I used to love all of those Quinn Martin-produced cop shows when I was a kid…and they remain a guilty pleasure of mine today. Here are fifteen main title sequences from Quinn Martin’s shows…14 series and one unsold pilot.
Tales of the Unexpected (Full Episode)
A Man Called Sloane (Full Episode)
The New Breed
The Streets of San Francisco
Operation Runaway (Full Pilot Movie)
12 O’Clock High
Escapade An unsold pilot — Quinn Martins attempt to remake THE AVENGERS.
The publishing industry is still trying to figure out how to deal with the self-publishing revolution that Amazon sparked with the Kindle and their KDP Publishing format. Old guard publishers need to adapt and evolve, not dig in and try to protect the way things have “always” been done, or they risk becoming irrelevant to readers and to authors. What brings this obvious fact to mind today is a recent essay that Steven Zacharius, CEO of Kensington,wrote for the Huffington Post.
Here’s Where We Agree…and Disagree
He starts out by saying a few things I agree with. He says that the self-publishing revolution has brought out a bunch of swindlers eager to take advantage of authors. That’s true. He says that there’s a flood of self-published work on Amazon, and that most of the authors will never sell more than a handful of copies to their dearest friends and relatives. Also true. He says that free books and ultra-low pricing by self-published authors is driving down the price of books and makes it harder for publishers to make money. I agree with that to some degree, too. He also says its very hard for any book, self-published or otherwise, to stand out. Again, he’s right. But where he loses me, and reveals the desperation of publishers to hold on to the old way of doing things at any cost, is his suggestion that Amazon and other retailers should create a form of literary segregation so “real books” (my phrase, not his), can stand out. Here’s how he puts it:
In a perfect world (okay, in my perfect world) there would be a separate section on Amazon or B&N.com for self-published e-books, maybe even separate websites. I truly believe that it would help the reader distinguish the books as well. Readers don’t purchase books based on who the publisher is and don’t necessarily care. As a result, they might not even know if they’re buying a book that was professionally edited versus one that was self-published.
This suggestion, and the way he refutes it immediately himself, shows how sharply divided he is on this issue even within his own mind.
If he believes that readers don’t buy books based on who publishes them, and that they can’t tell the difference between a professionally edited book and one that hasn’t been, then what would be the point of segregating corporately published books from those that are self-published?
Clearly, the only point is to throw a half-assed life-preserver to publishers who are struggling to figure out how to remain relevant in this new landscape…and get their books noticed amidst the millions of new titles.
But if you, or even Steve himself, accepted his suggestion, who would establish the criteria for what qualifies as “published books” and those that are “self-published?” Old-guard publishers, of course! And what would that criteria be? That’s not an easy question to answer.
The Way It Used To Be…and Why It Doesn’t Work Anymore
Before the Kindle revolution, and the wave of self-publishing it created, it was much easier to establish criteria for professional publication. I know, because as board member of the Mystery Writers of America and chairperson of their membership committee, I helped craft the rules for vetting publishers for the purposes of submitting books for Edgar Awards and or vetting authors for membership. You wouldn’t have been able to find a stauncher critic of vanity presses and self-publishing than me. But that was a different publishing world, technologically and business-wise, back then. The world has changed and so have I. Adapt or die.
The old rules were essentially based on the belief that the author should get paid for his work in advances and royalties, that his manuscript should be professionally edited, and the final product should be widely available in brick-and-mortar stores. One of the key yardsticks for determining professional publication was if the money flowed from the publisher to the author, and not the other way around (it was also a simple, and effective criteria to weed out “vanity presses” run by scammers who were swindling writers). But now that most books are sold online and not in brick-and-mortar stores, and now that there are self-published authors selling more copies, and earning substantially more money, than most mid-list “traditionally published” authors, and that so many “established” authors are self-publishing backlist and new works, those lines aren’t so easy to draw and the old criteria seems painfully archaic.
Who is a Pro….and Who Isn’t?
