Accuracy and Television

The influence of Dragnet on television fascinates me. Before reading the Jason Mittell article on “Policing Genres,” I had not considered how much of an emphasis on authenticity we put onto television programs. Mittell describes how writers of Dragnet often “shadowed police officers,” the scripts were vetted by the LAPD, and the final episodes were screened before airing (134). Mittell likens this process to that of a documentary film. This quite obviously influenced Homicide, which is based on David Simon’s year-long observation project. I was also surprised to read the radio show segment quoted that “explicitly situat[es] the listener in the policeman’s shoes” (139). Simon uses this exact technique in the book, beginning chapters with descriptions that place the reader in the job of a homicide detective. Both the book and the television show have been influenced by Dragnet.

But in an even broader sense, it influenced almost all television programs. Viewers have come to expect authenticity and realism in a show about a certain profession. Any show that explores an industry is practically required to show viewers what that industry really looks like. For example, The West Wing gained much praise for accurately portraying the white house. President Clinton’s former press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, and Al Gore’s former speechwriter Eli Attie were both consultants on the show and Attie even wrote later episodes. Audiences have come to rely on this knowledge. Perhaps because viewers watch workplace shows to go behind the scenes. Viewers want to understand other jobs and professions, especially seemingly exciting ones like homicide work and the presidency.

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