DENNIS O’NEIL: COP SHOWS, REALITY BLOWS

Bonesby Dennis O’Neil

I call them “cop shows” or, if I’m feeling a bit cutesy, “badge operas.” A screenwriting acquaintance says they’re “procedurals.” But never mind the label: by whatever name, they’re what constitutes most of the bread-and-butter television programming and you probably don’t have to go further than your nearest remote to find one.

There will be a pseudo family of protagonists – police, doctors, lawyers, feds, the occasional fire fighter or paramedic – and these people will be presented with a problem, usually one that involves injury done to an innocent party, and, using their skills and wit and such facilities as are provided to them, they will solve the problem. Usually, but not always, there is a happy ending appended to the story and once in a very great while, things end badly.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that episode. Usually, by the rolling of the end credits, righteousness and harmony have been restored, justice has been done. The message, which we get over and over and over and over again, is that the system works to assure that the good guys win. Those good guys may have their quirks and eccentricities, but they’ve got each others’ backs and they will get the job done!

Do you believe that? Do I? Well, no, not consciously. That’s not the message real life has delivered. But it is the message that we hear every day, constantly. And I suspect that it registers with most people, at least subliminally, and we are cheery and optimistic enough to hit the mall and, you know, buy happy-making stuff.

Many of the world’s religions have been offering similar palliatives for centuries. No matter how wretched your life is, be patient and do what we say and eventually you’ll go to the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

But procedurals aren’t all that television provides. Lately, if you’ve surfed your way onto a news channel, you’ve seen images of fire and chaos and violence. That little town outside St. Louis – Ferguson, is it? And a couple of hundred miles or so south of where I’m sitting, a favorite city, Baltimore. Riots and looting and pain and terror. None of it scripted.

More to come? Almost certainly.

Maybe something can be done. But…the situation isn’t really that bad, is it? Oh, that business in Ferguson and Baltimore and maybe a few other locales here and there, now and then – that’s certainly disturbing. But fundamentally, everything’s okay. Nothing broke that won’t be fixed.

Now, what’s on tonight? Law and Order SVU? One of the CSI shows? Oh, and Bones. Bones is always good.


Dennis O’Neil and TVWriter™’s Beloved Leader worked together separately on a BBC series called CAPTAIN THUNDER a million years ago. Which is to say that they each wrote early episodes for the show before it hit the air. So although they’ve never met, they’re sort of Bonded Brothers in Exploitation. Although LB has never written for Comic Mix, Dennis has a regular column there, where this post first appeared.