Steve suggests that it’s important to distinguish self-published books from those that are “professionally” edited. Well, my self-published books are professionally edited… by editors who still work freelance for the Big Six. So what would the criteria be in Steve’s segregation scenario for determining a “professional edit?” And, more importantly, what would be the benefit of this segregation to consumers as opposed to old-guard publishers? None. Deep down, Steve seems to know this, because he goes on to say:
Now don’t get me wrong. If I thought I had a story in me that I felt strongly about, I wouldn’t hesitate to self-publish it either. In fact, Kensington and all major publishers looks to e-book originals to find new talent. We have a handful of 2014 releases written by authors whose work impressed us enough to offer them contracts for new books.
So he’s got nothing against self-published books…as long as they don’t get in the way of a publisher’s interest. Ebooks are great, he says, as a way to find authors who’ve proven they can make money for a publisher. What he doesn’t say is that in many cases it would be more profitable in the long run for those authors to continue self-publishing rather than sign with Kensington which, with all due respect to Steve, is known for paying most of their writers very poorly and doing little to market their books. He still believes that the brass ring that all authors are reaching for is a publishing contract…perceived prestige over readership and lots of money. It’s less clear today what publishers can provide to authors that they can’t do for themselves, particularly if you fall in the mid-list. Publishers are a huge benefit to big gun authors, but don’t do so much for writers who aren’t already household names.
I know dozens of mid-list authors who are earning far more self-publishing than they ever did under contract (several of those are ex-Kensington authors, btw). And I know authors who are under contract who wish they weren’t…and that they could get their hands on their backlists so they could self-publish. That’s right, I know authors who are lamenting that their books are still in print…a point of view that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Because times have changed. Steve and others like him are slow to accept that.
A Successful Author Today Explores Every Option
I have nothing against publishing contracts… although I’ve self-published a lot of my books, I am also published today by Amazon’s 47 North and Thomas & Mercer imprints, as well as by John Wiley & Son, Penguin/Putnam and Random House. Those publishers are treating me and my books very well and I’m happy to be in business with them. I am also very happy with how my self-published books are doing, and I’ve turned down many offers to acquire the publishing rights to The Walk and Watch Me Die (one editor at a major publishing house actually approached me inside the Amazon Publishing booth at BookExpo to make me an offer!)
But every book, and every deal, is different. Today writers have options they never had before…and so do readers. Segregation isn’t the answer to the rising above the clutter and selling books. The answer is writing a good book…coupled with strong packaging and shrewd promotion, advertising and social media marketing. Because for authors in today’s world, whether you are self-published or under contract, you need to be a businessperson, too. It’s not enough to produce the product, you have to effectively sell it, too.
There are those who will argue that’s exactly why you need a publisher…but if you talk to most of the authors I know, they will tell you their publishers aren’t doing diddly for them…or what they are doing is woefully ineffective… and that the burden of marketing the book falls on the author’s shoulders, whether they are under contract or self-published.
Here’s another guest post from my friend Kate, a big fan in the UK of crime shows, crime novels and everything noir, talking about her six favorite crime TV series that are now available in boxed set DVDs. I’d be interested to know your recommendations, so leave a comment…
It’s the season of goodwill to all men, when boxed set sales go crazy. I thought it’d be fun to explore six of the very best crime and investigation TV series, to inspire this year’s joyous boxed set shenanigans. If you’re not sure what to immerse yourself in, why not give one of these little beauties a go?
6 of the best crime and investigation TV series
Crime TV series don’t get much better than The Wire, a show series friends and family are probably sick to death of me banging on about. Sorry, sorry, but it’s just such a class act. How about I shut up about it and cover something a bit different instead… Sherlock Holmes, anyone?
Good old Holmes and his sidekick Watson are international stars, covered time and time again on film and TV. But my favourite and freshest take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-selling character is the recent series Sherlock, starring the marvellous Benedict Cumberbatch and my old friend Jamie’s brother Martin Freeman of The Office and The Hobbit fame. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:
“Sherlock is a British television crime drama that presents a contemporary update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes detective stories. Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, it stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson. Six episodes have been produced, the first three of which aired in 2010. Series two aired in 2012, and a third series began production in March 2013. The series has been sold to over 180 territories.
