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Crime on TV - To Catch a Killer at all Costs

Long running series like CSI, CSI Miami, CSI New York, Bones, NCIS and Criminal Minds have captured the attention of viewers all over the world. Why do you think TV series like these are so immensely popular?

Gary Sinise filming CSI New York

CSI New York - trailers


Make sure you understand these words before you read the text. Use the dictionary in the link collection to look up new words:

  1. addictive
  2. passionately
  3. ruthless
  4. perpetrator
  5. squeamish
  6. entrails
  7. gallon
  8. forensic
  9. lanky
  10. mellow-voiced
  11. tight-fitting
  12. bullet-proof
  13. equipment
  14. prop(theatre)
  15. nickname
  16. abducted
  17. grizzly
  18. imagery
  19. petty crime
  20. insane
  21. deviant
  22. rapist
  23. heinous
  24. victim
  25. devised
  26. underfunded
  27. understaffed
  28. oath
  29. mold
  30. skull
  31. witty

Crime on TV – To Catch a Killer at all Costs

Crime on TV – To Catch a Killer at all Costs

The spin-offs are many because solving murders is exciting and entertaining - and addictive. We are passionately drawn into ruthless situations where the good guys have to find, lock up or most often kill the bad guys also called “Unsubs”(unknown subjects) or “Perps” (perpetrators). These series are not for the squeamish. Ever since CSI premiered October 2000 in the USA, the visual effects, violence, graphic bloody images and sexual content have exploded.

The pounds of flesh, entrails and gallons of blood shown on screen have kept the special effects department in various studios around the world quite busy. The forensic lab teams are usually beautiful, lanky, mellow-voiced male and female models or actors with tight-fitting, revealing clothes. Even in uniform and bullet-proof vests they look fantastic due to training at the gym and Botox. Also one cannot avoid the futuristic forensic lab equipment with its science fiction aura, complete with mysterious lighting and props.

Program Structuring

Each program is structured in a specific way and has its own gimmick. For example, the various nicknames Special Agent DiNozzo uses when addressing Special Agent McGee in NCIS, or the number of times Horatio removes his sun glasses in CSI Miami. All the good guys are obsessively dedicated to their work and have little time for private lives. Most of them are either divorced or have family problems due to their absence from home. Wives and loved ones are very often part of the plot and are often neglected, abducted or killed. The sexual tension between male and female partners in many episodes acts as a parallel storyline. The tempo in which the mystery is solved depends on the country of origin, but that too has to fit into a 45-60 minute time slot.

What Critics Say

What these programs have been criticized for is the level of sadistic violence, sexual sadism and grizzly imagery that have developed over the last 10 years. The crime and criminal behavior has escalated. The bad guys no longer commit petty crime or charm us with their anti-authority behavior. They are criminally insane pedophiles, sexual deviants, serial killers, sadists, collectors, rapists, kidnappers, etc. coming from horrible family backgrounds who engage in heinous crimes. And the more the victim suffers the more interesting the case.

In Real Life

Picture: Forensic science
Forensic science. Taking a DNA sample from a screwdriver.

Like reality series, the plots and conflicts are devised. In real life, forensic labs are usually underfunded by governments and understaffed. The programs have also been criticized by police, the FBI, CIA and attorneys. Not all labs and technicians in reality are accredited. There have been cases where coroners, crime labs technicians, police chemists, forensic anthropologists and forensic specialists have lied under oath at a trial or DNA testing has been faulty. Equipment is usually slow which makes it impossible to solve crimes as fast. Another point is that physical evidence is not as obvious as in CSI. The technical science used in CSI series is fantasy. For example, making a mold from a knife wound or even finding the killer because he/she has gunshot residue on his/her clothes.

Violence is Entertaining

Some critics argue that violence seen at an early age increases the chances of violent acts later. Child aggression leads to aggression in adults later in life. Others claim that crime series accept violence, including torture, as right and acceptable. Guns blasting through skulls is the only way to solve problems. Violence is entertaining. And all of us empathize with the “good guys”, who invariably use these techniques, especially if they are beautiful, funny and witty.

The debate about how violence as a means of entertainment affects us, goes a long way back in history. In ancient Greece, the philosophers Plato and Aristotle strongly disagreed on this issue. Whereas Plato maintained that the violence exposed in the Greek dramas would inspire the spectators to copy the actions, Aristotle, on his part, claimed that just watching the drama in itself would give the audience an emotional outlet and aggression and strong emotions would be left behind in the theater. The debate is still relevant today.

Comprehension 1 - True or False?

Correct the false statements

  1. CSI has changed little since it started in 2000.
  2. Special effects are important in the production of the series.
  3. One has to be squeamish to watch crime series like CSI.
  4. Most of the “good guys” are dedicated to their work and to their families.
  5. The “bad guys” have become more violent and sadistic.
  6. In reality, not all lab technicians are to be trusted to tell the truth.
  7. The forensic labs in the series are technically out-of-date.
  8. Physical evidence is more difficult to find in real life crime.
  9. The “good guys” are entertaining even though they use violence.
Solution to Comprehension 1

F, T, F, F, T, T, F, T, T

Comprehension 2

  1. Parts of this article are clearly ironical, can you spot some examples?
  2. Point at some examples of the use of “clichés” in these series. (If you don’t know the word, look it up.)
  3. Mention some examples where these series clash with reality. How have these series developed over the last ten years?


Arrange a debate where you discuss Plato's and Aristotle's differing views on the employment of violence and aggression in drama.

Preparation: Work in pairs - one student is challenged to adopt Plato's views whereas the other adopts Aristotle's views. On a sheet of paper you should list up at least 5 arguments that support "your" view. Use the vocabulary in this article as a source of inspiration.

Now arrange a class debate Plato vs. Aristotle (try to remember your arguments without looking at the slip of paper).


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