Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"The Mystery Of Writing Police Dramas"

I was an expert in writing a certain kind of comedy.  As well as one can in an artistic endeavor, I knew what to do.  My “inner mechanism” – part natural, part honed by experience – directed me concerning what to put in and what to leave out.  It also guided me in rewrites, innerly indicating the better joke, and the superior alternative for maximizing the “ha-ha.” 

In the same way that I know my way around comedy, I do not know my way around drama, in today’s instance, police drama, even though I watch them all the time.  In police drama, I am entirely lacking in “inner mechanism.”  In my more cynical – or, perhaps, competitive – moments, I am not sure there is one.  In comedy, you have jokes, you have relationship moments, you have expository pieces of business, all working in the service of the comedy. 

In drama, the moments seem, to me, arbitrary and and interchangeable.

Take, for example, a repeated element in police dramas:

The detectives arrive to arrest the suspect.  The suspect escapes.  The detectives give chase.  The suspect is eventually apprehended.  A detective “reads the suspect his rights” while escorting him back to their vehicle, where he opens the back door, and places his hand on the top of the suspect’s head so he won’t bump it getting into the car.

We have all witnessed that scene on police dramas numerous times.  Here’s the thing, though.  The detectives come for the suspect, he is eventually apprehended, and they put him in the car.  That’s what you need for the story – the detectives arrest the suspect.

The creative challenge for the police drama writer come during the selection process in the “eventually” section – the content of the chase itself, what you choose to have happen between…the time the…

Uh-oh.  I am suddenly experiencing a powerful magnetic tug, and I can feel myself getting sidetracked.  I can do nothing about it.  The “sidetrack” has me under its control.  It is irresistible.  I cannot escape it.

I am really sorry about this.  I was going someplace, and now, I am compelled to go someplace else.  Please forgive me.  I will return tomorrow to write the post my getting sidetracked prevented me from writing today.  Unless I get sidetracked again tomorrow.

And away we go.


“The detective places his hand on the top of {the suspect’s} head, so he will not bump it, getting into the car.”

Okay.  Personal experience.  I am not saying this is everybody, though I suspect that it is

I have been getting into the back seats of cars my whole life, and I do not recall bumping my head once.  You bend your knees, you get into the car.  How difficult it that?  Even in handcuffs?

And yet, in all my years watching police dramas, I have never seen a detective assisting a suspect into the back seat of their vehicle

Without placing his hand on the top of the guy’s head!

What exactly is that about?  Is it some obscure rider in the “Miranda” ruling?

“The police officer is required to read the person, herein referred to as “The Suspect”, their rights.  See:  Applicable Footnote Below.  “Applicable Footnote Below”:  “And he is mandatorily obligated to place his hand atop the aforementioned Suspect’s head, while assisting the aforementioned suspect into their vehicle.”

Is that part of the law?  Are they duty-bound to do that? 

And what if they don’t?

CAPTAIN OF DETECTIVESDid you read the suspect his rights?

DETECTIVE Loud and clear, Captain.

And did you place your hand on his head while assisting him into your car?

Um, I did.

I detect some hesitation there, Detective.

I always do it, Captain.  It’s “regulation.”

Detective, I don’t care what you “always do.”  Did you do it this time?

Things were moving pretty fast out there.  I can’t be a hundred percent certain.  But I’m pretty sure I did.

Can your partner corroborate your actions?

No, sir.  He went into the pizza parlor to buy us a slice.  We were both hungry after the pursuit. 

So, no witnesses at all.

Except for the suspect.  And who’s going to believe him?

Do you think this is funny, Detective?

No, sir.

Because it’s not.  Putting aside the disciplinary issues you will certainly be faced with, have you any idea how badly you have compromised this case?

Captain, the man is a serial killer… 

All the more reason for leaving no opening for an acquittal.

An acquittal?  For a little bump on the head?

Let me give you a preview of what will undoubtedly happen in court.  “Your Honor, my client has a contusion on the top of his head.  His consequent disorientation renders him incapable of assisting in his own defense, which he is Constitutionally entitled to do.  I would therefore request his immediate release.  

Come on, Captain.  No judge would ever go for that.

No?  Then how about this?  “Your Honor, considering the detective’s egregious behavior towards my client – by flagrantly ignoring to place his hand on the top of the defendant’s head while assisting him into his vehicle – the door is wide open, so to speak, for speculation concerning other “egregious behavior” the detective or his partner may have engaged in.  Their hands are dirty, Your Honor.  These are rogue cops, recklessly flaunting the rules.  Bad apples like these would not think twice about planting evidence.”

But wouldn’t the prosecution jump in and say, “Your Honor, that is exactly why the detective’s actions, although regrettable, should not be admitted into evidence.  Such evidence is prejudicial to the case and would seriously detract from the central issue of this case – the defendant’s murdering fourteen people.  That we know of.”

“The offense is indisputable, Your Honor.  The lump is clearly visible.  And we have experts who will testify that its size, shape and coloration are all consistent with my client’s head making direct contact with the molding on the top of a car door.  We will further introduce hair and blood evidence – taken from the detective’s vehicle – that are an exact match with the defendant’s.  We’ve got him dead to rights, Your Honor.  The blood is on the detective’s hands.  As well as his car.”

And then, there’s the defendant.

“May I speak, Your Honor?”

“The defendant is not permitted to speak at arraignment.  But okay.  Make it snappy.”

“Your Honor, I may be a serial killer, though I submit that’s a matter for the jury to decide.  What is indisputable is that this detective caused me grievous bodily harm, by neglecting to place his hand on the top of my head while assisting me into his vehicle.  No matter how you feel about me, Your Honor, that is just wrong!  And not only that, but, Your Honor, honestly, I am seriously messed up.  You ask me if I could tell you where I was when the crimes were committed?  I’d be happy to tell you.  But I can’t remember anymore.  You question my not remembering where I was, I’ll tell you the truth, Your Honor, I don’t know where I am now!  I have been horribly injured, Your Honor.  And if that doesn’t merit an outright acquittal, I ask you to take it into consideration during sentencing, in the unlikelihood that I am found guilty.” 

I never realized how serious this was.  I should have shot the guy when he was running away.  You can be damn sure I won’t make that mistake again!

See that you don’t, Detective.  Because your behavior has gotten us into a boatload of trouble!

At the very least, it’s a distraction from the legitimate pursuit of justice.  Or so it would appear, by the care the detectives on police dramas take in not bumping the suspect’s head while assisting him into their car.  And yet, this mandated delicacy did not, at least in one case on Law & Order, stop a detective from, to extract a confession, shoving a suspect’s head into the toilet. 

Again, sorry about the sidetrack. 

I will be back with the other thing tomorrow.

1 comment:

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; isn't drama "getting from A to B with variation on the route", while comedy is "let's do funny stuff at C"?