June 12, 2006
Crime Investigations and iTunes

I was watching a rerun of CSI last week when Gil Grissom made the joke, one of his usual one-liners, that there were way too many crime investigation shows on TV. For fans of diversity in broadcast network programming, there's probably a lot of consensus at that dig at the prevalence of a genre that CSI has led the drive for in many ways. But, of course, we've always had these trends (Westerns in the late 1950s being one of the best examples).

Now, though, it seems that Gil's comment is as true for the online space as it is for television. Last week, iTunes announced that it will be adding CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, NCIS and Numbers to the series available on iTunes. All these CBS series are in addition to NBC's Law and Order, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and Law and Order: Trial By Jury.

Some have made the claim that shows like this aren't destined to do as well in downloads and such because they are so episodic in nature and don't have the seriality that drives the need to watch and own that shows that build on themselves from week to week do.

However, both Law and Order and CSI seems to do well in DVD boxed sets, which seems to destroy some of that. There is a tendency among television historians and critics, at least those of us here at MIT, to dismiss these more episodic shows as not taking enough advantage of the seriality of television, but there is at least enough character development or at least interesting characters that it continues to interest people.

And, as all the crime investigation shows invade iTunes with these newest moves, it serves as a strong reminder that episodic television has its place and its power in the digital world as well as on cable and broadcast television. Those who claim that these shows only work because they are push media that just offer an episode to people flipping through channels don't realize how much these become "pull" media that people seek out--and, if iTunes are any indication, episodes that people are willing to download, even if they deny much of the serial power of television.