Gatiss has criticised recent television adaptations of the Conan Doyle stories as “too reverential and too slow”, aiming instead to be as irreverent to the canon as the 1930s and 1940s films starring Basil Rathbone, which were mostly set in the then-modern post WWII era. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock uses modern technology, such as texting, the internet, and GPS, to solve crimes. Paul McGuigan, who directed two episodes of Sherlock, says that this is in keeping with Conan Doyle’s character, pointing out that “in the books he would use any device possible and he was always in the lab doing experiments. It’s just a modern-day version of it. He will use the tools that are available to him today in order to find things out.”
The update maintains some traditional elements of the stories, such as the Baker Street address and Holmes’s adversary Moriarty. Although the events of the books are transferred to the present day, some elements are incorporated into the story. For example, Martin Freeman’s Watson has returned from military service in Afghanistan. While discussing the fact that the original Watson was invalided home after serving in the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880), Gatiss realised that “it is the same war now, I thought. The same unwinnable war.”
Crime TV shows don’t come much better than the epic classic TheSopranos and the boxed set is a six-series whopper, perfect for total telly immersion.
If you’ve been in outer space or at the centre of the earth for the past decade or so, you may have missed it. Otherwise you’ll know what I’m on about. It’s a cracking US television drama created by the seriously talented David Chase, about the life, loves and disasters befalling a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster called Tony Soprano, played by the sadly-missed James Gandolfini. Conflict threads its way throughout the show, as Tony tries his best to balance the conflicting requirements of his home life and his career in organised crime. He’s one of those characters I love to hate. In many respects the man is a violent, amoral, fat fool. In others he’s a straight up gentleman and scholar. For me, it’s the stark contrasts that make it so compelling.
Here’s what one Amazon reviewer, Simon Brew, says about it:
A flat-out treasure trove of television, The Sopranos Complete HBO Seasons 1-6 boxset brings together every episode of a genuinely extraordinary series. Those that call it quite possibly the best show America has produced in the last decade aren’t far wide of the mark (although fans of The Wire could have an argument there).
To think The Sopranos all started from a simple sell: that a New Jersey mob boss falls into depression, and seeks out counselling to help him cope. And while early episodes followed Tony Soprano’s balancing act as he sought to keep this from his mobster friends, The Sopranos took this foundation and built upon it a collection of layered, intriguing characters from both Tony’s ‘work’ and ‘home’ families.
That’s only part of the reason for The Sopranos’ extraordinary success, though. Because the writers then seeded many delightfully intricate plotlines, that seemed to seamlessly weave between one another. The end result was that every character was important, and–crucially–there was a real sense of unease, as fans began to realise that The Sopranos could have a quiet run of episodes, and then suddenly take out a character you’ve spent hours engaged with.
It’s a fascinating cocktail. Ruthless yet emotional, violent yet intimate, brash yet insecure, the characters of The Sopranos are as three dimensional as television drama gets. It’s a tragedy it’s finished, but the six series in this box offer a stunning legacy, and a masterclass to anyone else in the planet looking to make a character-driven drama.
Another epic, the Dexter crime series on TV covers eight seasons, so is perfect for whiling away a few post-Christmas totally-fed-up-with-turkey days. Based on Jeff Lindsay’s books, it’s about a Miami police blood spatter pattern analyst and forensics expert who kills baddies in his spare time.
The character Dexter himself, played by Michael C. Hall, is profoundly affected by his mother’s murder when he was a toddler. So much so that he embarks on a murderous spree punishing the bad guys who he feels have escaped justice while trying his best to avoid suspicion. It’s quite a balancing act, pulled off via a deceptively mellow daytime facade. By day he’s a sweetie, by night he’s a serial killing monster.
