It’s hardly a surprise to see a reality-TV show pretty slavishly seek to replicate scripted drama, and particularly its most durable genre, the crime procedural. What’s notable, at least this month, is how brazen and sometimes lazy producers and networks have become about it.
In 2010, Jerry Bruckheimer produced a short-lived NBC drama titled “Chase,” about a fugitive-apprehension team of U.S. Marshals, spearheaded by a couple of Texans and patrolling the Southwest. Beginning Nov. 26, TNT is essentially remaking it on the cheap, with the reality show “Marshal Law: Texas,” centering on “the elite Gulf Coast Violent Offenders and Fugitive Task Force” and produced by … Jerry Bruckheimer.
“Marshal Law’s” competition will include “A Crime to Remember,” an Investigation Discovery series that premieres two weeks earlier and which makes no bones about its inspiration in revisiting crimes from the 1950s and ‘60s: Originally titled “The Bad Old Days” – and featuring main titles that conspicuously resemble the movie “Anatomy of a Murder” – the six-episode program “is Investigation Discovery’s homage to the critically acclaimed ‘Mad Men,’” ID chief Henry Schleiff explains in the press release, adding that the “high-end recreations” play out “like a period thriller.”
Well, OK, at least ID believes in borrowing from the best — and brings a refreshingly gleeful quality to the process — having also built series around concepts that from a distance look a whole lot like “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Seven.”
For viewers, this represents a form of shorthand, enabling those who consume a fair amount of movies and TV to feel as if they’ve joined such programs in progress. That’s helpful, especially if you simply happen to stumble upon one of them.
In terms of execution, the two shows are quite different. “Marshal Law” goes for a more verite-style feel, while the glossy recreations in “Crime to Remember” are about as close to scripted as reality gets, albeit with veteran reporters who covered the actual events testifying over most of what would otherwise be dialogue.
The general idea behind each, though, continues a longstanding trend to take stories viewers were accustomed to digesting as episodic crime and made-for-TV movies and transform them into smaller, less expensive bites. (Tellingly, some of ID’s series contain two crime stories within each hour, distilling the essence of a TV movie into one quarter of the time.)
“Marshal Law” will be paired with the return of “Boston’s Finest,” another show that seeks to provide a kicking-down-doors adrenaline rush with a cinematic producing pedigree (actor Donnie Wahlberg).
Cynically, one might ask why Bruckheimer, in particular, needs to mine this genre, having claimed such a sizable patch of real estate with his scripted stable of chalk-outline dramas, led by “CSI.” Then again, he’s hardly alone in that regard, with “Law & Order” producer Dick Wolf having expanded his portfolio to currently include a crime-solving TNT reality show, “Cold Justice” – a cross between “Cold Case” and “CSI,” and certainly not to be confused with the network’s upcoming missing-persons show “APB With Troy Dunn.”
Still, unlike most of the criminal acts we see in these reality shows, as cultural transgressions go, these cases of petty theft amount to misdemeanors.