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What happened to private eye shows?


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#1 of 19 OFFLINE   Chris Lockwood

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Posted September 05 2008 - 04:13 AM

Back in the 70s there were a lot of private detective shows, like Mannix, Cannon, Barnaby Jones, Rockford Files.

Now, all the crime shows seem to be about police or other gov't agents, such as CSI or Law & Order.

Another difference is that the PI shows were mostly focused on one lead character, while the cop shows tend to be more ensembles where the entire cast can be changed over time.

The closest thing currently to a PI show I can think of is Burn Notice, and even that guy is an ex-gov't agent.

What happened to the PI genre?

#2 of 19 OFFLINE   Joseph Bolus

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Posted September 05 2008 - 04:45 AM

It could just be that Magnum, P.I. killed them all off.
I mean here's a self-deprecating former Naval Officer (and Vietnam War Vet) running around Hawaii solving crimes with the help of his former war veterans.

The format of the show was so "wide open" that you could do serious drama one week, a complete spoof of the genre' the next, and broad comedy the week after that. And all of this with the gorgeous Hawaii scenery in the background. I mean, where do you go from there?

Fortunately, all eight seasons are available on DVD!
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#3 of 19 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 05 2008 - 05:10 AM

I don't follow it, but wouldn't Monk qualify?

The most recent entries in the genre had trouble finding audiences and were canceled. Those were Moonlight (1 season) and Veronica Mars (3 seasons). I realize that neither one featured a classic P.I., but they both followed the genre.

I suppose we could also include Pushing Daisies, which does feature (a) a P.I. character, and (b) a murder to be solved in each episode.

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#4 of 19 OFFLINE   Brian^K

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Posted September 05 2008 - 05:10 AM

Monk definitely qualifies. Also, Psych is a PI comedy-drama, with an ensemble cast (2+3+1).

I think The Eleventh Hour will also qualify, at least partially. And Medium also, again, partially.

#5 of 19 OFFLINE   JeremyErwin

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Posted September 05 2008 - 05:21 AM

I've noticed that many of the cop shows tend to treat Private Investigators as dilettantes, failed cops, and obstructionists. Homicide and NCIS for instance.
Patricia Cornwell has been quoted as saying she doesn't write "mysteries", she writes "crime novels." Personally, I think Cornwall's a hack, but I still enjoy Reginald Hill's "Dalziel and Pascoe" police procedurals more than most "detective stories"-- and those are fast becoming ensemble stories...

#6 of 19 OFFLINE   Lucia Duran

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Posted September 05 2008 - 11:54 AM

Psych is a great show!
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#7 of 19 OFFLINE   Ethan Riley

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Posted September 05 2008 - 12:00 PM

Well, first off--see another thread in this forum about Hawaii 5-0 and Streets of San Francisco making a possible comeback.

Anyway, I think it's high time these shows got back to being about the detectives, rather than the crimes. Monk is great; CSI has become a crashing bore.
 

 


#8 of 19 OFFLINE   Zack Gibbs

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Posted September 05 2008 - 01:56 PM

Four of USA's originals meet the format really, and they're all pretty good. But not so good that they're above doing crossovers. Where are the crossovers dammit!? Posted Image
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#9 of 19 OFFLINE   Joe_H

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Posted September 05 2008 - 06:32 PM

What about the short-lived Andy Barker, PI? Posted Image

#10 of 19 OFFLINE   Chris Lockwood

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Posted September 08 2008 - 04:19 AM

> Well, first off--see another thread in this forum about Hawaii 5-0 and Streets of San Francisco making a possible comeback.

Aren't those both cop shows?

I've never seen Monk, but imdb describes him as a cop on leave.

#11 of 19 OFFLINE   Jason Seaver

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Posted September 08 2008 - 05:57 AM

He's a "consulting detective", like Sherlock Holmes. He hopes to rejoin the force one day, but lost his badge when his OCD went out of control after his wife's death.

As to the original question, a few of real-world developments may provide some explanation:

(1) High divorce rates. This is kind of out-there, but bear with me. 20+ years ago, the only encounters most people had with PIs were the fictional kind, and even if Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe acknowledged their seediness, they had a heart of gold underneath. Now, a great many more people have either been through a nasty divorce or know someone who has, and that tends to get one looking at PIs not as fallen knights-errant, but the troll who does the work that even a scuzzy divorce lawyer doesn't want to dirty his hands with. Good luck making that guy a hero.

(2) Reduction of "missing persons" cases. It's much harder to go missing than it used to be because of all the records everybody keeps and identification they require, and the FBI has done a pretty good job of destroying kidnapping for ransom as a viable crime in the US. Stories that would once be a good fit for Magnum, P.I. are now on Without a Trace. And that doesn't even take into account...

(3) The Internet. Aside from making it hard to disappear, it can suck the excitement out of what stories are left. Rob Thomas mentioned during interviews for Veronica Mars that half of their cases would, in real life, be solved by Keith spending an hour or so on the computer searching publicly available websites and the various networks available to licensed private investigators. That's not exciting television.


