Procedural dramas out of style?

Scene from Chicago Fire (Handout)

Scene from Chicago Fire (Handout)

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:27 PM ET

Pondering procedurals, here's something to consider about the current state of them:

Chicago Fire is a rookie show from the king of procedurals, executive producer Dick Wolf. But at the beginning of a recent episode, I noticed there was a lengthy highlights reel, with the tag, "Previously on Chicago Fire ... "

Hmmm. It was rare that something similar was needed on any of the Law & Orders, huh?

The point being, while long-running procedurals - CSI, Criminal Minds, NCIS, etc. - still dot weekly lists of top-rated shows in Canada and the U.S., the big U.S. networks don't seem keen on making new ones, at least in the purest procedural sense.

Of the 21 shows that debuted on major U.S. networks this fall, only two fall even remotely into the procedural category.

There's Chicago Fire, which airs Wednesdays on NBC and Global. But as the inclusion of "previously on Chicago Fire" suggests, a lot of the story lines are primarily character-based.

And then there's Elementary, airing Thursdays on CBS and Global. It has a procedural element to it, but it has been "tricked up," considering the names of the two lead characters are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Recalling the old saying about what happens when you assume something, a "procedural" is a show, usually crime-based (shooting, kidnapping, murder, fire, whatever), in which the episodes largely are self-contained. Meaning, you can watch a random episode and not be wildly lost, because there will be cases that are introduced and concluded in the body of that episode.

The glory days of the procedural started with the debut of Law & Order in 1990, and got a turbo boost when CSI came along in 2000. Those two shows and their spinoffs combined to dominate the dramatic side of network TV for 20 years.

But there seems to be a double-edged "grandfather clause" regarding procedurals today.

Audiences still loyally watch some of the classics that have been "grandfathered" into 2012. But most of those eyeballs do, in fact, belong to "grandfathers."

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But as we all know, advertisers don't like it.

If Chicago Fire is the new face of procedurals, it's a face with a lot of young hunks and hotties, like Taylor Kinney if you like staring at guys, and Lauren German if you like staring at girls.

"I am, I think, not unreasonably, optimistic about Chicago Fire settling in, (even though) Wednesday night is kind of a 'land war in Asia' for dramas," Wolf said recently in a conference call with TV reporters.

"So I'm hopeful that over the course of this season people are going to find it and be very satisfied with it, because everybody is enormously proud of it and the show is getting better every week."

Bottom line for procedurals in 2012: Yes, you may proceed. But proceed with caution, and bring along some fresh eye candy.

 


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