Have you ever noticed just how many shows there are that follow the lives of our favorite crime solvers? From the countless spin-offs of "Law and Order" to notable comedies like "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," cop shows have been a staple and mainstay in American television. Sometimes, when I think I'm watching a show about something else like zombies or fairy-tales (iZombie and Grimm) even then I realize I'm actually watching a cop show.
So, why are there so many cop shows?
I have two theories.
The first theory is that cop shows are easy and comfortable and almost sure to be a hit. The formula for a police procedural on American television has been relatively set in stone. This makes them easy to work with and easy to play around with the formula. In part, it is the formula that brings us comfort from watching a crime show. We know mostly what to expect. A heinous crime occurs, the detectives investigate, they face various challenges, but they eventually catch the criminal. It is not only a pattern we can easily fall back into when there is nothing else to watch that brings us comfort, but the feeling of safety that is elicited from the criminal being caught also brings comfort to viewers.
The second theory is a little more far-fetched. Cop shows are a way of keeping the status quo intact. They reinforce our faith in law enforcement and the laws they carry out. Most of the time, crime dramas don't provoke conversations about the issues within the criminal justice system or the validity of certain laws. I say most of the time because "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," one of the longest-running procedural crime shows, often deals with topical social issues and I'm sure many other cop shows do, too.
However, the majority of the time the narrative that cop shows weave is that we should be sympathetic and grateful to law enforcement (I mean, we should be grateful and sympathetic to law enforcement) and the laws that they enforce to the point of unquestionable adherence. Police officers make difficult decisions and numerous sacrifices for us, the citizens and viewers. That's why we shouldn't question the decisions of cops and detectives that at their core reinforce the status quo.