If I had to pick a genre in television that was the most successful, it would be crime drama. Crime drama is a bit of a vast genre in terms of what it can encompass, but it’s more specific than drama and most crime dramas have the same effect for television, or at least the effect that I want to convey.
Crime dramas with regards to television are shows that deal with crime, whether it dramatizes real-life events, is inspired by those events, or is just completely made up.
The advantage of crime drama is that it’s extremely versatile and very flexible, so all crime dramas don’t feel exactly the same, even the spinoffs: Law and Order is not the same as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. It might have the same feel and aesthetics, but the characters and the plot are different enough for one to be different from another.
With that, it’s probably easiest to do a spinoff for a crime drama, and it hasn’t completely proven unsuccessful thus far. If Law and Order, CSI, and NCIS can keep their spinoffs going, some of which can be more popular than the original show, it appears to be a pretty smart business move.
There’s such a wide variety of material to choose from when it comes to crime drama, which probably makes content creation easier on the writer. What’s the type of crime or types of crimes you want to hone in on? Do you want to focus on the law enforcement or the criminals? Do you want the primary location to be personal, like someone’s house, or impersonal, like a law enforcement agency or precinct, or do you want a combination of the two? What city do you want it to be in?
The choices you have are endless, and each one can make a whole new show. Take a show about cops for instance. A show about cops in Los Angeles will be completely different from cops in Dallas. There is a whole different perception of cops and types of crimes between those cities. Let’s take type of crime as another example. A show about serial killers, like Hannibal, is going to have a completely different vibe from a show about a drug lord or cartel, like Narcos.
Pablo Escobar doesn’t worry me nearly as much as Hannibal Lecter.
Crime drama is also reliable. Reliable may seem like an interesting word to use, but if you have a show like Castle or Motive, where the atmosphere of the show makes audiences interested or excited to figure out whodunit and why as the main characters move from case to case, it draws people in. That mystery element make the show interactive; the audience is brought back into the equation in a way.
Crime dramas are also reliable because, mainly in cases where episode plots are self-contained, you don’t have to watch every single episode in order to keep up with the plot. The main basis for sticking with a crime drama is then for the characters and the pace of the show from episode to episode, elements of which are easier to keep up with more so than a long, drawn out plot.
Probably most importantly, crime drama is something that television pulls off the best. Hardly any other medium makes good crime drama as consistently as television does, and I think that’s going to be important to the medium later on, if it isn’t already important to television now. I can’t fairly pinpoint a reason why crime drama is so good on television, but I definitely feel like television has made the genre its own, and maybe if television can tailor more genres and even just storytelling in general to make them as palatable to the medium as crime drama, that would make the game more interesting.
I guess the important question now, is how.