I am a pure child of the TV age, the first generation to use television as educator, babysitter, psychotherapist, entertainer, instruction manual, travel guide, and even drug to medicate through life’s tribulations. I am unapologetic about this. My brain was far from stunted by television, the reverse rather, my general knowledge is probably above average, my language skills well developed, and I haven’t done too badly in school.
But that was a different kind of TV, a kinder, gentler, and less sophisticated version of what we have today. Where does one notice the change the most? I believe it’s in the detective show. I used to love whodunits, challenging my wits to use the same clues to find the killer before the great detective. Columbo kind of screwed that up, since the killer was revealed at the very beginning of the show. But it was great fun nonetheless, and I must confess, nine times out of ten I was rooting for the killer to get away with it because the victims were generally deserving of their fates in my opinion.
Detective shows today are a different story, most being unwatchable beyond the first couple of episodes. The real difference? Today’s detectives don’t rely on their brains to solve crimes, they have special “gifts” (Unforgettable), mental abilities (The Mentalist), or rely on high-tech equipment and technologies (just about every show). And what’s with the back-story? I mean enough with the personal angst, alcoholism, depression, divorce, etc. I don’t want to know the intimate details of our hero’s personal life….just tell me the story!!!
A friend of mine is a homicide detective in Calgary (he just retired after 35 years). He’s an ordinary guy with a family, doesn’t drink beyond the occasional glass of wine or beer. There are no apparent skeletons in his closet, and he never brought his work home with him. He tells me that detective work is basically “scut” work, collecting enough pieces of the puzzle until you can make a case, and it’s usually a team effort rather than one genius. Perhaps one of the reasons we were all glued to our TV sets with the recent Shafia case is that the cops got them by pulling together a myriad of small bits of evidence from many different sources.
If you’ve noticed, most TV crime shows spend at least 75% of the storyline on three themes: The personal life of the detective, or long, drawn out images of lab rats working the various scientific equipment to extract DNA, or gruesome crime scenes with the eviscerated bodies of family members. The actual story only occupies about 25% of the total time of the show. Throw in the commercials, and you’re probably getting about 10 minutes of story in a one hour show.
There’s an intellectual laziness permeating Hollywood these days, resulting in a massive over-dependence on gimmicks and devices rather than story. Or maybe, that’s just who the audience is today and that’s about as much as they can handle. The rest have moved on to the specialty channels.