I know it’s all a bit silly. The plots stretch credibility way too far, the ending of the final series has been slammed by reviewers, and I dearly hope there isn’t a real-life Dexter out there. Who says he owns the moral majority, after all? But it’s grand entertainment. Sometimes storytelling is about pushing the boundaries, suspending belief rather than sticking slavishly to realism. If you fancy a bit of escapist fun, give the complete boxed set a go.
My all-time favourite, I can’t resist including Breaking Bad in my top 5, even though it’s only partially a crime drama TV series. I love the way the makers don’t moralise one way or the other about crystal meth production and use, keeping moral judgements to themselves, letting viewers make up their own minds and allowing the storyline to stand up for itself. The characters are about as far from black and white as you can imagine, which is extremely refreshing. The main character, Walter White, played by the remarkable Brian Cranston, is about as believable as it gets. The story telling is quality on a stick, matchless and peerless. The scripting is unbelievably good. The acting is superb. And the storyline will have you on the edge of your seat from the start.
“Felina,” the last episode ever of the magnificent series Breaking Bad, was a kind of machine gun of narrative, knocking down all of those questions with auto-fire efficiency. (Well, almost all. Sorry, Huell!) It was not flashy. It wasn’t structurally ambitious, in the way other Breaking Bad episodes have been. It was not, in most respects, surprising. (Except for Walt’s laundering scheme with Gretchen and Elliott, I think I saw nearly everything predicted, at least in general terms, by people besides me in the last week.)
And that’s OK. Because what “Felina” was–as effective, satisfying series finales are–was true. It was true to the five seasons that preceded it, true to Walter White’s obsessions and pride, and true to what Breaking Bad is at heart: a Western. As in the song “El Paso,” the protagonist (I’m not going to say hero) rode back to town, faced his enemies, said his goodbyes, and died. A Western is meant to go out with a bang, and Breaking Bad went out with about 40 of them per second (plus a dose of ricin).
It’s a Western, though, in which we were following the man, literally, with the black hat. Having seen the trail of suffering Walt has selfishly left behind him, I didn’t necessarily want to see Walt end up triumphant, feeling like a hero. But as I wrote when this final run of episodes began, the definition of a “good” Breaking Bad finale was not whether it punished Walter White. It was whether the series stayed true to his character, to its themes, whether or not it was pleasant to see.
If you like your crime TV shows a bit more laid back, less in-your-face, you could always give Hercule Poirot a go, one of Agatha Christie’s best-loved detectives and a much gentler telly experience than the usual contemporary murder, mayhem and violence.
I thought a US viewpoint would be interesting, so here’s what ‘Mad Max’ from Florida has to say about the latest series, now available on DVD:
Ever since David Suchet indicated that he wanted to film the last five episodes, most lovers of Poirot have been waiting impatiently for them to be released. “Clocks” was aired in December 2011 in the UK but “Elephants Can Remember” was not shown until June 2013. A long hiatus, but they are now finally here.
Except for “Elephants Can Remember” which was on YouTube for awhile until it was removed for whatever reason, and which I really enjoyed, I haven’t seen these episodes yet.
I live in the USA but because I am so impatient to see them, I purchase UK DVD editions (it’s not a problem to get a DVD player that plays all regions/all codes). The US releases are just too delayed. I think ‘Third Girl ‘ and ‘Appointment with Death” and “Orient Express” from 2010 are now, finally, available. It’s ridiculous it takes so long for a US edition to be released.
So, I am thrilled that the final five mysteries are now finally released. I didn’t expect a DVD release until next year, since “Curtain” was just aired in the UK on November 13, but whoever rushed these to market should be congratulated. Poirot lovers thank you and I will wait with bated breath until the Amazon box shows up in my mailbox. A great review of all five episodes has already been posted so I will just enjoy them without further comment. Ciao from Florida.
