by Aaron Schatz
My wife and I watch a lot of episodic television. I know there are people who have Netflix subscriptions and watch movies all the time, but we basically just use the DVR and watch hour-long procedural dramas, mostly cop shows.
Our favorite show right now might be CBS' Flashpoint. It's a standard formula cop show about the "Strategic Response Unit" in a big city, basically the SWAT team mixed with a lot of hostage negotiation, but the formula is done well and the characterization is interesting. In addition, there's a little added quirk that makes things a little different from your average cop show: The city in question is not New York or Los Angeles. It's Toronto. Part of what makes the show fun is spotting the little differences between American and Canadian culture... the shot of the CN tower whenever they set the scene with overhead shots of the city, the importance of hockey, referring to certain policemen as "constable," one character talking about her prairie upbringing out in "The Hat," and so forth.
You don't need to make your show in Canada to get that interesting spin, of course. We all know that the city of Baltimore was itself a major character in both Homicide and The Wire. The religious stuff in Saving Grace got really hokey at the end, but I loved how the show writers made sure we always knew we were in Oklahoma City. (Yes, people in Oklahoma really are that obsessed with Sooners football, and just like on the show, there's always one quiet guy who has to be different and root for Oklahoma State.)
Sometimes, television writers may need to be reminded that there are more cities out there than just New York and Los Angeles. Occasionally, they branch out a little bit and put a show in Chicago or Boston. I'm from Boston. It's fun to see my city on television. But seriously, we've had our share. It's okay for some other cities to get some TV shows now. (Especially if TV shows based in Boston are going to use stereotypically "Boston" Irish theme music despite the complete lack of Irish characters, like TNT's Rizzoli and Isles.)
Take Law and Order, for example. They decided they would do a new Law and Order in a new city, so where did they go? Los Angeles. Yawn. It's been done. We've all seen a hundred cop shows in Los Angeles. Do you know what I want to see? Law and Order Atlanta. That's a city with an interesting history, an interesting cultural mix, and distinct neighborhoods. Buckhead is different from College Park, which is different from the suburbs up around I-285. There are a lot of storytelling possibilities there.
El Paso is another city that, from what I can tell, has never been featured as the background for an American TV show. You want your interesting cultural and political situations for a legal drama? El Paso is one of the 30 biggest cities in America, and its sister city, Juarez, is on the other side of the border, in Mexico. People go back and forth between the two cities, with some families having members on both sides.
Has there ever been a major American TV show based in Houston? That's one of our ten biggest cities. And what about the Pacific Northwest? How about a show based in Seattle, or better yet, Portland, Oregon? Hipsters! Lumberjacks! Bicycles! Greg Oden! You can't go wrong.
By the way, kudos to ABC for trying something along these lines with fall's Detroit 1-8-7, although if they want to make a realistic show about cops in Detroit, they might want to start by not using the California police code for homicide.