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Prime-Time Crime: Presentations of Crime and Its Participants on Popular Television Justice Programs

NCJ Number
Journal of Crime & Justice Volume: 26 Issue: 2 Dated: 2003 Pages: 47-75
Danielle M. Soulliere
Date Published
29 pages
This study examined the way in which crime and its participants are portrayed on television entertainment shows.
A large amount of news and entertainment television programming is devoted to crime stories. Previous research has indicated that prime-time television has historically devoted approximately one-third of its programming to crime stories. As such, it is imperative to understand the way in which television portrays crime. The author engaged in a content analysis of three major crime dramas on prime-time television during the 1999/2000 season: Law and Order, The Practice, and NYPD Blue. A total of 63 episodes were analyzed and data were collected on a total of 113 crime incidents. Results of quantitative and qualitative analyses indicate that, as expected, violent crime dominated prime-time television stories, especially murder. Violent crime was represented in 80 percent of the 113 criminal incidents depicted, while property crime accounted for 7 percent and white collar crimes accounted for 3 percent of criminal incidents. Furthermore, the analysis revealed that crimes of violence against women were underrepresented on television and were erroneously portrayed, which is consistent with previous research in this field. The consequence of the overrepresentation of crime is that the viewing public may get a distorted sense of how much violent crime exists in society. The overemphasis on sensationalistic crimes may be due to the escapist nature of entertainment television. As such, it is imperative that the viewing public, especially policy makers, seek out other sources of information on crime in our society, rather than replying on the distorted image given by prime-time entertainment television. Tables, references