So, basically, you've got characters less likely to be found sympathetic and stories that would be more difficult to tell with the verisimilitude today's audiences expect from their procedural shows.
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#12 of 19 OFFLINE   Richard Travale

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Posted September 08 2008 - 07:20 AM

'Moonlight' is a P.I. show with vampires. How can you lose?
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#13 of 19 OFFLINE   Holadem

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Posted September 08 2008 - 01:30 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason Seaver
(1) High divorce rates. This is kind of out-there, but bear with me. 20+ years ago, the only encounters most people had with PIs were the fictional kind, and even if Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe acknowledged their seediness, they had a heart of gold underneath. Now, a great many more people have either been through a nasty divorce or know someone who has, and that tends to get one looking at PIs not as fallen knights-errant, but the troll who does the work that even a scuzzy divorce lawyer doesn't want to dirty his hands with. Good luck making that guy a hero.
Then there should be a dearth of lawyer shows as well. I suspect a lot more people have dealt with lawyers than PIs (including every single one of your PI-hating divorcees,) and there aren't a great many pleasant reasons to do so either. Yet they keep churning out the lawyer shows.

Quote:
(2) Reduction of "missing persons" cases. It's much harder to go missing than it used to be because of all the records everybody keeps and identification they require, and the FBI has done a pretty good job of destroying kidnapping for ransom as a viable crime in the US. Stories that would once be a good fit for Magnum, P.I. are now on Without a Trace. And that doesn't even take into account...

(3) The Internet. Aside from making it hard to disappear, it can suck the excitement out of what stories are left. Rob Thomas mentioned during interviews for Veronica Mars that half of their cases would, in real life, be solved by Keith spending an hour or so on the computer searching publicly available websites and the various networks available to licensed private investigators. That's not exciting television.
Maybe but did you ever feel like that watching the show? Why couldn't other series skirt the issue just like Veronica Mars did? A series like L&O:CI would require minimal changes to turn into a PI show, and it suffers none of the pitfalls you attribute to times.

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#14 of 19 OFFLINE   Sylvia*ST

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Posted September 09 2008 - 06:46 AM

I think it is useful to remember the early PI shows were, in the words of 77 Sunset Strip creator Roy Huggins, "westerns with guys in convertibles instead of on horses." I think 50 years of PI shows is a good run. I'd still love to see a new spin on the genre, though.

#15 of 19 OFFLINE   JeremyErwin

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Posted September 09 2008 - 11:53 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sylvia*ST
I think it is useful to remember the early PI shows were, in the words of 77 Sunset Strip creator Roy Huggins, "westerns with guys in convertibles instead of on horses." I think 50 years of PI shows is a good run. I'd still love to see a new spin on the genre, though.

Right, well, when was the last time you saw a "western" on television? The Turkey City Science Fiction workshop includes the following definition in its lexicon
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Now, I'm not really a fan of westerns, but that's beside the point. Here, the author is merely reflecting on a certain staleness and unoriginality. Describing a genre as "just like a western, but..." is an open invitation to laziness on the part of the writers

After all, good Westerns aren't "just like Westerns, but..." There's something more.

Anyway, I'd have to go with Jason's analysis. The audience has to identify with the detective as someone other than "the guy who digs up the dirt on your sister's lying spouse." In the classic detective stories, cops were dim, bumbling, indiscrete, and definitely lower class. The detective was often intelligent, discrete enough, and often upper class-- Campion, Lord Perter Whimsey, Hercule Poirot.

Granted, the American detective is slightly different, but in most of the stories the local police don't have the resources-- be it brains, political independence, or guts. Now, the popular perception of law enforcement is somewhat different.
If the viewer must ask himself "why didn't she just go to the police," the story is harder to write... (Please don't say "Because the police are too close minded to talk to spirits.")

#16 of 19 OFFLINE   Dave B Ferris

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Posted September 10 2008 - 08:28 AM

As Jason mentioned, I think real-world developments have intruded. After 9/11, especially, the idea of a single PI solving problems may seem simplistic and outdated.

Many people now believe in conspiracy theories involving multi-national organizations and governments, which is why, I think (as the OP mentioned) the single PI has now mostly been replaced by shows with government agents or other characters who are involved with unraveling conspiracies.

#17 of 19 OFFLINE   Holadem

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Posted September 10 2008 - 11:04 AM

Quote:
Anyway, I'd have to go with Jason's analysis. The audience has to identify with the detective as someone other than "the guy who digs up the dirt on your sister's lying spouse."
What do you make of my objection then?

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#18 of 19 OFFLINE   JeremyErwin

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Posted September 10 2008 - 12:33 PM

[quote=Holadem]What do you make of my objection then?
I suppose I'm not familiar with most lawyer shows. Do a lot of divorces, then?

#19 of 19 OFFLINE   Jason Seaver

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Posted September 11 2008 - 03:27 AM

I think more people have been exposed to helpful lawyers, and I believe that most of the lawyer shows on today are either focused on prosecutors and public defenders or embrace a certain amount of the amorality (what's left, other than Boston Legal?). You don't see Matlock or Perry Mason these days.

Anyway, I think the larger point is that the perception of what PIs do has changed over time, both because certain romantic misconceptions have fallen away and because the job itself has changed.

Plus, audiences didn't watch Veronica Mars, Andy Barker, and Eyes, and you can't blame studios for not throwing good money after bad.
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