Question of the week: why does ITV make so many crime dramas?

Have a look through the ITV schedules. Now I won’t make this easy for you by suggesting you look at ITV3’s schedules, where just tonight you can find Heartbeat, Murder She Wrote, Wycliffe, Taggart, Inspector Wexford, Numb3rs and The Blackheath Poisonings.

But take a look at ITV1’s schedules and see how many crime programmes you can spot. Possibly not many at the moment, with just Scott and Bailey on Mondays, but have a look at the number of dramas that ITV is currently airing in primetime and you’ll find that roughly 50% are crime dramas. Then have a think back at all the recent ITV1 dramas – Above Suspicion, Marple, Poirot, DCI Banks, Endeavour, Eternal Law, The Jury, Kidnap and Ransom, Law & Order: UK, Marchlands, Midsomer Murders, Vera, Whitechapel – and you’ll notice that pretty much all of ITV’s drama output, with a few Julian Fellowes-scripted exceptions, are crime dramas.

This week’s question is therefore:


Are ITV crime dramas really so good? Do ITV viewers want to watch nothing else but crime dramas? Do you watch ITV crime dramas? And can ITV really not make any other kind of drama?

Answers below or on your own blog, please

  • Mark Carroll

    Among the hour-long-slot scripted shows, there's a ton of crime dramas on American network TV too; I've also wondered why. Quite a few medical dramas, too, of course.

  • SK

    That's quite a wide definition of 'crime drama' you're using there; it seems to be 'any drama with a crime in it' (and even then I'm not sure about Meadowlands: didn't the death turn out to be a tragic accident?).

    By that definition The Syndicate� would be a crime drama, and I don't think it really is.

    I would define 'crime drama' as a drama where the main focus is on piecing together clues to solve a crime. So not The Syndicate, where the crime is not the main focus but simply an aspect of some of the characters' stories; not Meadowlands and not Kidnap and Ransom either (at least the last series, the only one I've seen, the main interest was on the negotiations: the crime-solving was perfunctory and only thrown in to provide some interest at the end, and the solution basically drops into Trevor Eve's lap without him even having to beat a suspect up or shout at a victim until she cries).

    Still, there's a lot, but then, when you think about it, there's three basic types of people TV drama is about: doctors, angels sorry I mean lawyers, and cops. And the last two are crime dramas.

    And why is this? Because it's an easy way to make drama. A crime gives you all the ingredients of a drama on a plate: you've got a goal for a protagonist and an antagonist (to solve and conceal the crime — though not necessarily in that order). You've got stakes (will justice be done Will the criminal escape?). You've got detectives (police or otherwise) with a legitimate excuse to go to anybody and ask them questions which in any other type of story would be horrendously on-the-nose and exposition-eliciting (a gift for a writer incapable of revealing character through subtext).

    Doctors give you stakes (life or death — unless you're talking about Doctors, obviously) and a goal, but you don't automatically get antagonists and while they can ask questions about things relevant to the disease they don't have the same license to credibly ask such directly character-revealing questions — as can be seen in Casualty with the contrivances necessary to give patients secrets to turn them into antagonists, and the leaden scenes where the doctors rather unbelievably play psychiatist and quiz them about their personal lives.

    So, yes, anyway, to answer your question, why do ITV have so many crime dramas? Because to make a drama without a crime in it is just so much harder. And ITV seem to be going for the easiest route, all the time.

  • Lisa Rullsenberg

    Great analysis of the situation SK, and I'd agree – I'm still wondering what else (apart from talent-less shows) that ITV does. �I guess the wider question would be though why are there so few non-crime dramas – if you take it at the broadest definition – not only on ITV but everywhere else.

    Non-crime drama does rely on a different form and development of characterisation, and only the best written of crime dramas get around to doing anything with character…