The popularity of procedural series is nothing new; shows like “Dragnet,” “Perry Mason,” “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Columbo” laid the early groundwork for the genre decades ago. While they’ve been around for more than 70 years — Book ’em, Danno! — the procedural format is, perhaps, at an all time high these days. The aforementioned examples each lasted around a decade or more in their original respective runs, but these days, shows like “Criminal Minds” gave us 15 seasons; “Law & Order: SVU” has been running more than 20 years, and “NCIS” is getting closer to the two-decade mark itself with every passing season.
Why do we consume this type of show with such voracity? According to experts, it’s because they’re familiar. “The continuing trend is for procedurals because they use a predictable structure. You know what you’re getting, which makes them palatable when they’re dubbed,” consultant John Peek explained to Deadline in 2011. It makes sense; the episodic nature of the format makes it easy to slide into an episode and check in with a series whenever you want, without concern for major snares in continuity — which makes binging or skipping around to your favorite episodes on a rewatch super easy.
For our money, some of the best procedurals — like Fox’s “Lie to Me” — color outside the lines, veering off the beaten path of a straightforward law enforcement approach. The show, which centers on the Lightman Group’s investigations using psychology and various forms of lie detection, offers just enough of the traditional police procedural while presenting a new twist on the format. Here are the shows like “Lie to Me” that drama fans need to watch.
Nothing says “unconventional procedural” as loudly as having an admittedly phony psychic as your lead character. Such is the case with “The Mentalist,” with Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) filing the titular role’s shoes. He uses his keen powers of observation, insight into human psychology, and genius-level intellect as a consultant for a fictional version of the California Bureau of Investigation, helping to solve all manner of crimes. By his side is initial supervisor Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), an agent with whom Patrick shares a patently obvious amount of chemistry and romantic tension. The rest of the team is comprised of fellow agents Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman), Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti), and Kimball Cho (Tim Kang), all of whom help add to the more traditional law enforcement side of the series, though Wayne often tries to imitate Patrick’s abilities, with predictable results.
Bruno Heller, creator of “The Mentalist,” said the idea for the show was a combination of two things: “The desire to do a Sherlock Holmes type of character. And noticing that every street in America has a psychic or palm reader — so there’s a whole world of people in the position of selling a line of bulls*** and at the same time helping people,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “So a detective who uses those type of aggressive manipulation skills seemed like a natural.” Heller elaborated that he never envisioned trying to disprove the abilities of psychics. “You can’t prove a negative. The show isn’t saying there’s no such thing as psychics, just that [Patrick Jane] wasn’t a real one and he’s never seen a real one.”
Where “Lie to Me” and “The Mentalist” dealt with psychological concepts and mental studies, popular procedural “Bones” looked at things from more of a hard-science approach. Emily Deschanel took on the title role of Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, a forensic anthropologist for the prestigious Jeffersonian Institute — a fictionalized version of the Washington D.C.-based Smithsonian Institution — who helps the FBI solve crimes. The cases come from FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), who brings Bones human remains that could otherwise not be identified in order to figure out potential murder investigations. In addition to providing the series its episodic fodder, Booth plays a vital role in translating Bones’ scientific jargon into laymen’s terms; when she has to water down the scientific knowledge or practices she’s using in order to explain it to Booth, the audiences benefits by proxy. Like many lead duos, “Bones” teases a will-they-or-won’t-they romantic tension between them throughout the series, eventually culminating in marriage.
“Bones” creator Hart Hanson revealed to Blogcritics that the show and its lead character were based on real life forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, who also wrote a series of popular crime novels based on Temperance Brennan, a character she created (via archive.org). “She was very involved at the beginning, and intermittently we have her come in to sit with the writers,” Hanson said. “She reads every script and gives us comments on them, and she’s a pretty good resource for the writers. When they’re coming up with ideas, they call and ask, ‘Is this possible? Would this ever happen?'”
