Creating The 1 Hour Crime TV Drama

Jennifer Dornbush discusses some parameters to consider when writing a crime drama for both film and TV.


Is is a straightforward procedural, comical, grizzly, shocking, exciting, dark, underground, hostile, quirky?


Is it a workplace, street beat? Where does most of the crime solving take place? In a lab, farm, factory, store, mansion?


Locale. Is a specific city like Miami in CSI or a small town like Fargo?


Is it contemporary, retro, period or futuristic?


Crime solving techniques and associated gadgets relate to the time the show is set in.


The show doesn’t necessarily need to have a police officer. However, the protagonists must display “police type” activity. You need at least 2 investigators (so they can bounce ideas off each other), 1 criminal, 1 victim and 3 suspects. There could be a mentor, someone nobody believes.

The main characters can be made more interesting by giving them a secret, a weakness (such as fear of heights), a quirk (such as OCD or correcting grammar), a gift (such as a photographic memory) and a cause (reason they got into the profession in the first place)


This could be petty crime such as “who stole my lunch from the staff kitchen?” to vicious murder. Is the crime white collar and sophisticated (e.g. cybercrime) or blue collar such as low level theft from a supermarket? Think about how the crime type and tone intersect. Consider a show about organ or human traffickers with a dark, gritty tone.


Be aware of the different kinds of crime dramas and determine what best fits your taste.


How does the perpetrator gain access to the weapon/tools? Who is the victim? What is the criminal’s motive?


Weather, villain, attack by third party, violence, emotional/psychological issues, complex relationships.


Ostensibly, they may run concurrently with the main A story, but the need to intersect with the A story at some point. They add complexity and interest to the main story because these characters bring elements of their personal lives to the main characters. Secondary characters have their own agendas and issues. However they must serve the main story and main characters by competing with them, adding obstacles to their path, protect them. betray them, mentor them, advise them, or simply add comic relief.


Love adds interest to the main characters because it provides a motive for them to succeed or it can compromise them. Imagine a detective trying to find his kidnapped child or trying to discover the murderer of his former lover who milked him of millions.

Love doesn’t always have to be romantic. It can be familial, platonic or friendship. Love must motivate the main character to perform or solve the crime. It might end a personal vendetta, avenge someone, allow the investigator to address personal issues, reassess a close relationship or pursue a social cause with personal significance.


This can be grim humor to relieve tension in a desperate situation or comic relief to break monotony.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Good nitty-gritty article.

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