Do crime shows exist in a vacuum?

Numb3rs does CSI

Heard of “The CSI effect”? It’s this new phenomenon in the US that’s spreading over here. The basic upshot of it is that because so many jurors have been watching CSI and think they know all about forensics as a result, loads of suspected criminals are being acquitted. This is happening even when the suspects are quite obviously guilty, because the jurors don’t think enough has been done to analysis evidence, even when it’s not actually possible.

We can all laugh at the rubbishness of CSI Miami, but there are people who have been convinced by it into thinking it’s possible to computer enhance surveillance video footage to extract licence plate details from the reflection in a bystander’s cornea.

But despite the fact the CSIs are some of the highest rating shows in the US and the UK – in fact, CSI Miami is apparently the most watched show in the whole wide world – there appear to be a group of people who don’t watch them at all. These people are the producers of other crime shows.

I’ve come to the conclusion that no TV crime show producer watches any other crime show. I’ve also come to the conclusion that they think we don’t watch any other crime shows either.

Take CSI. Name me one other crime show in which CSIs/SOCOs (aka ‘forensics people’) interview suspects or are even seen to talk with anyone at a crime scene. It just doesn’t happen, because in real-life, the police ask the questions. Yet as the ‘Buckley Crime Show Hypothesis’ demonstrates, producers assume we don’t watch other shows, so they can get away with convincing us that this is how it’s done.

But it also works in other shows. This Friday’s episode of Numb3rs, the show in which mathematicians solve crimes, seemed to be under the impression that none of us had ever watched CSI – despite the CSIs’ ratings and the fact Numb3rs is a CBS show, too.

Now Numb3rs hasn’t been remotely realistic since the middle of the first season. But Friday’s episode kind of took the biscuit. Charlie’s bright idea was to use lasers and bits of string to work out where the shooter had been and where he had been shooting. The FBI seemed astonished by such a suggestion. Unheard of, I tell you!

Except if you’d seen almost any episode of any one of the CSIs.They do that all the time. Is there anyone here who’s never seen them do that?

So we know it’s standard procedure these days. The FBI knows it’s standard procedure. Yet the crime show vacuum prevents TV producers from knowing it. Strange, isn’t it?

PS Most of the mathematics in Numb3rs, while usually applicable in the way the show depicts, seems to have been distorted via some series of Chinese whispers. Typical example of distorted dialogue from Friday’s episode: “I’ve been trying to analyse this as an example of Brownian motion, but I’ve been neglecting the fourth dimension: time”. Really, mathematician Charlie? You were analysing motion without considering time? Wouldn’t everything be static in your calculations then? Dear oh dear.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.