TNT’s “Perception” may have flown under the radar for some. The procedural featured “Will and Grace” star Eric McCormack as neuropsychiatrist and professor Dr. Daniel J. Pierce, who’s recruited by former student Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), a special agent with the FBI. But it’s not just Dr. Pierce’s expertise in neuroscience that makes him such an important ally in sorting out complex cases; he’s also schizophrenic and subject to intense hallucinations, some of which provide clues to things he may have noticed but did not full put together immediately. Given his mental condition and eccentric personality, let’s just say that Dr. Pierce isn’t always the easiest person to work with; fortunately, he has teaching assistant Max Lewicki (Arjay Smith) — a former orderly at a psychiatric hospital where Pierce was once treated — around to help organize his daily life and tell the difference between his hallucinations and what’s really happening, though it’s often a thankless endeavor. When even he needs backup, there’s Dean Paul Haley (LeVar Burton), Dr. Pierce’s oldest friend and former college roommate, and of course Dr. Caroline Newsome (Kelly Rowan), his psychiatrist.
Dr. Pierce’s hallucinations do more than provide episodic solutions to the case of the week and cause him personal issues, mind you; they also offer a glimpse inside the world inside his mind, with Rowan pulling double duty as the physical manifestation of Natalie Vincent, a recurring hallucination who functions as a his guide in interpreting his other visions and also as a complicated form of an imaginary friend.
“Numb3rs” or “Numbers” followed the case of the week for the FBI’s Los Angeles Violent Crimes Squad, as headed up by special agent Don Eppes (Rob Morrow). Sounds straightforward enough, right? Well, not when you add his younger brother, Dr. Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz) into the mix. A former child prodigy and genius-level mathematician, Charlie helps his big brother solve cases for the bureau, in addition to teaching at the California Institute of Science and consulting for the NSA. Of course, Charlie isn’t the only brilliant mind at CalSci who’s moonlighting as an FBI consultant. He’s joined by mentor-turned-best-friend Professor Larry Fleinhardt (Peter MacNicol) — whose day job is as a cosmologist and theoretical physicist and cosmologist — and Professor Amita Ramanujan (Navi Rawat), a mathematician who’s also Charlie’s love interest and eventual wife. Balancing out all those big brains are agent David Sinclair (Alimi Ballard) and FBI profiler Megan Reeves (Diane Farr), with a revolving door of supporting cast throughout the six seasons of “Numbers.”
If you can believe it, “Numbers” creators Nick Falacci and Cheryl Heuton came up with the show’s premise after seeing Bill Nye the Science Guy deliver a lecture in the mid ’90s on the importance of encouraging children to take an interest in math and science (via Time). The show’s alphanumeric title is a form of Leetspeak, with the numeral 3 meant to replace an “E,” as popularized in internet subcultures. In an interview with NPR, Dr. Keith Devlin stated he believed executive producer Tony Scott came up with the idea.
Why journey into the snake’s den when you can send in your own snake? Someone at some point had that same idea and the result was “White Collar,” in which skilled thief and con artist Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) acts as a confidential informant for the FBI after they finally bring him in. Wrangled by Special Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), Neal helps the bureau bring in others like him as a sort of work-release, community service kind of thing — hey, it beats picking up trash on the side of the freeway! Along for the ride is Moz (Willie Garson), Neal’s fellow criminal, closest friend, and confidant. Balancing things out on the side of law and order are Special Agent Diana Berrigan (Marsha Thomason), Peter’s former trainee, and Special Agent Clinton Jones (Sharif Atkins), Peter’s go-to guy and jack-of-all trades, at least when it comes to all things FBI. Week over week, they nab thieves of all stripe, from those stealing priceless artifacts and art to those selling intelligence and influence, with characters not always falling on a single side of the right vs. wrong struggle.
“White Collar” creator Jeff Eastin told Collider he had originally come up with a concept called “Redemption,” in which a dirty cop who’s sent to jail is released to solve a crime while monitored by a detective. After things didn’t work out in his attempt to become “Burn Notice” creator Matt Nix’s second-in-command, they discussed his “Redemption” idea. “So, my dirty cop who may have killed his partner became Neal Caffrey, a charming con man. And, the detective who’s custody he’s released into became Peter. That was really the origin of the project,” Eastin said.
