TV’s obsession with murder

I had been thinking about this for a while when I saw this quote yesterday:

“Today’s TV is filled with crime shows, medical shows and all things depressing.”

— Herald Sun article about a campaign to bring back Hey Hey It’s Saturday

What is it with all the murder shows on TV? Why is there so much of an obsession with something we all hope to never experience?

Just looking at free-to-air prime time over a week (from tonight to next Wednesday):

  • Law and Order: Criminal Intent — Ch10, Thursday 9:30-10:30pm, from USA
  • Trial and Retribution: Rules of the Game — ABC, Friday 8:30-10:05pm, from UK
  • The Closer — Ch9, 10:30-11:30pm, from USA
  • Law and Order: Criminal Intent — Ch10, Friday 10:30-11:20pm, from USA
  • Foyle’s War — ABC, Saturday 10:05-11:40pm, from UK — not actually a “murder show”, but has a murder this week
  • NARC — Ch10, Saturday 11pm-1am, from USA
  • Midsomer Murders — ABC, Sunday 11:30pm-1:15am, from UK — surely the most violent and dangerous county in all of England
  • Bones — Ch7, Sunday 8:30-9:30pm, from USA
  • Castle — Ch7, Sunday 9:30-10:30pm, from USA
  • NCIS — Ch10, Tuesday 8:30-10:30pm, from USA — a double helping of murder and mayhem
  • Law and Order: SVU — Ch10, Wednesday 8:30-9:30pm, from USA
  • Criminal Minds — Ch7, Wednesday 8:30-9:30pm, from USA — oh marvellous, a serial killer
  • Cold Case — Ch9, Wednesday 9:30-10:30pm, from USA
  • CSI: Miami — Ch9, Wednesday 10:30-11:30pm, from USA
  • A Most Mysterious Murder — ABC, Wednesday 11:25pm-12:25am, from UK

(I haven’t included action shows like SWAT or Rush if they don’t mention murders in the episode synopsis for this week.)

Hooray, Monday night is murder-free! But Wednesday night is pretty bloody.

I have to admit I don’t watch any of these, except very very occasionally I might look at Law and Order while channel-flicking. I hope none of the others are trivialising the issue.

Do some people have a fascination with this subject? Hopefully nobody watches all of them. That would be downright unhealthy.

Sure, good drama should grab you by the scruff of the neck and challenge you… but even if you watch only one of these shows regularly, is week after week of this stuff too much? Do they normalise in some people’s minds what are not just devastatingly tragic events, but events which (hopefully) most of us will never encounter in real life?

Is it a reflection of society? In particular, is it a reflection of American society, where the murder rate is higher than here? (USA is 5.8 per 100,000 per year; Australia is 1.45 — Source: Wikipedia, citing the FBI and UN respectively.)

But these shows must rate, or the commercial channels in particular wouldn’t keep showing them. And I guess people need something to watch with the weekly Hitler documentaries displaced by The Ashes.

These shows are obviously not to my taste. No wonder I don’t watch much TV. (And I’m not sure Hey Hey would drag me back.)

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

14 replies on “TV’s obsession with murder”

It’s definitely too much – you can’t watch more than 10 minutes of tv at night without seeing a dead body! I used to be into CSI but that got too much. And I say “bring Hey Hey back” – at least we would have something entertaining to watch on the weekend.

MIdsomer Murders and Foyle’s War are from the UK. Colod Case is a US Remake of a UK series. You also forgot Miss Marple on the ABC, as well as New Tricks on Saturdays (also from the UK).

My partner loves crime shows. For me they are noise in the background as I do something else, although Foyle’s War and Ne Tricks are pretty good.



I love the Law & Order and CSI shows and watch all of them with the exception of CSI Miami (and that only because I grew tired of David Caruso’s monotone and stilted acting).

Does it deaden me to crime – absolutely not. I feel just as sickened by crime as the next ordinary human being.

Oh and btw I have voted on the facebook page to bring Hey Hey back. Absolutely one of my favorite shows ever. I used to even make sure Saturday mornings were free so I could sit down and watch their antics. Now that’s going back a few years!

@Anestis, Miss Marple would qualify, but is not on this week. Yeah I didn’t realise New Tricks is basically a murder show, even though it’s in a PG timeslot. I haven’t seen Foyle other than channel-flicking, but I understand it’s not always murders, but it is this week.

i recon they give a bit of a false sense of security … make you beleive the detectives can solve any crime but the fact is they cant and theres alot of people go missing an found dead that they never find the culprit!

The unsolved homicide rate in Australia is about 12% and has been for years. So in the ten years up to 2000 there were 3,292 homicides in Australia of which 430 were unsolved. In a population of over 20 million this does not strike me as ‘lots’, particularly as accidental killings are also included in the count. Part of the problem with all these crime shows is that they over inflate peoples sense of the amount of crime being committed.

I like lots of these shows most of the time, for different reasons. Quite often it’s the way a cast work together that makes a show for me.

I do lean a little more towards shows from the UK and can remember getting started with ones like “Z Cars” and “Bergerac” (glad to see John Nettles back now in “Midsomer …”). I love “New Tricks” (again resurrecting an actor who delighted audiences in “Minder” and “The Sweeney”), “The Bill” and “Foyle’s War”, the various incarnations of Miss Marple, and David Suchet is the *quintessential* Hercule Poirot!! Could also throw in “Dalziel and Pascoe”. Of course, not all those programs focused on murder.

Of the shows from the US, I have to admit to liking the 3 variations on “CSI: …” (and the producer’s obsession with “The Who”), the 2 versions of “Criminal Intent”, “NCIS” (particularly with it’s recently introduced oblique references to Oz – “… eager platypus?”) and “Bones”.

“Cold Case” is OK, but I still rankle at the way it was “lifted” from the very well put together Canadian show “Cold Squad”. (Anestis, I didn’t realise there was an even earlier UK version of that concept!)

Anyway, I could go on – but I won’t, other than to say I agree with Lyn – the shows don’t deaden my response to crime and I’ve also tilted at the “Hey Hey” windmill.


Colod Case is a US Remake of a UK series.

Bother – I copied that line from Anestis to remind me about “Cold Squad” and forgot to remove it before posting. Sorry.

I’m with you Daniel, it’s all pretty much shite these days. Murder, impossibly perfect people poncing about attention seeking. Drivel!

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