It’s a Mystery to Me – or – Dying for the Same Old Thing

50s tv adEven though television appeared on the scene in the 50s,  it didn’t become a household word until the mid-60s. By 1970 it was a major factor in the daily lives of Americans, and once cable TV became the norm in the mid-80s, the average American household was no longer content with just one boob-tube…most had at least two (I personally know a couple who have a television in every room of their home…including both bathrooms).

Before I get to my point I’d like to lay a few statistics on you courtesy of the A.C. Nielsen Company…

  • The average American watches more than 4 hours of TV per day
  • 66% of American homes have 3 or more TVs
  • By the time a child reaches 18 years of age they will have witnessed 40,000 murders on TV
  • 53.8% of TV programing is devoted to crime, disaster and war
  • 59% of Americans can name The 3 Stooges, but only 17% can name at least 3 Supreme Court Justices

So, I think we can agree that TV is a dominant force in America – not that you needed me to tell you that.

3 Stooges

Believe it or not, to a writer, television can be very educational. There is a lot of good writing on the tube…and lots of bad (really bad) writing as well.

If you analyze programs or movies from a writing perspective you’ll quickly see how formulaic almost all of them are. For example…next time you’re watching a sitcom with a laugh-track pay attention to when the audience laughs. It’s usually after every third spoken line.

Anyway…let me get to my point.

A few months ago somebody suggested that I watch a new program called Forever.


My strategy with such recommendations is to set my DVR to record the show and then watch the first episode when I have nothing better to do (in case it’s a dud).

This past weekend I finally got around to watching the pilot episode and I enjoyed it.

It’s a detective show with a twist – the medical examiner assisting the lead detective is immortal. That’s right…immortal, as in he can never die.

It’s a pretty unusual take on the detective-solving-a-murder show – and that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

I’ve been watching TV since the mid-60s.

I don’t consider myself a TV-a-holic, but I do admit to having a strong attachment to the idiot-box, which means I’ve seen more than my share of programs.

So, as I watched another episode of Forever last night I realized that the murder-mystery is probably the most common genre on TV.

Hollywood’s scribes have thrown countless variations-on-the-theme at us, but in the end it still comes down to a who-dun-it.

It used to be that murders were solved by cops, a la Friday & Gannon, Starsky & Hutch or Cagney & Lacey.

Hawaii Five-0It wasn’t long before somebody realized the tired old plot line needed some freshness…something different. That must have been when the crime scenes were moved to exotic locations with shows like Hawaii Five-O, The Glades and Miami Vice.

The next trick was to start varying the personalities of the cops. They gave us detectives with attitude (Kojak), detectives with laundry issues (Columbo) even ex-detectives with O.C.D. (Monk)..

The husband and wife team was popular for a while…McMillan & Wife, Heart to Heart.

We even had cops posing as teenagers in high school on (the original) 21 Jump Street, for all you Johnny Depp fans. Monk

Once they discovered the Private Investigator it was like a whole new world opened up.

Spenser for Hire, Remington Steele and Moonlighting all offered their own eccentricities, setting them apart from the run-of-the-mill.

We’ve seen people from all walks of life investigating homicides.

  • Priests
  • Insurance Agents
  • Actors
  • Fake Psychics and Ex-Models
  • Reformed Criminals
  • Former Cops, Soldiers and Spies
  • Doctors, Medical Examiners and Crime Scene Techs

and my favorite, of course

  • Writers

Do you suppose Hollywood wants us to think that cops are incapable of solving crime on their own?

The real question I have is: Are we, the TV watching public, so obsessed with the murder-mystery that we’ll watch it in any incarnation?

The television gods have thrown so many cop shows at us we all know our Miranda Rights by heart and many of us know how to avoid leaving evidence at a crime scene.

I’m not complaining, I’m just curious about our fascination with this particular type of programming.

It’s a chicken/egg thing.

Do we watch them because they make them—or—do they make them because we watch them?

It also brings to mind the age-old question; does life imitate art or vice-versa?

Oscar Wilde

I guess you could say…it’s a mystery.

As always – thank you for reading


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9 responses to “It’s a Mystery to Me – or – Dying for the Same Old Thing

  1. Growing up and before my nursing career, I watched a lot of TV, then life got in the way, three kids, two jobs. When I became disabled, I was more interested in writing than watching TV. When I sit down to watch Criminal Minds or NCIS or Bones…it’s all new to me. I had a couple of people who beta read for me that didn’t. They didn’t like my book because it wasn’t the gritty formulaic style they were familiar with. I get it. Ten other people loved it. I hope everything stays new to me and I’m always open to new, different and fresh takes on things. I’m going to record “Forever”…it just may be that me and the RS dig it.

    • Stick to your style, Susan…the formula is boring!
      As for Forever…it’s different and offers a touch of the paranormal to the genre so it’s worth watching, although I’m sure it will get old too.

  2. Good one, Tim! As I was telling you earlier, I still prefer the British detective and police shows (some available on PBS in the US and Canada). There are also a few good Scandinavian-made shows, too, that we’ve enjoyed. Very gritty, realistic stuff coming from there with interesting locales and atmosphere. I think we did have to take what the studios produced in decades past, but with the way the internet is changing the choices available, we may now be the ones in charge.

  3. Great blog! You covered everything. I have always known much of the world has a fascination with most things detective, mystery & suspense, but your take on it has really opened up my eyes to just how big of an obsession we have, and how far back in time it goes. Nice history lesson!

  4. You busy little beaver. Great topic, and interesting questions you pose. Personally, I have not watched TV in 2 months, I’ve also stopped watching the news. Too depressing and if the world is about to end, I’m sure I’ll find out and if not, at least it will be quick. 🙂

  5. These are the things I think about when I get bored.

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