Poirot isn’t exactly quintessentially English, he’s Belgian, but you get the picture. Classic British period drama-style whodunits with exceptional sets, costumes and scripting, and a charmingly eccentric feel. Perfect for family viewing, something that won’t shock the pants off your elderly aunties or scare the kids so much they have nightmares.
Diagnosis Murder is bigger right now in the UK than anywhere else, and for good reason. It’s a terrific mystery starring Dick Van Dyke as the chief of internal medicine at a Los Angeles hospital… and a genius when it comes to solving crimes, often assisting his son Steve, an LAPD homicide detective, in his investigations.
The series, which Lee wrote and produced, is known for its well-plotted mysteries, warm humor, and big-name guest-stars from classic TV shows. My favorite episode brought back Robert Culp from I Spy, Patrick MacNee from The Avengers, and Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter from Mission Impossible in a clever mystery set in the world of espionage. Wes Britton, author of the Encyclopedia of Television Spies, interviewed Lee about the show’s popular stunt casting:
It all began with one starring Mike Connors reprising his role as Joe Mannix. Goldberg recalled.
“The Mannix episode was such a huge hit – in terms of publicity and ratings – that we knew we had to do more like it. Not only that, but I am a major TV geek. I was reliving my TV youth by doing these shows. I think the first one we did after Mannix was TV cops (an episode with Fred Dryer, Martin Milner, Kent McCord, Angie Dickinson and James Darren), then TV spies, TV doctors (Wayne Rogers, Chad Everett, Jack Klugman, Bernie Kopel, etc.) TV SciFi (with George Takei, Walter Koenig, Grace Lee Whitney, Majel Barrett, Billy Mumy, etc.) and even a “fire” show with cast members from Emergency. We also did some bizarre `theme’ stunt casting shows . . . like one entirely comprised of people from various versions of M*A*S*H (Elliott Gould, Jamie Farr, Sally Kellerman, Loretta Swit, etc.) and another of just actors who’d starred in Garry Marshall sitcoms, another full of country music stars. We just wanted to have fun . . . and to indulge our love of old television. Plus the stunt episodes all got big ratings and tons of publicity. The public loved it as much as we did.”
Diagnosis Murder is television comfort food…not as old-fashioned as Poirot or as dark and edgy as Dexter, but hitting the sweet spot right in the middle. It’s good fun for the entire family. All eight seasons, including the pilot and the three TV movies that preceded the series, are now available in a boxed set .
Place your vote now…
It’s always fascinating to find out what other people like best and why, and there’s plenty to talk about in this massive and ever-popular genre. What’s your favourite crime series on TV? And which boxed sets will you be enjoying this Christmas?
The Author’s Guild has started a membership drive and the centerpiece is a letter from author Richard Russo, who talks about all of the evils the Guild is protecting us from and all the good things they do for writers. The Guild does some good, that’s true. Their legal services are hugely helpful to authors, especially those who otherwise couldn’t afford lawyers. But lately, I’ve been dismayed, and at times outraged, by the Guild’s wrong-headed stance towards Amazon and ebooks… and am seriously considering *not* renewing my membership to demonstrate my disagreement. The Guild’s antiquated thinking, misrepresentations, and outright fear-mongering is very hard to take or to justify. At times, they seem more interested in protecting publishers and agents than the interests of any writer who isn’t already a superstar. My friend Joe Konrath summed up my feeling well on his blog today:
The Authors Guild under Scott Turow’s leadership has done an awe-inspiring job of trying to maintain the antiquated status quo, where publishers coveted their power and treated most authors poorly; technology is considered the devil’s sorcery; and Amazon is Satan himself.
In that blog post, Joe and Barry Eisler go through Richard Russo’s wrong-headed letter point-by-point and do an excellent job revealing the flaws in his arguments (all of which seems to be based on his own fears and baseless assumptions rather than any actual facts). What follows are two excerpts from Richard’s letter interspersed with Joe & Barry’s rebuttals:
Richard: It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.
Joe: Here begins the fundamental disconnect.
