Scripted dramatic television has had a long-running fascination with tales of crime, with dozens of new shows in the genre being produced each year. While jurisdictions and some specific procedural elements may be regional, the mystery of those who commit crimes and those who try to solve them can be universal — and very lucrative.
“There is likely to be a ready-made audience for a new crime drama, particularly if there is an established star in the lead role, increasing the opportunity for the creation of a long-running, returning series,” says Peter Iacono, Lionsgate’s president of international television and digital distribution.
On the procedural side this year, CBS Television Studios and Keshet Studios have “Wisdom of the Crowd,” in which a grieving father creates an app to allow citizens to crowdsource crime tips; Warner Bros. has “Deception,” in which a disgraced magician uses his knowledge of fooling people to help the FBI track criminal conmen; and NBCUniversal Intl. has “Gone,” based on Chelsea Cain’s “One Kick” novels and following a rescued kidnapping victim who helps solve present-day missing persons cases.
NBCUniversal is also hot on “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” the first serialized version of the groundbreaking franchise from Dick Wolf and one of the rare crime dramas in which you know right from the start who is definitively guilty, so the clues being pieced together are about the “why” of the motive.
Emmanuelle Guilbart, About Premium Content’s (APC) joint CEO and co-founder, says crime dramas have such a wide appeal in today’s landscape because they make the audience participate and challenge minds. “They turn us into investigators, with the power to fight the demons of the world from the comfort of our living room,” Guilbart says. “The simple logic of the investigation creates a very strong bond with the main characters in that way.”
APC brings “Alex” from Mikael Hjorth and Niklas Rockström about a Stockholm detective who also secretly works for the local mafia. Meanwhile, Endemol Shine and Sky Vision present the Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks starrer “Tin Star,” in which an expat police officer must protect his family and the small town to which he moves them from organized crime.
“Tin Star” has elements of revenge mixed in, as does StudioCanal’s Nordic crime thriller “The Lawyer,” which centers on a promising defense attorney who plays with his knowledge of the legal system to seek his own form of justice against the people who killed his parents.
An emerging trend centers on women this year, which Lionsgate represents with “Ten Days in the Valley” from Tassie Cameron and starring Kyra Sedgwick as a woman whose daughter is taken from her home in the middle of the night. Meanwhile ITV has “Bancroft,” created and written by Kate Brooke and starring Sarah Parish in the lead role of the “tortured” detective who adopts some vicious methods to take down a local gang.
APC is launching “Deadwind,” a Nordic noir crime drama about a detective recovering from her husband’s death when she discovers the body of a young woman, triggering a chain of events that threatens to destroy her life again.
“Female-centric crime dramas are a logical evolution of the genre if you consider the global trend of character-driven drama,” Guilbart says. “With female leads you tend to naturally take the focus back from the action as a way to solve problems and put it more where it matters to today’s audiences: character psychology, nuances and a very well-crafted investigation.”
Red Arrow Intl.’s “23 Cases” follows Det. Tara Schöll (Shadi Hedayati) reopening a serial killer case and working alongside the accused, while “Stella Blómkvist,” stars Heida Reed as the titular lawyer investigating the death of the assistant to Iceland’s prime minister.
“Frankie Drake Mysteries,” distributed by Kew Media Group, spans cases that take a group of female detectives in the 1920s from gospel church choirs to private parties of the city’s most-elite.
Kew Media’s president of distribution, Greg Phillips, says viewers most want characters they can relate to. “I’m a believer — even more so in this day and age — that these great audience figures are garnered on the back of compelling drama,” he says. “Great drama ratings are not gender-centric.”
And any wave of new crime dramas wouldn’t be complete without some that unveil much larger conspiracies, too. FremantleMedia’s “Modus,” adapts Anne Holt’s political thriller “Madam President” in which the disappearance of the first female American president (Kim Cattrall) during a trip to Sweden creates a power struggle between the two jurisdictions. And its “Hard Sun” sees an investigation into a computer hacker’s death reveal proof that the world is facing “certain destruction” in just five years.
“Viewers are looking for a cinematic experience, large scale production values, great writing and of course top talent,” Phillips says. “But in addition it always comes down to a great plot with twists and turns that deliver the unexpected.”