The sitcom massacre
NEW YORK — I was called to the scene at night - prime time, as a matter of fact. It wasn't pretty.
"What do we have here?"
The man held a handkerchief over his mouth. Rookie. "Cancelled ... they've all been cancelled. Every one of them."
"Looks that way." I surveyed the scene. Sitcoms featuring former standup comedians of varying ethnicities, dramas starring unconventional families dealing with everyday problems, and one or two uncategorizable genre-straddlers ... it was a massacre.
I looked at the rookie. "Let's get this stuff back to the lab. I want a team in here checking out everything, and I don't want anyone contaminating the crime scene."
"What about commercials? How do I stop them?"
"That's what Tivo's for."
Back at the lab, I talked to the two techs: one was a sardonic older man, the other was a hipster barely out of college who had the forensic knowledge of several encyclopedias.
"So, what've you got?"
The older man pointed. "Look at the patterns here, here, and here. These weren't crimes of passion. Premeditated."
The hipster pouted, pointing to a tattoo. "This was on one of the bodies." She held up a small strip of something. "I ran it through the computers. It's tape - audio tape." She tapped a couple of keys on her computer, and then I heard it: the opening strains of the Who's "Who Are You."
"Thanks." I hopped the next flight to Las Vegas. CSI was wary, but took a meeting.
"I'm investigating a murder. A couple of them, as a matter of fact."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"Your theme song was found on one of the bodies. It doesn't look good."
"What's the motive?" CSI looked at me owlishly, through its lab glasses.
"You're branching out, trying to expand - Miami, and who knows where else. They were getting in your way."
"You have no hard evidence. Someone could be trying to frame me. What about Cold Case? Without A Trace? That Navy show that isn't JAG? It could have been any of them, trying to get rid of me. Once you get a good thing going, everyone's jealous."
He was right. To figure out who it was, I needed to go to the source. The most powerful player in town. At a dark wood-paneled conference room, I sat across from Law and Order, flanked by his younger siblings, Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent.
"I thought maybe you guys could help me out. Who's behind this?"
Law and Order smiled thinly. "The evidence points to CSI."
"Come on. If there's one thing I learned from watching you, it's that there's always a twist - the truth is never where the evidence seems to first suggest."
"So who do you think did it?" asked Special Victims Unit, plaintively.
"I don't know. The only thing I can figure is that it was one of CSI's rivals, interested in beating his time. Or his time slot."
"Look," said Criminal Intent, "you're thinking about this all wrong. The assumption is that it's a zero sum game - that someone's only interested in watching one procedural forensic science show, or lawyer show, or cop show. That's why you focused your suspicions on them. But the fact is, people can't get enough of these sort of shows. They want more and more of them. These days, all you see are science detective shows, cop shows. And if anything gets in the way of that proliferation -"
I held up my hands. "So you're saying the public did it?"
"Well," Law and Order said, "not directly. They don't like to get their hands dirty. I'm sure some patsy executives in Burbank are going to end up taking the fall. But when you see 'The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.' lying face down in a ditch, and CSI: Cleveland takes its place, don't forget this conversation."
"So why'd they plant the tape?"
"Look, they've gotta blame somebody. And with these new stars, you know, love/hate relationship."
I tried to bring an indictment, but nobody was willing to testify.
Law and Order just kept saying something about how in the criminal justice system, there were two separate but equal parts, and left it at that. I tried to see him again, but by this time there were another six siblings, and they didn't let me in the door. You know how it is.