodunit because the audience already knew who the killer was and enjoyed Columbo putting together the pieces and stopping the bad guys.

Columbo wasn't as quirky as Elsbeth, but he was known for wearing a trench coat -- and for his lack of a first name.

Unlike Elsbeth, he had experience as a cop as he was a retired police lieutenant.

Columbo streams on Peacock.

Tony Shaloub as Adrian Monk


It's impossible to think of Elsbeth without being reminded of Monk.

This quirky detective with OCD paved the way for other neurodivergent characters on television and was so popular that Peacock recently produced a reunion Monk movie.

Monk is probably the quirkiest detective ever to hit the airwaves.

He couldn't live on his own because of his OCD, had difficulties with social cues, and carried around hand sanitizer and wipes because he hated shaking hands with suspects or witnesses.

He also had the same keen eye for details others miss that Elsbeth does, which often enabled him to solve each week's case.

Monk streams on Peacock.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate armchair detective. Although he is an icon of British fiction, the US has also dabbled in creating a series around this character.

Nowadays, the Sherlock series created by Doctor Who writer Stephen Moffatt is probably the best known, but before that, Jeremy Brett was closely associated with the role.

His version of Sherlock Holmes was a 1984 ITV production; the show was broadcast on PBS in America.

Like Elsbeth, Holmes has a keen eye for detail, though most versions of his story make it clear that Watson is a lot more likable and personable.

The Jeremy Brett series, entitled Sherlock Holmes, and Stephen Moffatt's Sherlock series are available on Britbox.

Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher

Murder, She Wrote

The late Angela Lansbury was an accomplished actress who had been on Broadway, but she's best remembered today as Jessica Fletcher on CBS' Murder, She Wrote.

Jessica Fletcher was a mystery author who was probably loosely based on Agatha Christie, the queen of cozy mysteries.

In addition to writing mysteries, she solved real-life murders in her small town of Cabot Cove.

Jessica also traveled to other cities, where she inevitably found a dead body and a clueless police department. She investigated herself, solved the case, and confronted the murderer.

Whenever Elsbeth gets that look in her eye as the final piece of the puzzle falls into place, I think of Jessica Fletcher, who reacted similarly right before the final commercial on each week's Murder She Wrote.

Murder, She Wrote is available on Peacock. Lansbury got the role after playing Agatha Christie's Miss Marple on the movie The Mirror Crack'd, which is available on Britbox.

Dick Van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloan

Diagnosis: Murder

When Dick Van Dyke guest-starred on Days of Our Lives, he joked that he had the experience to do General Hospital next because he had played a doctor on Diagnosis: Murder.

Diagnosis: Murder was similar to Murder, She Wrote, but set in a hospital.

Van Dyke plays Dr. Mark Sloan, who always investigates murders when patients turn up dead.

Like Elsbeth, Sloan is hired to do one job but invariably ends up playing detective instead.

As you might expect from a Dick Van Dyke vehicle, there's plenty of humor in this lighthearted mystery series.

Diagnosis: Murder streams on Pluto TV.

Tom Selleck As Magnum PI

Magnum PI (Original Version)

Whether Tom Selleck is better known for Blue Bloods or the original Magnum PI is debatable.

If you've seen the reboot, you know the basic story.

Thomas Magnum was a former Navy SEAL turned private investigator in Hawaii, where he worked as the head of security for millionaire Robin Masters.

Like Elsbeth, Magnum loved new adventures and got excited by each case, often to the disappointment of the more serious Higgins, who worked with him.

He usually wore a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and Puma sneakers, to the delight of those fans who had a massive crush on Selleck.

Selleck was largely responsible for transforming Magnum from a James Bond-type character to an everyday person, which is something else Magnum has in common with Elsbeth.

Sadly, the original Magnum PI is not available on any streaming service. However, you can buy or rent episodes from Amazon Prime for $1.99 each.

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason

Perry Mason

The original Perry Mason is one of the oldest shows on our list, though I remember a series of made-for-tv sequel movies in the 1980s -- at least twice a year, Burr would reprise the role to solve an all-new two-hour mystery.

Arguably, there would be no Law & Order without Perry Mason, a TV lawyer from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s.

Mason was famous for taking on the cases of wrongly accused defendants and getting the real killer to confess on the stand.

The series had very little to do with what real criminal lawyers spend their time on, and more than one would-be lawyer has been disillusioned by the idea of finding the best defense for guilty clients instead of being a crusader for the innocent like Perry Mason.

Still, it was great fun whenever Mason confronted a killer on the stand, and the unrealistic but fun nature of each week's episode puts this series firmly in the same camp as Elsbeth.

The original Perry Mason streams on Peacock.

Andy Griffith as Matlock


Matlock is yet another series that will be rebooted soon. CBS has an all-new version coming out in the fall that stars Kathy Bates.

Ironically, Matlock itself could be considered a reboot of Perry Mason.

It starred Andy Griffith as a country lawyer whose Southern drawl and gentle smile belied his determination to get to the truth when innocent clients were accused of murder.

Like Angela Lansbury, Griffith is primarily known for this one role, despite his large body of work (including co-starring with a young Ron Howard in The Andy Griffith Show.)

Elsbeth also has a persona that makes her seem less on the ball than she is, so fans will likely enjoy the original Matlock.

Matlock streams on Amazon Prime.

James Roday as Shawn on Psych


Yes, that is James Roday Rodriguez from A Million Little Things. In Psych, he plays Shawn Spencer, a psychic who helps solve crimes.

Psych is one of the quirkiest detective shows, even now that Elsbeth is on the scene.

It always came on after Monk during its original broadcast,  as it had similar weird qualities (but dialed up to the max)

The primary connection between these two shows is that the protagonists are slightly weird, but if you like Elsbeth's quirkier aspects, you'll probably like this one.

(Bonus points if you're still mourning Gary's death in A Million Little Things because Roday Rodriguez's character on Psych has a similar personality.)

Psych streams on Peacock.

 Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner on Hart to Hart

Hart to Hart

Hart to Hart is a quintessential 1980s action-adventure series.

It starred Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner as a husband and wife who jet around the world solving mysteries.

They could do this because he was a millionaire and she was a freelance journalist.

Hart to Hart isn't quirky like Elsbeth, though the premise seems as over-the-top today as Elsbeth's character. The show took itself seriously but was definitely escapist TV!

The Harts solved international crimes, including espionage, in addition to murder.

Their investigations into tightly guarded secrets are similar to the subplot about Elsbeth investigating Captain Wagner's activities (but no, he was not named after the actor in Hart to Hart.)

Hart to Hart streams on Tubi TV.

Emily Deschanel on Bones


Bones is one of the more recent entries on our list. It combines the best of the amateur sleuth and police procedural genres.

Unlike most detectives we've discussed, Temperance "Bones" Brennan worked in law enforcement.

She specialized in getting forensic information from skeletons and often had incomplete sets of bones to work with.

She was also quirky and most likely autistic, although this was never directly stated.

Elsbeth fans will enjoy comparing the two characters' personalities and quirks.

Bones streams on Amazon Prime.

Over to you, Elsbeth fanatics. Which of these shows have you seen before?

Are there any you plan to stream once Elsbeth goes on summer hiatus?

Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know.

Elsbeth airs on CBS on Thursdays at 10/9c. New episodes stream on Paramount+ the day after they air.

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on X.

Show Comments
Tags: , ,