Breakdown: Investigative Television

Investigative TV
Apparently it’s the end of November! Cold weather is here, colder weather is coming, and with it the diminishing desire to leave your house. You’re starting to seek out activities that you can do in the warm confines of your home, perhaps while wearing your favorite pajamas (perhaps things that don’t require you to take off those pajamas for at least the span of a weekend). I know, I’m the same way!

Some people like to read books and some like to try new recipes. Some folks even play games—well who doesn’t like a solid night of beer and board games set against a soundtrack of, say, 90s hits? As the reigning Clue champion in the tri-apartment area, I can attest to the entertaining powers of such an evening: searching for a murderer using nothing but your powers of deduction and ability to read markings through the small pieces of paper held by your opponents in a poorly-lit rumpus room, determining that it was in fact Miss Scarlet in the Billiard Room with the Candlestick. There’s no greater thrill.

I’ll admit, though, as much as I love taking the cards out of that Confidential Envelope to prove that, once again, I’ve won, sometimes I want someone to solve the crimes for me. That’s why one of my favorite cold weather activities is watching television, specifically television I’ve termed Investigative TV. ITV covers a range of shows in which people in some sector of law enforcement work together to determine who has committed a specific crime, most often murder.

Not all ITV shows are for everyone. So, in the interest of helping you out, I’ve decided to create a basic guide to the genre so that you might better determine what is right for you. My breakdown includes two main sub-groups (Fact and Fiction), which are, in turn, divided into smaller sections. Regardless of where a show lands, viewer discretion is always advised.


This sub-group of ITV refers to, of course, Reality Television—real people and real crimes that can sometimes be real gritty. I’ve found Reality ITV can be split into two categories: anything on the Investigation Discovery channel and The First 48.

ID: Investigation Discovery

This channel provides shows that are the Say Yes to the Dress equivalent of ITV. True, they deal with real crimes, real murders, but they’re presented in a way that’s easy to watch. You’re going to get some attention-grabbing themed shows (Behind Mansion Walls, Blood Relatives) with amusing, sub-par visuals. When a murder suspect’s picture is displayed on your television screen using digital pins in a digital corkboard that bear a striking resemblance to some clip art you favored in 4th grade, you tend not to take it as seriously as you could.

Then there are the dramatizations. Oh, the dramatizations. These actors are really something special. For some reason, ID has a particularly hard time finding ones who look like the people they are impersonating. This can be distracting.

“Wait, is that debonair man with a dark, lustrous male bouffant and slightly English accent supposed to be representing the blonde, mousey fellow from Arkansas who was just describing the last time he spoke to his murderous brother?”

Also, the police officer actors don’t wear gloves whilst touching evidence and one time I saw a victim blink post-mortem. That can really take you out of the drama.

What I’m trying to say is that ID shows are like popcorn: not super awesome, but you can digest a ton of it without really feeling bad about what you’ve done.

The First 48

This show on the other hand. Damn. This show is really real. It follows homicide detectives during the first 48 hours of an investigation—the reasoning being that after the first 48 hours the probability of solving the crime drops significantly.

There are no bells and whistles here: you see blurry dead bodies, drive around with chain-smoking officers, and watch interrogations. It’s great television. The only drawback is that for about a week after a marathon of watching it in your dark bedroom, every time you leave your house you’ll hear the distinct voice of the narrator echo in your mind, sure of your impending victimhood.

“Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away, shots ring out in the Bushwick district of Brooklyn.”



I’m sure you’re all familiar with the shows that fit in this ITV sub-group. But you know what assuming does, so I’ve gone ahead and divided it into Crime Procedurals and Dramas.

ID : Crime Procedurals :: The First 48 : Crime Dramas

Crime Procedurals

Yes, there are shows in this category, like Cold Case (a personal favorite of mine) that don’t necessarily take into account how crimes are solved in real life. I mean, there are episodes where murders from the 1920s are solved simply by reading a diary from that time. Even back then, I don’t really buy that people kept such extremely meticulous diaries, is all I’m saying. But if there’s a crime to be solved, then I’m gonna watch it. I guess the joke’s on me.

Then there are others, such as Law & Order (RIP Jerry Orbach) and Law & Order: SVU (before Mike Tyson guest starred), that are a bit more believable. NCIS, all the CSIs. Regardless, Crime Procedurals are here, they’re riveting, get used to it.

In case you’re wondering, Homicide: Life on the Street falls somewhere in between this group and the next thanks to a crossover episode with L&O and Munch’s eventual move to SVU. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re clearly not my target audience and I don’t know how you got this far in the piece.


Again, this sh*t gets real. Have you seen The Killing? It’s haunting. So much rain, so much darkness, so many cigarettes.

If The First 48 and The Killing can teach us anything, it’s that police detectives have stressful jobs and probably have to smoke ciggies to deal.

Common Ground

In case you’re wondering, there is some common ground between all of these shows. First, all of the facts of each investigation will be repeated over and over. You won’t be missing anything. Second, all of them have incredible soundtracks. The composers had to think hard about what the theme music for justice is. It turns out, it’s often spooky (think mist lifting off of wet, bloody pavement), but can occasionally be upbeat with some heavy saxophone.

It’s just important to stay informed.