Crime Times: Do crime dramas need romance to survive?

Graphic by Kathryn Messinger

Graphic by Kathryn Messinger


Caskett. Rizzles. Densi. Tiva. B/B.

Even if you’re just a casual crime drama fan, more than likely you recognize at least one of the “shipping” names mentioned above. Chemistry has started to become something of an essential for a show to survive the cut-throat and (slightly) overcrowded crime drama scene on television. Usually, what people remember the most about an episode isn’t the murders — no matter how controversial, grotesque or “out there” they are — but rather which character admitted some sort of attraction to his or her love interest that week.

Ironically, the “chemistry” of pairings in crime dramas (and, really, television in general) is somewhat of a science. Andrew Marlowe, the creator of ABC’s “Castle,” banked almost all of the series’ success on Castle and Beckett’s “Caskett” chemistry, while Hart Hanson of FOX’s “Bones” had the same idea with B/B, or Booth and Brennan. The biggest, most talked about finales are the ones where the usually tough cop finally admits he or she loves the other person just before dying or having his or her life hang in the balance until the next season.

The idea of chemistry between two characters (if not the two main characters) has become so accepted in fanbases that sometimes the fans pick the pairings themselves. “Rizzles,” for example, is the shipping name of Jane Rizzoli [Angie Harmon] and Maura Isles [Sasha Alexander] from TNT’s “Rizzoli and Isles.” The show is based off a book series by Tess Gerritsen. Both characters in the books are heterosexual: Rizzoli marries Gabriel Dean and has a two-year-old daughter, and Isles has an affair with a priest. And yet, the fans of the show have decided that not only is Rizzoli not marrying Dean, but that Rizzoli and Isles are madly in love with each other.

The writers have used that “fanon” — a headcanon created by the fans and not the show itself — and teased their audience with the idea, even going so far as to have Isles get hit on by women while she was wearing one of Rizzoli’s suits (in that particular episode, Rizzoli and Isles swapped clothing so Rizzoli could go on a date with a guy).

As far as the TV series goes, though, both of the characters are heterosexual. However, fans don’t really care about that, because most of the fanon has been widely accepted. People keep on watching to see if “Rizzles” is actually going to happen, even when they’re clear that it won’t.

The idea of fanon is noteworthy, because it brings home a very important fact: sex sells, but chemistry sells even better. The “will-they-or-won’t-they” of various crime dramas like “Castle,” “Bones,”and even old-school shows like “JAG” show that chemistry is often what the audience tunes in for. Many a show has built its audience on whether or not the B-team will finally hit the sheets together or if the main protagonist will finally give in to whatever love he or she been hinting at for seasons. 

But God forbid if The Powers That Be (the writers) actually let that happen. Because once it does, that’s when viewership goes down.

The Moonlighting curse, as it’s called, has killed off many once-popular shows. The phenomenon is named after the show “Moonlighting,” in which the main draw to the series was to see if the two main characters would get together. When they finally did, people stopped watching. The “will-they-or-won’t-they” was gone, and it seemed that no one cared anymore.

Shows such as “Bones” have been criticized for that, and it shows in the ratings. The FOX crime drama once lost two million viewers in the course of one season, with season six having around 11.6 million viewers and season seven averaging only 9.2 million. Why, you ask? Because Booth and Brennan became an official couple in the seventh season. The Moonlighting curse had struck again. To its credit, the show is currently on its ninth season, but “Bones” has never been able to recover from the viewership drop.

To put it simply, the Moonlighting curse is something that has plagued crime dramas since the start. It’s something that will likely not end, and with hits like “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” “NCIS” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” having their characters dancing that “will-they-or-won’t-they” dance, it’s likely that the beat will play on for seasons to come.

For comments/questions about this story, email or tweet @thewhitae.

, , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private.