Although it was an anthology, there were certain things that all episodes had in common; for instance, the main character in each episode was a police officer. The setting was always Los Angeles and the characters always worked for some branch of the LAPD. Also, notwithstanding the anthology format, there were recurring characters. Scott Brady appeared in more than a dozen episodes as "Vinnie," a former cop who, upon retirement, had opened a bar catering to police officers, and who acted as a sort of Greek chorus during the run of the series, commenting on the characters and plots. Tony Lo Bianco and Don Meredith made several appearances as Robbery-Homicide Division partners Tony Calabrese and Bert Jameson. Other recurring characters included surveillance specialist Joe LaFrieda, played by Vic Morrow, and vice officer turned homicide detective Charlie Czonka, played by James Farentino.
The anthology format made the show an excellent venue to try out characters and settings for series development, and, during its broadcast run, Police Story generated three spin-offs. A first-season episode, "The Gamble," starring Angie Dickinson, became the pilot for the successful Police Woman series, which ran from 1974-1978. "The Return of Joe Forrester," a second-season episode starring Lloyd Bridges, was developed into the weekly series Joe Forrester. "A Chance to Live," an episode from the fifth season, with David Cassidy, became Man Undercover.
In later seasons, perhaps because of the expense of maintaining the anthology format on a weekly basis, Police Story became a series of irregularly scheduled TV-movies.
Numerous actors, sports figures and former real cops who were familiar to audiences in the 1960's and 70's made appearances on the series, including Ed Asner, David Janssen, Claude Akins, Robert Stack, Mike Connors, Stuart Whitman, Lenore Kasdorf, John Saxon, Cameron Mitchell, Martin Milner, Vince Edwards, Robert Forster, Jan-Michael Vincent, Alex Cord, George Maharis, Wayne Maunder, Howard Duff, Chad Everett, Don Meredith, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Cole (2 episodes), and Eddie Egan.
Two episodes received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Episode in a Television Series: "Requiem for an Informer," written by Sy Salkowitz (from the first season), and "Requiem for C.Z. Smith," by Robert E. Collins (second season). In 1976, the show won the Emmy for best drama series.