Richard, aren’t you aware there are thousands of writers making a living from $1.99 ebooks? That what you considered to be a slight (and, actually, it may indeed be a slight when your publisher pays you 35 cents on a $1.99 ebook when I can make $1.36 on a $1.99 ebook using Amazon Select Countdown) in fact represents liberation for writers–and for readers?
Inexpensive ebooks aren’t what make authors dig into their retirement funds. Or fight in cage matches. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve made my million bucks this year pricing my backlist at $3.99 and under. And my books weren’t available in every bookstore, airport, drugstore, and department store.
In fact, my books weren’t available in ANY bookstore, airport, drugstore, or departments store.
Richard: Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here.
Barry: What is this based on? “…those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less.” Where is the evidence for this? Because all the evidence with which I’m familiar indicates the opposite–including, for example, that a quarter of the top Kindle 100 books are self-published. Ignoring–or denying–the fact that thousands of authors are now making good livings outside the legacy system is at this point like arguing the earth is flat.
So Richard, I’m asking you: given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary (just click on the links in the paragraph above to get started), what is the basis for your fear that you and legacy publishing are all that’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and that it’s all downhill from here? Do you have any real-world evidence at all in favor of the proposition? If so, why do you not cite it?
I am not in complete lock-step with the opinions expressed by my friends Joe and Barry. For example, they don’t see piracy as a threat to the livelihoods of novelists and other artists. I certainly do, though I don’t copy-protect my books (except THE HEIST, but that’s outside of my control). That may seem like a contradiction, but I want people to be able to read my book on whatever device they own. And I believe the book culture is one that’s historically been built on people sharing books they love — essentially “hand selling” without exchanging currency — with their friends. What bothers me is when I find my books on file sharing sites being downloaded by the thousands and I don’t see a penny. What I’m sure Joe and Barry would argue is that it’s evidence of my popularity, that I am now gaining thousands of new fans who will eventually buy one of my books and spread positive word of mouth. They may be right, but I’m not convinced yet. I think if someone can download all 15 of my Monk books with one click that they will wait until they can find my new books for free rather than buy them. But I have no evidence to support that fear…nor, I suspect, do Joe and Barry have any to support their belief that piracy enhances sales.
Regardless of my disagreements with some of their stances, and the fact that their dissection of Richard’s letter may be a little too strident and snarky at times, overall they make some very strong, intelligent, and persuasive points that are well worth your consideration. And yes, I am speaking to you, Authors Guild.
My friend Kate loves crime shows. She’s given her passion for the genre a lot of thought, which she shares with us today. Why do you love crime and investigation TV? I’d be interested to know, so leave a comment…
Good old telly. It’s a microcosm of the world at large, covering every human foible and failing, triumph and disaster, from domestic-scale to universe-wide. But crime and investigation TV is my favourite. Here’s why.
People get so snobbish about TV. Some turn their noses up at soap operas, others get sniffy about less-than-classy B movies. You can gussy it up any way you like, and be as pretentious as you like, but at the end of the day it’s all about storytelling. Great stories, dull stories and everything in between.
Crime stories are amongst the most popular TV shows. Take CSI, by CBS, which has run for years and years and is now at season 14. As revealed by Wikipedia, it’s incredibly popular stuff:
“CSI has been nominated multiple times for industry awards and has won nine awards during its history. The program has spawned several media projects including an exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, a series of books, several video games, and two additional TV shows.”
“CSI is a fast-paced drama about a team of forensic investigators trained to solve crimes by examining the evidence. They are on the case 24/7, scouring the scene, collecting the irrefutable evidence and finding the missing pieces that will solve the mystery.”
Crime investigation TV – Fulfilling an ancient need
Humankind has told stories from the beginning of time. Hundreds of thousands of years ago we huddled around campfires, safety in numbers, trying to avoid the terrifying, predatory megabeasts lurking out there in the darkness. And we still love being entertained whether it means being scared out of our wits, thrilled, perplexed, mystified, disgusted, horrified, amazed, shocked, or even offended.