TNT’s “Leverage” served as a spiritual forebear to “White Collar,” its contemporary series on USA, flipping the procedural format on its head to remove the law enforcement element in its entirety. Instead of a single criminal working with the FBI, “Leverage” has a whole gang of criminals enforcing their own brand kind justice — the extralegal kind. Former insurance investigator Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton) works with a handful of crooks he’d previously investigated to take down rich industrialist Victor Dubenich (Saul Rubinek), who’d actually assembled the team in the first place before foolishly double crossing them. Accomplished con artist Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman), action specialist Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane), talented thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf), and hacker Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) all Captain Planet themselves together to take down Dubenich. Realizing they could be an interesting force for good, they continue to work together, targeting the corrupt to win one for the little guy in a modern Robin Hood ensemble scheme.
When talking about the recently launched “The Librarians,” “Leverage” co-creator John Rogers told Collider that the latter came out of he and co-creator Chris Downey surveying the television landscape and not seeing anything that families could watch together. “It’s just that ‘Leverage’ came out of a place where Chris Downey and I said, ‘Where’s Rockford Files? Where’s the show that we watched with our dad and had a little bonding over?'”
The series was revived for a 13-episode run entitled “Leverage: Redemption,” released in July 2021 on IMDb TV. Hutton’s character was written off the revival after the actor was accused of sexual assault.
Author Thomas Harris’ brilliantly terrifying Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the dark and demented gift that keeps on giving, with new films and series being developed around him and the characters he encounters. While Lecter is not mentioned in “Clarice” — owing to a segmented rights ownership — he is very much present in the namesake series “Hannibal,” portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen in a prequel version who’s yet to be unmasked as a cannibalistic serial killer by FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). When the series begins, he’s simply a gifted forensic psychiatrist who assists Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences division in tracking down a serial killer known as the Chesapeake Ripper. Of course, he’s careful not to be too helpful, given that he himself is the one committing the murders the team is investigating. Given that Will’s talents are based on an incredible ability to empathize with and see things through the minds of the killers he’s profiling, Hannibal is also on hand to serve as his mental healthcare provider — a prospect akin to asking a starving animal to safeguard a pile of food.
“Hannibal” is set at the very beginning of the title character’s mythos, near the beginning of or prior to Harris’ first novel containing the character, “Red Dragon.” The book was adapted twice before, including the 2002 film of the same name, with Edward Norton portraying Will Graham and Anthony Hopkins in the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It had previously been adapted for the big screen in 1986’s “Manhunter,” with Brian Cox playing Dr. Lecter and William Petersen playing Will Graham.
Wisdom of the Crowd
The single-season series “Wisdom of the Crowd” didn’t get the love it deserved, but may have been getting the axe regardless of its poor ratings. Nevertheless, it has an intriguing premise and subverts the typical procedural setup. When the daughter of tech guru Jeffrey Tanner (Jeremy Piven) is killed, he becomes obsessed with tracking down the culprit. Of course, he’s got more resources at his disposal than most fictional characters whose murdered loved ones are at the center of a cold case. As such, Jeffrey designs Sophe, a smartphone app that uses intersecting crowd-sourced data to corroborate information and self-correct or confirm what its users are seeing on the street. He and his team are able to help law enforcement track down leads with the anonymous info they receive, which counter-intuitively is more useful than what people will say on record to police. By his side are software engineer Sara Morton (Natalia Tena) — with whom Jeffrey’s relationship is more than professional — and programmers Josh Novak (Blake Lee) and Tariq Bakari (Jake Matthews). The team frequently receives requests for help from Detective Tommy Cavanaugh (Richard T. Jones), a cop who’d originally been assigned to investigate the death of Jeffrey’s daughter, Mia. Monica Potter took on the role of Congresswoman Alex Hale, Jeffrey’s ex-wife who’s concerned about his growing obsession with their daughter’s murder.
“Wisdom of the Crowd” network CBS only produced 13 episodes and canceled the series based on poor ratings numbers, according to TVLine. Concurrent to its cancelation, Piven was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple parties. Piven has consistently maintained his innocence regarding the allegations.