“Brooklyn D.A.” and the Evolution of True Crime on CBS


I’m pretty excited to watch CBS’s new six-part series, “Brooklyn D.A.” It starts tonight at 10pm.

Maybe I’m just naive about the potential for artifice in reality television, but any opportunity for regular people to see the inner workings of our judicial system seems like a good thing.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s Neil Genzlinger’s NYT review of the series. It’s pretty positive overall, but he did quibble with the series’ overwrought portrayal of what it deems “Brooklyn-ness.” (Personally, I’m not sure that that would interfere with the show’s accuracy or insight into the criminal justice system, but critics will be critics.)

Apart from the guessing game over whether it is or isn’t a news program, the most annoying thing about “Brooklyn DA” is the way it flaunts its Brooklyn-ness. Television that ventures into that borough or, for that matter, other boroughs has created a series of clichés, all of which are in evidence here.

There must be rap music over a collage that name-checks the borough’s neighborhoods. There must be a visit to blocks that were once dangerous but now are too expensive to live on. There must be a stop at a deli or food cart where the guy behind the counter is an oracle. Here, the episode opens with that scene as an assistant district attorney buys corned beef and asks the guy wrapping it up for advice on his coming meeting with his boss.

“Just go for it,” is the profound wisdom dispensed along with the meat. In trendy, eclectic, overexposed Brooklyn as packaged for TV, even the sagacity has turned trite.

On a related note, I’m pretty impressed by the way CBS has been returning to its documentary roots. As you may or may not recall, the original 48 Hours premiered in 1986 with the gripping, Bernard Goldberg-helmed, “48 Hours on Crack Street,” and followed that up with several pretty good real-time feature docs on crime in America. Only in the past fifteen years or so did it evolve into frothier (i.e., ratings-driven) fare, changing its name to 48 Hours Mystery, the true-crime show that spawned a thousand imitators. (I’m looking at you, Dateline!)

But this season, 48 Hours seems to be returning to its newsier roots. They’ve axed the “Mystery” from the title, and are focusing on more issue-based topics, such as correspondent Maureen Maher’s piece a few weeks ago on gang and drug-related violence in Chicago.

Keep up the good work, CBS. And if you’re reading this, your 48 Hours iPad app — which, for a small yearly subscription fee, gives true-crime fanatics like me access to the entire archive of episodes — is far and away the best television app I’ve ever used.

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