TV Crime Dramas

Police/detective shows and crime dramas are more popular during periods of negative mood. No shows in this genre were rated in the Nielsen top ten in the bullish 1950s and 1960s. They first emerged at the front of the pack with the onset of the bearish 1970s, with Hawaii Five-0KojakMannixAdam-12Baretta, and CannonCharlie’s Angels was a variation of the theme.

In the bullish 1980s and 1990s, this type of program was in the top 10 during only one third of the TV seasons. And two (of only four) such top ten series in the 1980s, Magnum P. I. and Simon and Simon, soft-pedaled the crime story lines.

Instead of focusing primarily on hard-core, gritty details of crime and investigation in Magnum P. I., much attention was given to Magnum’s adventures with his buddies, beautiful female friends, and his light-hearted interaction with the manager of the posh Hawaiian estate where he resided. Similarly, the key dynamic of Simon and Simon revolved not around crime but rather the relationship of two detective brothers who were polar opposites, the free-spirited, street smart Rick and the book-smart A.J.

An innovative series, Miami Vice, landed in the top ten for one season in 1986. This was a trendy cop show known for its bright colors and flashy design—which are fashion characteristics of a bull market—and pastel outfits worn by the detectives. Colorful Art Deco architecture was prominently displayed and the Italian clothing worn by the main characters influenced trends in men’s fashion.

Following the major bear market starting in 2000, two crime shows were in the top ten for nine consecutive years, including CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationCSI: MiamiLaw and OrderNCISCriminal Minds, and The Mentalist. The popularity of CSI led to the creation of spin- offs CSI: New York and CSI: Las VegasLaw and Order spun off Law and Order: Special Victims UnitLaw and Order: Criminal IntentLaw and Order: Crime and Punishment, and Law and Order: Trial by Jury.

Why the increased popularity of crime shows during bear market periods? It may be an expression of the increased anger that accompanies negative social mood. TV criminals can be a vicarious and convenient target for viewers’ desire for retribution for the injustice they perceive in their lives. And like the fascination with horror films, the interest in crime dramas may also reflect elevated anxiety and a desire to confront one’s fears about the sordid side of human nature. The vague sense of dread that characterizes negative social mood can become attached to concerns about crime. Fear and anger are potent emotions that channel peoples’ preoccupations during periods of negative social mood.