Definition: pro·ce·dur·al (pr -s j r- l) The police procedural is a sub-genre of detective fiction, which attempts to convincingly depict the activities of a police force as they investigate crimes. TBI investigates whey they remain TV’s top performer.
The police procedural is far and away the most successful genre of television programming across the world with shows including CSI, NCIS and Criminal Minds topping the list of the world’s most-watched shows.
NCIS, particularly, has been on the rise in recent years. The Mark Harmon-fronted series, which follows a team of naval criminal investigative agents, has seen ratings steadily increase since its launch (as a JAG spinoff) in 2003 and its ninth season recorded just under 20 million viewers on average.
NCIS executive producer Gary Glasberg told TBI: “Universally, people work hard and like to come home and watch a show with a contained storyline in which there is suspense and humour. There is something that appeals in solving a case in 42 minutes, the viewer can then step away and get on with their lives. That’s appealing for people, especially the shows with more characterisation and heart like ours and Bones, House, Castle and The Mentalist.”
Alibi, the UKTV-operated digital station dedicated to the genre, has had success with series including Castle, Body of Proof and Rizzoli and Isles and has recently inked a deal with Disney Media Distribution for procedurals Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour, The Protector and Eric McCormack series Perception. General manager Steve Hornsey says that the procedural remains the most enduring television genre. “The nature of the procedural crime drama is all about plot resolution so it’s less essential for people to see the show the moment it’s aired; there’s fewer spoilers on social media. Far from being sit-forward viewing, crime dramas don’t move boundaries. It’s a structure that’s familiar and it’s not challenging the status quo,” he says.
Hornsey adds that the network is currently in talks with a number of the US studios for new crime series and will also launch Australian crime drama Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries early next year.
“The crime procedural is simply huge and will never stop,” says Jens Richter, managing director, Red Arrow International, which is launching a number of police dramas this year. The company is bringing both Jean Reno and author Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch to the genre in separate productions.
Reno stars in Jo (WT) as Jo St-Clair, a veteran French detective solving crimes in some of Paris’ most iconic locations including the Eiffel Tower and the Catacombs. It is written by Law & Order writer Rene Balcer and directed by Kristoffer Nyholm, director of Danish crime drama Forbrydelsen (The Killing). The show is produced by Atlantique Productions for TF1 and ProSiebenSat.1.
“Jo is a classic procedural with a budget of $2.5 million per episode,” says Richter. “Crime dramas are always the top rated shows and they can repeat very well. Paris is the number one travel destination for tourists and it plays a character in the show; dead bodies show up in front of Notre Dame and there’s a supermodel thrown off the Eiffel Tower.”
Red Arrow International, the company formerly known as SevenOne International, is also working on TV versions of Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch’s novels with Fuse Entertainment, the producers of the US version of The Killing.
LAPD detective Bosch is best known as the star of the Lincoln Lawyer novels, immortalised on the big screen by Matthew McConaughey.
Henrik Bastin, chief executive of Fuse Entertainment, which also produces USA Network hit Burn Notice, adds: “I have been obsessed with the Bosch books for years. It is, in my mind, the ultimate cop and crime property.”
The television series will be exec produced by The Wire’s Eric Overmeyer. “It won’t be too dark; it won’t be The Killing because it will be set in LA with blue skies,” says Richter.
Some of the most interesting and exciting crime dramas of the last few years have come out of Scandinavia including Forbrydelsen, Bron (The Bridge) and Den Som Dræber (Those Who Kill).
The latest crime series to emerge from the region is DICTE, which is based on a novel written by Those Who Kill author Elsebeth Egholm, and distributed by ZDF Enterprises, the company responsible for the international success of Forbrydelsen.
The 10x45mins series, which is produced by Miso Film for TV2 Denmark, follows a crime reporter turned amateur detective in Aarhus, Denmark. While the series has a similar aesthetic to other Scandinavian series, it is more relaxed and humorous compared to other shows in the Nordic Noir category. “The DICTE series will add a new flavour to the Scandinavian crime genre,” says Peter Bose, producer of the show and partner in Miso Film. “It is a lot more than well written crime stories; it is a series about people and their relationships and because of its universal themes, we have a strong feeling that the series will target a large number of viewers around the world.”
Nice Drama, the drama division of the pan-Nordic production group, is also hoping the ‘Scan dram’ bubble doesn’t burst. The company is developing two new series; one based on novels from Kristina Ohlsson and the other an original idea from Headhunters writer Ulf Ryberg.
It is reversioning three of Ohlsson’s novels – Unwanted, The Daisy and Guadian Angels – into three 90 minute television movies (or 6x45mins). Ohlsson was previously a counter terrorism officer at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the book trilogy centres around Fredrika Bergam, an academic turned police officer.
A lot of producers in Sweden and Scandinavia do crime drama but we wanted to pick something up that was special and wasn’t produced in an industrial way. – Nice Drama CEO Patrick Nebout.
Separately, it is working with Ryberg on Midnight Sun, which is produced with Lagardere Entertainment for French pay broadcaster Canal+ and Swedish public network SVT. “It’s a thriller, it’s like Twin Peaks meets Fargo,” says Nebout. “It takes places in northern Sweden with a French cop and makes use a location that we haven’t seen before; leaving rainy Sweden for the country’s wilder landscapes.”