That’s my number one reason for loving crime investigation TV. It’s excellent entertainment, populated with remarkable plots, scarily bizarre protagonists and eccentric criminologists. Baddies versus goodies always makes for a great tale. The less predictable the outcome, the better. And the best crime drama TV show plots are nothing if not unpredictable.
Crime TV series as workouts for the brain
Most brain training products have been thoroughly myth-busted. You can tap away on a little screen answering questions and playing games all day, but apparently it doesn’t do much good. As a report in New Scientist magazine says:
“Brain-training software may be a waste of time. People who played “mind-boosting” games made the same modest cognitive gains as those who spent a similar amount of time surfing the web.
“It didn’t really make any difference what people did,” says Adrian Owen of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, who tested brain-training software on volunteers recruited through a BBC television programme.
Skills learned via the programs didn’t transfer to the cognitive tests, even when they relied on similar abilities, says Owen. For instance, people who played a game in which they had to find a match for a briefly overturned card struggled at a similar test that used stars “hidden” in boxes.
“Even when the tests were conceptually quite similar we didn’t see any improvement,” says Owen. He concludes that brain-training software only makes people better at the specific tasks they have been practising.
Torkel Klingberg, a psychologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, agrees – to a point. “A lot of what is currently marketed as ‘brain-training’ is not created based on scientific evidence and not properly tested,” he says.”
Having said that, other reports indicate that, as a general rule, keeping your body and brain busy and entertained does seem to have physical and mental benefits. I reckon a beautifully tangled plot is just one way to keep the old grey matter moving.
Crime TV shows as vicarious adventure
If you live in the western world, life these days is pretty safe. We’re protected and policed at every turn, and we hunted the megabeasts to extinction a very long time ago. Survival isn’t so much of a struggle. We’ve evolved amazing reflexes and multiple senses designed to help us discern and avoid danger. But in everyday life, we don’t really need them any more.
Very few of us have proper adventures. Unless you happen to be an adrenaline monkey hooked on sky diving or one of those crazy people who leaps off cliffs in a bat-like flying suit, our fight or flight responses are mostly under-used. To me, crime TV shows deliver a vital taste of danger that just isn’t present in modern life. It might be a vicarious thrill. But it’s better than no thrill at all.
Crime drama TV shows reveal the human condition
Everyone has their own sense of morality, immorality or amorality. If a psychopathic murderer turned up on our doorstep, I’d probably run screaming to the nearest cupboard and shut myself in. But we’re all different. You might grab a weapon and slot neatly into ‘kill’ mode. Someone else might collapse into a terrified jelly, unable to move. Others might ignore him, hoping he gets bored and goes away. You might try to make friends with it, more fool you. But we’re all different, and one of the greatest pleasures I get from watching crime drama TV is the insight you get into the way other people react to situations. Last time I ran away from the baddie. But next time, having seen someone in a similar situation survive, I might feel confident enough to grab an axe.
Crime investigation TV and social interactions
TV is a useful conversation point, a place you connect with your fellow humans. If you’ve ever found yourself at the water cooler, or at a party, talking about the new crime series you caught last week, you’ll know common experiences like that act as social glue. If you’re stuck for small talk, telly delivers, especially when it’s compelling enough to drive a satisfyingly interesting discussion.
Crime drama as therapy
The best crime TV shows draw you in so you’re unaware of the outside world. Your life might have either turned to shit or become magical. You might have lost your job, or be unbearably excited about a new career. You could be feeling hurt, sad, furious or furiously horny. Either way, a jolly good crime series helps you forget your current state of mind and become totally engrossed in something completely different. Therapy, if you like.
When you’re immersed in a TV crime show you love, time stands still. You’re living 100% in the present, with no pointless worrying about the past or trying to second-guess the future. Weirdly, despite the excitement, it’s an incredibly peaceful place to be. Just like a good book.
Why do you watch crime and investigation TV series?
