This isn’t about the astrological sign of Leo, the Lion; it’s about television shows with LEOs in them. That is to say, Law Enforcement Officers. Cops. Heat. The Fuzz. The term covers civilian and military police, the FBI and any member of an organization charged with enforcing the law (Secret Service and Treasury agents or LEOs).
For our purposes, the term also covers lawyers and judges and others who adjudicate the law. As put by a hugely successful TV show, there are “two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.”
So here on the last day of this edition of TV Tuesday, “cop shows” are in the house! And some court room dramas! (You have the right to keep reading. If you choose to keep reading, any thoughts or memories you may have can be written down as comments and won’t be used against you.)
I’ve said that NCIS is in my top five all-time favorite television shows and that it’s also an umbrella for a collection of shows in the LEO category. The group of true favorites isn’t large, even including the law shows. While I do love the LEO genres, not many actually make my “buy” list.
My love of these shows comes from a fond spot for police and the law and the military. For one thing, I appreciate order, but more than that I have undying respect and admiration for those who take—often life-threatening—jobs that preserve order in society, maintain our security and help those in trouble.
I also appreciate the power of such positions and how, as with any powerful tool, misuse can have dire results. Still, I grant a lot of slack given the trade-off between what is provided and the occasional problems (it is the frequency, nature and handling of those problems that is significant). In any event, real-world LEOs are not the topic today here on TV Tuesday.
There is a long line of cop shows that leads back from NCIS. The line begins, as far as I can remember, with the 1967 version of Dragnet, featuring Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan). (It’s actually the third iteration of the show; there was a 1949 radio version and a 1951 TV version.) The series was notable for showing the dull side of police work, and, of course, originating the phrase, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Dragnet showed cops doing their work; it was a “police procedural.” So was Adam-12, another early show. A common element in such shows is the police detective, which adds the much-loved detective genre to the mix. Friday and Gannon were detectives. Gibbs and his crew are detectives. Most of the shows mentioned below involve detectives. One of the more famous cop detectives is another favorite of mine: Columbo!
That long line of shows has some interesting branches. A fairly recent one is the “crime lab” branch started by CSI. I’ve followed two of the CSI series, despite finding them a bit gaudy and terribly inaccurate. (I’m betting it’s easy to guess which CSI I ignored.) I love that they make science cool, but I don’t care for the glitz, and I really don’t like how the actual science is often bogus.
Note that NCIS is also on this branch due to Abby and Ducky and McGee. NCIS, like its parent JAG (another favorite) is both a cop show and a military show. JAG had the court room element, and NCIS has the crime lab element. Those combinations are part of the reason I love both shows so much (the quality, characters and stories being a more important reason).
An older branch involves an “odd couple” of a LEO and non-LEO. The latter usually has some special (ideally, quirky) skill justifying their presence. A key aspect of the genre is that the specialist is the outsider. This differs from the basic partner genre (think Holmes & Watson), where the specialist is central in the structure of the story.
Perception is a new entry in the odd couple genre that I’m liking a lot so far. And I realized, about four episodes in, that Eric McCormack‘s new character—at least for me—completely escapes any typecasting from his Will Truman on Will & Grace. Considering that show ran eight seasons, I think that’s impressive. (Compare that to Leonard Nimoy, who is still Spock to me.)
I also like The Mentalist, where the odd couple is Robin Tunney and Simon Baker. Both of these “odd couple” shows speak to my love of experts. Patrick Jane is reminiscent of Doctor Greg House, and of course both are echos of Sherlock Holmes and his deductive and observational skills.
And while he’s not an odd couple, Leroy Jethro Gibbs is also both expert and a bit off the main beam. That’s why all these shows are among my favorites.
Turning to the court room, I loved the Perry Mason books when I was a kid and was enthralled by the show (still am; love watching those old B&W shows with Barbara Hale, William Hopper, William Talman, and Ray Collins). And, of course, Perry Mason (I mean Raymond Burr) went on to star in the cop show, Ironside (I had a kid crush on Eve).
[Once, while people watching before my flight at the Minneapolis airport, I saw Raymond Burr walk past! I confess I followed him and his entourage to his gate, introduced myself and thanked him for many years of enjoyment.]
As with Raymond Burr, I’m a Shatner fan. Sadly, I never saw him in an airport, but I did go to a Star Trek convention with my cousin (also a life-long Trekker) to see both Shatner and Nimoy appear (a rare double appearance at the time).
I love Boston Legal for the quirky self-aware fourth wall breaking as well as the numerous Star Trek references. (“Did you say… Klingons?” “I have my own starship!”)
Special mention regarding two very similar shows that are perhaps not proper LEO shows, but which I love too much not to include. One is a past love, the other a present one: Mission: Impossible and Leverage. I love a clever con!
As cheesy and low-budget as it was, I still enjoy watching the old Mission: Impossible shows. I recognize now how many exteriors used one of a few studio street sets or part of the studio grounds (every “warehouse” you see in that series and many “industrial” settings).
For my money, Leverage is a wonderful upgrade to that old show! What makes it especially fun are the sly references to Star Trek. Not surprising considering that Commander Riker (I mean Jonathan Frakes) directs many of the episodes. And Westley Crusher (I mean Will Weaton) has been a (villainous!) guest star a number of times.
I’ve been enjoying the new TNT show, Major Crimes, which picks up where The Closer left off. I have to be honest that I’m glad of the change. I was growing uncertain how much I agreed with Chief Brenda Johnson‘s actions and behavior. (And I’ve always liked Mary McDonnell.)
What kept me with the show is that combination of expert and oddball mentioned above. The interrogation scenes are apparently acknowledged as very accurate, and I respect such accuracy.
In the long line from Joe Friday to Jethro Gibbs, I’ve also been handcuffed to Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, but have managed to escape from Blue Bloods and Bones. I’ve also dodged the cops on Hawaii Five-O (both the old and the new). I been held as an interested person by Law & Order now and then, but was released uncharged each time. There isn’t really a rhyme or reason; more just a limit to the hours in a day.
I didn’t even try to outrun Cagney & Lacey. (I’ll say it again: women who can kick ass; pretty cool in my book.)
And when it comes to Rizzoli & Isles, I’ll gladly turn myself in. (I’ve mentioned the crush on Angie Harmon, so while the show isn’t the greatest cop show, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine.)
Turning to the legal side again, I followed LA Law, and now I follow The Good Wife. (I like The Good Wife? I watch The Good Wife? There’s no way you can write it that it doesn’t sound slightly weird.)
Crime Does Not Pay
In closing, it’s interesting, and perhaps a bit sad, how things have changed. The older shows had a strong ethic where the bad guys always lost. “Crime does not pay,” was the message then. (“I fought the law… and the law won.”) As the decades went by, our stories began to include the message that, “Sometimes crime does pay,” and, “Sometimes good doesn’t win.”
I suppose that’s more realistic, but I can’t help but wonder what role it might play in enabling that sort of thinking. As with the increase in violence, do our stories reflect our ethics or lead them?
I suggest that they do both. It might be something we should consider.