EDITORIAL: Will we ever run out of cop shows?

So I finally got around to watching the clumsily named The Paley Center Salutes NBC’s 90th Anniversary which I recorded a while back. I figured it would be a self-congratulating, three-hour-long victory lap light on content and heavy on montages and quotes from former celebrities. So, I saved it for when I was bored. All I can say is, good call there.

It did get me thinking, though, and not necessarily in a good way. They did some long montages for sure, and one of the longest was chronicling the history of cop shows on the network (note to the trolls, yes I know TJ Hooker didn’t air on NBC) starting with Dragnet and ending up with whatever that Jennifer Lopez thing is now. It got me thinking… how can there possibly be such an insatiable market for cop shows? Aren’t people tired of them? I mean, just with Law and Order and its spinoffs you could binge for close to three weeks straight, and I mean 24/7 straight, no potty breaks. Binge like a human and it would take months. That’s a lot of cop show.

And yet cop dramas and their associated legal dramas, firehouse dramas, and the occasional comedy are a staple of our TV watching experience. Will we ever get tired of them? There was a time when the western in one form or another was a big part of TV viewing; that’s almost completely disappeared. Competition shows of some sort come and go and get massively changed with each iteration. Yet, we still have cop shows. I’m not saying that they’re all exactly the same, but let’s look at it: there are bad guys, they do bad things. There are some people who chase and catch the bad guys who do bad things. Lather, rinse, repeat. That’s pretty much the story of every cop show.

Of course there will be memorable characters and pulse-pounding situations and car chases. Every show is going to handle those differently and that’s part of what keeps bringing people back. There are going to be catchphrases, too, and they become part of our consciousness decades later… who doesn’t recall “Just the facts, ma’am” or “Let’s be careful out there” from long-past shows?

For what it’s worth, I’ve largely abandoned cop shows. I get it, some of the cops are crooked or damaged. I’ve seen that before. Some of the crimes are shocking! Not to me, takes a lot to shock me. I just wonder when the rest of the world will key into the idea that every possible crime scenario has been covered at least two dozen times by four dozen shows. If you don’t believe me, get an antenna and find an old episode of Mannix. I guarantee you’ll see some plots not too different from the stuff you’ll find on TV today.

The biggest argument for why there are so many cop shows on TV is, “that’s what people watch, and networks don’t have any idea what to replace them with.” Well, that’s pretty lazy, considering that we are in the most innovative period in TV history. There are new genres and subgenres being invented every day and it’s time we gave cop shows a rest. Let it really be “three weeks until retirement” for these old-fashioned shows.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.