We’re all different. Why do you watch crime drama TV? And if you don’t, why not?
My friend author Vicki Hendricks is perhaps best known for her classic, contemporary noir novel Miami Purity, an explosive mix of crime and explicit sex. She followed that break-out novel with several more critically-acclaimed edgy, sex-soaked noir tales, including Sky Blues, Cruel Poetry, Iquana Love, and Involuntary Madness. But now she’s trying something very different with her new novel, Fur People, and I invited her here to talk about it.
When I switched from crime-noir writing to general fiction, I didn’t realize the difficulty I would have in dropping my usual methods of keeping readers’ attention—sex and violence. I was inspired with a story about Sunny, a young animal-lover, because I share her needs and pain, if not her behaviors. I love animals much more than I love murder, and the irony involved of love taken to the extreme fascinated me. Somehow I failed to recognize obsession, the basis of noir—old habits do die hard. Around every tree in the Florida setting lurked a noir opportunity begging to be explored—my subconscious at work. I hadn’t set out to write a Marley and Me, but it’s as if I was writing blindfolded.
Sexual desires spring from Sunny’s past, as she dreams of the ex-boyfriend she left ten years earlier and hopes to love again. Drunken men with sick talk stumble through the woods and find her camper-bus. What’s a girl to do? In addition, the local veterinarian can’t stop obsessing about the young hunk who so smoothly led her into trafficking Special K and cost her six months in prison and the loss of her license. And the homeless man, Buck, has nothing on his brain but the inside of Sunny’s shorts, ever since he spots her guzzling Half and Half in the grocery.
As I’m writing this, I remember that just a few days ago, worried about my usual quantity and length of sex scenes, my sister asked if the book would be appropriate to give her mother-in-law for Christmas. I assured her it would be fine– just a smattering of romance in there, I told her. Now I wonder if that’s true. Somehow I think so, considering the amount of adult situations in comparison to everything else that happens in the 300 pages, but as I tease out details for examples here, I wonder if my sensibilities have become warped over the years. Am I too perverse to be the judge?
There’s crime, too, I realize, and even firearms, in Fur People. Buck’s unregistered Police Special appears as a complete shock to my conscious self, but there it is, sure as heck, buried under blankets and towels in a Rubbermaid bin. Chekhov’s advice couldn’t be ignored: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” I had to deal with that concept.
I now recognize that noir crept into the story immediately through the main character, no matter how I tried to lighten and disguise it. The struggle of a young woman who lives in a school bus with a load dogs and cats is intrinsically dark and obsessive, no matter how many baubles, or in this case Coors Light cans, you hang on her Christmas tree. The tree metaphor comes from another favorite instructor, to emphasize the importance of the main plot, as driven by the need of the character. The plot is the tree itself and the rest is merely decoration. I knew this, but on some level I didn’t care.
Other misgivings arise. Buck battles deadly rays from the sky. Sunny develops telepathy with animals. Sunny’s drunken father recreates the hell she escaped. And more. I built in seven points of view and subplots attached to each, including a German shepherd and Chihuahua conflict, to make up for the seeming lack of sex and murder. Now these multiple strands haunt me. Are they patterned in a jeweled web or tangled like seaweed? Am I in soap opera territory or the vicinity of Charles Dickens/Jane Austen? One hopes for the best.
During the writing, I asked my favorite professor from twenty years ago if there were “rules” for subplots, and she said that each subplot has to affect the main plot and the main plot has to affect the subplots. How logical. Or was it the other way around? Does it matter? I think it does, but I can’t remember how I did it anyway, and trying to analyze the finished structure gives me a headache.
I promised myself that his time I was going to write about a sane person in a crazy world, the opposite of noir, and for a long time, I thought that’s what I’d done. I feel exactly as Sunny does about animals, and most people will tell you I’m normal. But I see now that Sunny’s dedication is mountainous compared to mine. Her guts outweigh mine by a ton. As the writer, I lost control, or gave it up. Maybe that’s as it should be. I can only hope.