The new television season is less than 3 weeks old, but we've already got a winnah!
It's called crime drama.
Move over, reality shows and game shows. News magazines? Except for the '60 Minutes' franchise, their time may have come and gone. True, there are more family-oriented shows than last season. But that's not saying much.
At no time since the golden age of television (when live dramas were aired with regularity) have shows dealing with law and crime investigation so monopolized network lineups and ratings. In the post-Sept. 11 era, viewers seem to gravitate toward the good versus evil scenarios. Escapism, a la 'Survivor' and 'Boot Camp' is fine, but watching someone catch the bad guy is better.
The exception to the new rule comes from cable, where HBO's 'The Sopranos' is a runaway hit. But in 'The Sopranos,' the bad guys are kind of lovable.
Thus far, the only bona fide breakout hit of the new shows for 2002-2003 has been CBS' 'CSI: Miami,' a show that comes on the heels of last season's 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.' Recognizing a good thing when they see it, the CBS brass introduced five new dramas Ñ four of them about crime fighting Ñ and stopped just short of renaming the network the CSI Broadcasting System.
The dual successes of 'CSI' indicated that the shoot-'em-up stories that TV has spawned for the past 50 years have given way to something more cerebral. The crime-fighting weapons of choice are now forensics and high-tech gadgets.
If you've watched 'CSI: Miami' (10 p.m. Mondays), you know that in terms of action, there's probably no quieter series on television. Whispering lead David Caruso is all about low talking and grimacing. Caruso, it should be noted, is the early leader in the Comeback of the Century category, reviving his career in 'CSI: Miami' after a self-inflicted derailing that came when he split from 'NYPD Blue' after its first season.
Friday night at 10, CBS barrels through with another stellar crime-fighting entry, 'Robbery Homicide Division.' This time around, executive producer Michael Mann, who brought the world 'Miami Vice,' tones down the clothes and heightens the tension. Then on Sunday night (also at 10), there's NBC's brilliantly innovative 'Boomtown,' which follows crimes through the eyes of those involved.
Then throw in the multiple versions of 'Law & Order,' the staying power of 'ER' and 'The Practice,' and the second season of '24' on Fox. You've got a full-fledged trend here: Drama is king.