Even 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.
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.
It 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.
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.
- Insurance Agents
- Fake Psychics and Ex-Models
- Reformed Criminals
- Former Cops, Soldiers and Spies
- Doctors, Medical Examiners and Crime Scene Techs
and my favorite, of course
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?
I guess you could say…it’s a mystery.
As always – thank you for reading