Mike Kellerman (Homicide: Life on the Street)

Homicide: Life on the Street TV developed for television by Paul Attanasio
Based on the non-fiction book by David Simon
Kellerman character created by Tom Fontana

“There’s more cheating in Baltimore than there is Kodak film.”
— Kellerman waxes philosophic

’tis the season… Falsone and Kellerman (right) talk it out.

One of the most unexpected P.I. dramas ever aired on television has to have been two episodes plopped in the midst of the final season of Homicide: A Life on the Street, NBC’s acclaimed cop drama.

The memorable two-parter dealt with the return and of fallen angel and disgraced former Baltimore murder cop MIKE KELLERMAN as, of all things, a private eye. And this wasn’t just a toss-off—No re-imagining, no alternate reality, no dream sequence—just the straight goods;  a full-bodied, no-holds-barred P.I. drama, folded right into an ongoing series. 

Long-time viewers may remember Kellerman as the once-promising rookie homicide cop with a chip on his shoulder who was pressured to resign from the force after his involvement in the sisth season’s fatal shooting of drug kingpin Luther Mahoney under questionable circumstances.

As that long story arc played out, Kellerman, still smarting from previous charges of corruption, slowly watched his personal and professional life fall apart, to the point that he resigns—as part of a deal he cooks up with his Lieutenant that sees that no charges will be brought against him, and two of his fellow officers also involved in in the Mahoney case will be fully cleared and able to keep their jobs. But only if Kellerman resigns. At the end of the sixth season, it seemed Kellerman was gone for good.

But, much to my surprise and delight, in the middle of the seventh season, in December 1998, Kellerman was suddenly back for a couple of episodes: a sad, brooding two-parter titled “Kellerman, P.I.”

He’s now just a bottom-feeding gumshoe, chasing errant spouses and not above a little window-peeping, if it pays the bills. Things are looking up, though, when he takes on as his client one of the teenage suspects in the nasty (but headline-grabbing) case of the murder of an unwanted newborn. For Kellerman, it’s a chance to do what he considers “real” police work again, without the weight of police rules and regulations. But his old co-workers, particularly his nemesis Detective Falsone, don’t exactly share Kellerman’s joy at him second-guessing one of his cases. Not that he’s looked upon with much favor from many of his former co-workers.

In a show already awash in the dark grit of urban decay, moral rot and personal damnation, this is primal stuff: fear, guilt, betrayal, hate, shame, loyalty, regret, and, surprisingly, redemption and even honour, are all trotted out, and Kellerman’s unexpected return to the show tore right into the guts of the show’s often dark and nasty heart. While in the background sharp-eyed viewers will notice the city is prepping for Christmas.

Despite the hoary old chestnut of an ex-cop turned private eye, Homicide managed something increasingly rare in network television’s typical approach to to private eyes. They worried about making Kellerman a real character first (not a watery assemblage of personal quirks, wacky eccentricities and a spiffy car) and a private eye second.

It was all handled so well, so potent and gripping, you just had to wonder if this was a dry run for something. A pilot for a possible spin-off, perhaps.

But it wasn’t. Kellerman’s character slipped back into the shadows, and a few months later, the TV show, never a ratings juggernaut, did so as well. The seventh season would also be its last.

Kellerman did, however make one final appearance, in Homicide: The Movie, a television movie that aired a year later. He’s still a private investigator, was one of the former members of the squad to gather when their former boss, Lt. Al Giardello, is shot down. He and Giardello’s son Mike, a former FBI agent, team up, and Kellerman uses his contacts to help track down some of Al Giardello’s old enemies in Baltimore’s Italian quarter. Our last glimpse of Kellerman is in the Waterfront, the Homicide squad’s watering hole, where he’s sharing a drink with ex-M.E. Julianna Cox, with whom he once had a relationship.

Still, I kept hoping we’d see him again…


  • I loved Homicide. I’d put it right up there with Hill Street Blues as one of the all-time great cop shows. I’ve no doubt my affection for this wonderful, ballsy, norm-shattering and much acclaimed show contributed to my feelings about the Kellerman two-parter. But having re-watched those two episodes years later, I’m happy to report they still pack a punch.
    — the editor


  • “…personally, I was glad to see Kellerman go at the end of last season. The Luther Mahoney plot was just stretched way past its breaking point. However, exacty those things that annoyed me about him as a cop work for him as a shady P.I., particularly the attitude. It was brilliant opening with him taking adultery pictures through a window, immediately defining him in terms of the genre where “honorable” P.I.s refuse to take domestic cases. And the totally non-sincere disclaimer (“I advise you not to look at these pictures”) reminded me of JJ Gittes in Chinatown.”
    — Mark Sullivan on Rara-Avis


    (1991-99, NBC)
    122 episodes
    Based on Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (1991) by David Simon
    Developed for television by Paul Attanasio
    Starring Richard Belzer, Giancarlo Esposito, Peter Gerety, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto, Toni Lewis, Kyle Secor, Zeljko Ivanek, Michael Michele, Reed Diamond, Callie Thorne
    • “Kellerman, P.I.: Part One” | Buy the 7th season on DVD
      December 4, 1998)
      Kellerman character created by Tom Fontana
      Story by Julie Martin & James Yoshimura
      Teleplay by Joy Kecken (as Joy Lusco)
      Directed by Ken Fink
      Guest starring Reed Diamond as MIKE KELLERMAN
      with Chris Gunn, Jena Malone, Austin Pendleton, Lynn Schrichte 

    • “Kellerman, P.I.: Part Two”Buy the 7th season on DVD
      (December 11, 1998)
      Story by Eric Overmyer, Tom Fontana
      Teleplay by Sean WhitesellDirected by Jay Tobias
      Guest starring Reed Diamond as MIKE KELLERMAN
      with Chris Gunn, Jena Malone, Austin Pendleton, Lynn Schrichte

    (February 13, 2000, MBC
    Teleplay by Tom Fontana, Eric Overmyer and James Yoshimura
    Directed by Jean de Segonzac
    Starring Yaphet Kotto, Kyle Secor, Richard Belzer, Clark Johnson, Peter Gerety, Jon Seda, Callie Thorne, Toni Lewis, Michael Michele Giancarlo Esposito, Melissa Leo, Andre Braugher, Ned Beatty, Isabella Hofmann, Max Perlich, Jon Polito, Daniel Baldwin, Zeljko Ivanek, Michelle Forbes
    with Reed Diamond as MIKE KELLERMAN


  • The Society for the Protection of Mike Kellerman
    One obsessive’s fan page.
  • Homicide: The Graphic Novel, Part 1 (2023) | Buy the graphic novel
    David Simon and artist Philippe Squarzoni team up to present the first volume of this  graphic novel adaptation of Simon’s 1991 true crime classic, which followed his year-long embedment with the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit, and served for the inspiration for the acclaimed television show Homicide: Life on the Street. So… no Kellerman or Pembleton or any of them, but you might catch a glimpse of some of the real-life characters who inspired them.


  • July 30, 2023
    The Bottom Line: Near the end of acclaimed show’s run, disgraced ex-cop Kellerman returns as a bedroom-peeping P.I., going up against his old squad, looking into the nasty case of a newborn’s murder.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

One thought on “Mike Kellerman (Homicide: Life on the Street)

  1. Thanks for this. Both parts are currently on YouTube, as well as the movie. Search for homicide kellerman, and they should come up. (unless taken down by the time you see this).

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