Outside of Scandinavia, a recent trends is for European producers and broadcasters to produce crime dramas in English, making them easier to sell internationally.
Tandem Communications is developing a ten-part series in this vein with Criminal Minds exec producer Ed Bernero, one of the most recognisable names in the procedural world.
Crossing Lines is Tandem’s first one-hour drama and comes after Studiocanal acquired a majority stake in the company. It follows the International Criminal Court and its mandate to create a European version of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to hunt down Europe’s most dangerous criminals. The series stars Donald Sutherland with William Fichter, (Black Hawk Down), as well as a number of European actors. The show has been produced for French commercial broadcaster TF1 and Sony Pictures Television’s AXN channels across Asia.
Tandem isn’t the only German company solving crimes in English. UFA, the German drama producer owned by FremantleMedia parent company RTL, is looking to launch more ambitious crime dramas with bigger budgets. “We’re in the process of setting up a new structure where we can create more international crime dramas in the future,” says UFA executive producer Jörg Winger. “We’re looking for more cooperation with the Anglo Saxon world; language is becoming much less of an issue and German broadcasters are starting to produce in English.”
UFA produces Soko Leipzig (Leipzig Homicide), which has been running on public broadcaster ZDF for over ten years. “In a world with so many crime dramas, it’s hard to distinguish yourself so we need good characters,” says Winger. “It’s not like Law & Order where Dick Wolf sat down and said that he’d never change anything.”
Another show created with the international community in mind is Cracked, a Canadian series that is distributed by German sales agent Beta Film. The show is produced by White Pine Pictures, the team behind The Border. It is a 13x1hour series for public broadcaster CBC and follows in the footsteps of Canadian cop series Rookie Blue and Flashpoint. It stars Private Practice’s David Sutcliffe as detective Aidan Black, a successful but troubled police officer, and NCIS’ Stefanie von Pfetten as his psychiatrist partner.
White Pine Pictures president and Cracked executive producer Peter Raymont says: “It seems like there’s an unending appetite for police procedurals. We’ve already received interest from Germany and France.”
The US continues to be the centre of the crime drama industry. This year’s new series include CBS’ Golden Boy, produced by Greg Berlanti about an ambitious young police officer who rises quickly in the department after becoming a hero in the line of duty, and NBC’s midseason series Infamous, created by Friday Night Lights’ Liz Heldens.
Youth-skewing net The CW is also getting in on the act as it looks to attract more male viewers to the channel with Beauty and The Beast, a reboot of the 1980s Linda Hamilton-fronted drama. The series, which is produced by CBS Television Studios, was written by Jennifer Levin and Sherri Cooper and tells the story of detective Catherine Chandler (Kristin Kreuk), who was saved by handsome doctor-turned-injured super soldier Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan). Levin, who has worked on Without A Trace and Unforgettable, says they decided to turn Linda Hamilton’s character from a lawyer to a cop.
“In the original, she was a lawyer, but it didn’t feel as emotional as having cop stories and both of us like cop stories and feel much more comfortable with them. So we made her a cop,” she says. “It is a cop procedural so there is going to be a case every week,” adds Levin.
Not everyone is a fan of the classic case-of-the-week formula. French cop series Braquo, which is produced by Capa for Canal Plus, is a dark, violent drama with a serialised arc running through each season. Jane Millichip, managing director, Zodiak Rights, which distributes the series, says: “There’s been many years of competent but bland procedurals but now there’s a demand for edginess. The French have managed to achieve empathetic characters but also pushing the envelope of edginess and violence.”
The show, which is moving into its third season, has been sold to broadcasters including FX in the UK and Netflix in the US. It is also being remade in the States by 24 writer Stephen Kornish and Asylum Entertainment, which is currently in talks with cable networks.
Some have questioned the content and repeated violence in the big-ticket procedurals. Criminal Minds star Mandy Patinkin recently said that working on the ABC series was the biggest mistake of his career. “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year,” he told New York magazine.
The number of procedurals launched at this year’s LA Screenings was substantially down on previous years; three (or four if you include the Sherlock Holmes reboot Elementary) compared with eight in 2010. Although cable networks are also heavily involved in the genre and it may have had more to do with the small number of hours available on CBS, home to a host of hit procedurals, many global buyers noted the drop.
Perhaps the procedural could become the saviour of the summer? Last year, CBS cancelled Sony Pictures Television’s Unforgettable despite it reaching 12 million viewers. While the Eye reversed its decision two months later, it notably moved the show, which stars Poppy Montgomery as a detective with a really good memory, to summer 2013.
NCIS’s Glasberg says that it’s not the format or the genre that breeds success, but rather the characters. “I genuinely believe that the success is about the characters and the actors involved. There is a humour and pathos that exists and drives our show, rather than just the focus on the procedure. CSI, for example, in the early years was very focused on emphasising the procedural elements first, whereas [NCIS creator] Don [Bellisario] always emphasised the people first,” he says. The fact that the show reaches close to 20 million viewers each week suggests it doesn’t matter whether people are watching for Mark Harmon’s Special Agent Gibbs or to enjoy solving the crime of the week as long as they continue to tune in.
While the on screen body count mounts, “the procedural is a genre that will never die,” says Red Arrow’s Richter.