Procedural Overkill: TV’s Favorite Genre Has Overtaken Primetime. Is It Too Much of a Good Thing?


Crime procedurals have thrived on primetime television for over two decades, and several of them are still streamed frequently.

Popular shows like Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and NCIS have existed since the 1990s and the 2000s. Due to their popularity, these series have created multiple spinoffs and revivals.

Almost every network has at least one crime procedural on their primetime TV lineup. NBC has an entire night devoted to the Law & Order Universe. CBS has more procedurals than we can count, and they recently added another with Tracker, led by Justin Hartley.

While crime procedurals are still one of the most-watched genres, has the primetime TV lineup become overstuffed with them?

Let’s discuss why some of them have thrived for years and the potential upcoming scheduling issues.

Procedurals are Easier to Grasp a Story Within a Few Episodes

Many people love formulaic TV series that allow viewers to tune in sporadically and grasp the concept without overthinking or watching every episode before that.

These series almost always have a crime committed near the beginning, and it’s solved by the end, meaning unless it’s part of an arc, you can skip an episode now and then.

While I watched CSI and CSI: Miami all the way through, about ten years ago, I switched on Law and Order: SVU, looking for something to watch, and I became hooked.

I’ve binged most episodes by now, but I understand the viewing habits of more casual viewers who may wish on quickly while they relax at night.

Most crime procedurals either feature a case-of-the-week or include an arc over three or four episodes, so if you’re binging a storyline, you can complete it within one sitting.

Long-time Procedurals Are Still Streaming Successes

You’ll find it on a popular streaming service if you’re a fan of one of the long-running procedurals. These series are easy to watch because you’ll have hundreds of episodes to choose from.

The Law & Order Universe streams on Peacock, CSI, and its spinoffs are on Paramount +, and Criminal Minds is also on Paramount +.

Streaming helps viewers get acquainted with these procedurals since they can immediately watch the next episode, get to know the characters, and watch important storyline arcs at their leisure.

This makes us wonder if more procedurals would do better on streaming only. Criminal Minds: Evolution premiered on Paramount + instead of CBS and has performed well since its format stayed true to the original.

It’s still about a group of heroes trying to solve a mystery after the episode takes you to the dark side.

It’s Catharic to See Justice Occur

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the good guys win and the bad guys get caught. It doesn’t often happen in real life, and real life gets exhausting, so it’s satisfying when the networks can make crime procedurals entertaining and mysterious.

Another fun part of these crime procedurals is seeing an entire team work together. Many other TV dramas include drama between friends or family members, but most procedurals focus on teamwork instead.

CSI was one of the first police procedurals to show lab analysis on TV, and now, more procedurals include lab work and detective work. It’s important to have everyone’s skills involved.

Ways Newer Procedurals Can Differentiate Themselves

Many of the older procedurals are formulaic, so the newer ones need something to set themselves apart. 

Both ABC’s Will Trent and CBS’s Tracker get their material from best-selling novels and make the most of combining rich characters, family history, and the case-of-the-week.

These two are the exact opposite of the original theory, which is that you can watch a few episodes and catch right on because these series were made for audiences to care and root for the lead characters.

We’ve seen what Will and Angie survived in foster care on Will Trent, so we root for them to help others now that they work in law enforcement.

It’s similar to Colter Shaw on Tracker. Since he watched his dad as a survivalist as a young teen and is haunted by his dad’s death, he strives to help others find their loved ones.

These added layers and depth helped bolster the success of these new procedurals.

How to Plan the Fall Schedule Without Overstuffing it With Procedurals

Crime procedurals have taken over primetime TV, making scheduling a network lineup challenging.

Tuesday and Thursday nights are the most challenging since the entire FBI franchise plays on Tuesday nights on CBS, and the Law and Order Universe plays on Thursday nights on NBC.

While the other networks feature procedurals, CBS has eight hours of procedurals to schedule. In addition to the FBIs, the network also airs NCIS and multiple spinoffs, Blue Bloods and Tracker.

NBC has similar scheduling issues since Wednesday nights are devoted to One Chicago and Thursday to the Law and Order Universe. Where does either network schedule new dramas, or have they become mainly procedural networks?

Having so many popular procedurals planned also makes it difficult for other network shows to survive ratings-wise.

As mentioned earlier, Tuesday nights have become so competitive with the FBIs on CBS and Will Trent on ABC that it’s become difficult for Alert: Missing Persons Unit to keep up.

Is there a way for different kinds of procedurals to thrive, or is it time to schedule more dramas and comedies instead?

What do you think, TV Fanatics?

Are crime procedurals still your favorite TV genre, or would you prefer to see other types of series on Primetime TV?

We’d love to hear your opinions, so let us know in the comments!

Laura Nowak is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on X.

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