Television crime dramas sometimes get a beating for being way too flashy or out of this world. Agency budgets appear to be limitless for high-tech gadgets and crimes seem to be solved a lot more easily and frequently than in the real world; not to mention lead characters perform multiple professional roles like forensics, interrogations, chases, arrests…all in one episode.
There’s even what’s known as the “CSI Effect”—the phenomena that describes how real world juries purportedly expect more “smoking guns” than reasonable because the evidence before their eyes may not be as glamorous as on the big screen. (However D.P. Lyle M.D. who has served as a consultant for numerous shows including CSI: Miami, said in an AL.com article, “Often they get the science right on CSI, but they make things that are out of the fringe seem commonplace.”)
Does this mean these fictional crime dramas are meritless? Not at all! Here are some titbits on how some of the TV shows, from then and now, stand out in the real criminal justice world.
Pauley Perrette, who plays Abby Scuito on CBS’ NCIS, visited the actual NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) headquarters in Washington back in 2005 (a couple years after the hit show premiered). According to an article by Marla Marcelo, the actual NCIS Regional Forensic Lab director Dawn Sorenson told Perrette: “You make us all look good, so we’re grateful.” Marcelo also mentioned that the producers of the show had an active working relationship with the actual NCIS; and that retired NCIS agent, Leon Carroll, was a technical consultant for the crime drama on aspects such as interrogations, lingo and crime scenes. Also did you know Perrette studied criminology at the master’s level? No wonder she plays Abby brilliantly well!
Jim Clemente worked for the FBI for over 20 years until he retired in 2009. With the FBI he served as a Profiler with the BAU and specialized in areas such as serial murder, homicides, bombings, child abductions and sex crimes. He shared this expertise with the television show Criminal Minds, acting as a technical advisor for eight seasons. He even wrote five episodes, including “Lessons Learned,” which won the Human Rights First Award for Excellence in Television for its depiction of interrogation. “According to Clemente, Criminal Minds and the FBI have developed a successful model of cooperation between Hollywood and law enforcement,” wrote Kathleen Sullivan for The Boston Chronicle (June 24, 2008).
Homicide: Life on the Street
On an online message board, an individual with 30 years law enforcement experience said Homicide: Life On the Street was probably the crime fiction show that was the “nearest to ‘real life.’” The series which aired during the 1990s was based on the book by David Simon called Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Simon was a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He also went on to be head writer and executive producer of The Wire. Homicide won many awards, including one of the Best TV Shows of All-TIME by TIME Magazine and The Best Show You’re Not Watching by TV Guide. This latter award speaks to the show’s relatively low ratings. Critics who praised and continue to praise the show explain this lack of popularity is due to the show’s realism rather than it possessing non-stop Hollywood-style action. “…Homicide offers a more realistic, variegated, and accurate view of detective work than NYPD Blue…” wrote Jason P. Vest in his book The Wire, Deadwood, Homicide and NYPD Blue. “…Homicide, to be certain, is one of the best cop shows ever broadcast on American television.”