Reality television is the biggest thing since sliced bread, and it shows no signs of slowing down at all. There’s nothing more interesting than spying on people who are behaving naturally in their natural environments when their normal lives are so entertaining. Even crime documentaries have jumped onto the reality show bandwagon and hung on for the ride. Reality crime shows are some of the most watched documentary-style shows out there because the job of a law enforcement officer is filled with the elements of danger, suspense, and surprise. Of the many crime series that have aired on national television, the following still remain relevant to this day.
1) The First 48
This reality series follows police detectives from all over the country as they try to solve murder cases within 48 hours of being called to the crime scene. The show’s title refers to the time limit that homicide detectives have until their chances of finding a lead and catching the perpetrator is drastically reduced. Having aired just before the summer of 2004, The First 48 is currently on its 11th season in 2012. By its sixth season, the show was already ranked as the top criminal justice documentary on American TV, and it continues to receive high-ratings today.
The First 48 caught on with viewers so quick because it is rare that ordinary civilians get a chance to see what happens behind the scenes during a criminal investigation. Everything from the grisly crime scene and interviews with friends and family to the actual arrest and interrogation are captured by an on-site camera crew that follows the investigators every step of the way. The show is an emotional rollercoaster because viewers get to experience the exact moment when a family receives news that a loved one had been killed and also the instance when they are informed that a suspect had been arrested. The series also shows a side of police detectives that most people never see–emotional attachment and vulnerability to homicide victims and their families.
Cops has got to be the single most popular reality crime show in history because it’s still going after nearly 23 years of being on TV. Today, the series is played on several major stations including FOX, G4, and truTV, and it always begins with the iconic “Bad Boys” theme song. All of this time, the show’s creators have stuck to an unchanged formula that involves going anywhere the boys in blue go. That means riding along in the patrol cruiser, entering the homes and hideouts of wanted felons, following officers as they chase down the bad guys on foot, and being present in the face of other dangers such as gunfire and high-speed vehicular chases. There are no scripts to follow and no dialogue to read–just pure reality.
One of the greatest aspects about the show is seeing how dynamic the life of a cop truly is. One moment you’re watching a guy get pulled over for going through a red light, and the next encounter is with a maniac who’s bringing a whole town down with a stolen tank. There’s always enough content to keep things interesting as long as our men and women in uniform allow cameramen to tag along for the ride.
Jail is another take on the reality crime genre. This time everything is from the perspective of corrections officers who are processing arrested individuals for their criminal actions. Produced by the Langley team, creators of Cops, this show proves that bad boys and girls still act rowdy after being caught by the good guys. In the United States, Jail debuted in 2007 and is still going strong on Spike TV.
- License: Creative Commons image source
Ashley Watson is a criminal law paralegal and co-author of the Criminal Justice Major Guide.