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John Barlow
Writing 37
Professor Haas
26 November 2014

A Procedural Detective Genre


Considered the father of the detective genre, Arthur Conan Doyle has created a
genre that has retained its popularity from the Victorian Era to today, over one
hundred years later. However, the genre has evolved immensely over the years with
the help of many others. Robert Doherty is the lead producer of a television show
called Elementary, which is a modern adaptation of Doyles works. Elementary is a
mashup of the detective genre created by Doyle, and another genre of television
called a procedural drama. The show updates the classical detective genre by making
it into a procedural drama because it allows for a more modern setting and
atmosphere.
According to Wikipedia, a procedural drama is a television drama that deals
realistically with police work, or some other aspect of a law enforcement agency,
legislative body, or court of law. Procedural dramas follow the process of solving a
crime and typically focus on the steps that individuals take in order to solve said crime
(Wikipedia). They are often considered formulaic (Wikipedia), in that they follow a
predictive pattern in every episode. Tim Adler posted an article on Deadline Hollywood
in which he discusses how the pattern in procedural dramas is always the same; By
the end of each episode, justice is done, the disease contained, order restored
(Adler). Procedural dramas and the detective genre both always have a story end in

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the crime being solved and the reader ending up satisfied. Episodes of a procedural
drama generally have a single and self-contained plot per episode, meaning the plot is
resolved by the end of a single episode, not relying on a continuing storyline.
An article posted by Cinema Blend states that procedural crime dramas are the
number one US television export. The upward trend in the popularity of procedural
dramas is due to their predictability; they are warm, inviting, comforting, and youre
guaranteed to be satisfied by the end (Cinema Blend). Another contributing factor is
that new viewers will have ease in adopting a show because they will not have needed
to watch previous episodes (The Independent).
In season 1 episode 1 of Elementary at 7:22, Sherlock and Watson and being
walked through a crime scene in an apartment by a police officer. This is the first
scene in the series where it is clear that there are characteristics of a procedural
drama. Several cinematic techniques are employed to create the atmosphere
prevalent in procedural dramas. The Following shot technique is first used to show
Holmes, Watson, and the officer entering the house, giving the viewer the same
experience that Holmes himself has when he walks through the door. A Point-of-View
shot is then used to give the perspective of the three looking at door that was kicked in
by the perpetrator. This is especially relevant to a procedural drama as they are
focusing on elements used within the crime scene that could lead to a solution, and
are clearly displaying the evidence to the viewer.
Continuing the use of cinematic techniques, the camera angle is shifted to show
other officers at work in the crime scene. The camera cuts to a different view of the
kicked in door which shows a boot footprint, another key piece of evidence. Following

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shot is used again to show Holmes walking into another room of the apartment, where
he will look at the photos of the victim out on display. Looking to gain more
information, Holmes asks the officer for the victims phone, which is being kept in an
evidence bag. After obtaining the phone, Holmes accesses it and looks through
photos of the victim, which the viewer clearly sees in a Point-of-View camera style. He
then proceeds to analyze the scene using several methods, including comparing the
photos on the victims phone to the photos on the wall, which are shown using a
Zoomshot, and sniffing the carpet, which is shown using a Depth of Field shot. These
camera techniques clearly show the classic detective genre conventions of Holmes
observational skills.
After noticing the discrepancies in the age of the photos on the wall, MOS, or Mit
Out Sound, is added while Holmes continues to observe the scene in order to give the
scene its tone or to create a sense that Holmes is working his detective magic. While
Holmes is working on the crime scene, Watson is sitting nearby, talking to the officer
and observing Holmes from a distance. The observation of Holmes by Watson is an
example of the convention of Holmes playing the role of an instructor for Watson; she
is watching him and attempting to learn his investigative processes.

Season 1 episode 18 of Elementary, is about a man who is suspected of killing a


woman by pushing her into the path of a subway train. At 17:25, the man is being
interrogated in a police station, demonstrating a mix of Holmes working with the police
while also doing his own investigative work, and thus a mix of procedural drama
characteristics and detective genre characteristics. The scene begins with an
establishment shot and a tracking shot that goes from one side of the interrogation

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room window to the other. The establishment shot mixed with the tracking shot is used
to give the viewer a vantage point of what the whole interrogation room looks like. The
camera then changes to a Point-of-View shot from the angle of the man being
interrogated, who is looking at a picture of the victim. The process of the man's
interrogation is clearly shown because it is a vital part of the crime solving process,
which is what a procedural drama is based upon.
As the scene continues, Sherlock questions the suspect about how he knows the
victim, and eventually reveals that he has footage of the suspect stalking the victim at
a subway station just days prior. Throughout this part, Shot/Reverse Shot is used to
alternate camera angles between Sherlock interrogating the suspect, and the
suspects responses. Sherlocks ability to discern important information from his
suspects is a principal method in his detective repertoire, which is only enhanced by
his ability to utilize the resources of law enforcement that are usually present in
procedural dramas.

As you can see, Elementary is clearly a mash up of modern day practices, such
as the procedural drama, and the classical detective genre invented over a hundred
years ago by Conan Doyle. Not only are the characters a direct reference to Doyles
original characters of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, but the process and skill that
Sherlock uses to analyze a scene through careful observation is exactly the same as
the original Sherlock Holmes. To adapt to television and cater modern audiences, the
show is greatly amended with stylistic techniques and plot lines that are characteristic
of a procedural drama, and instead of longer written stories of Sherlock Holmes

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experiences, his escapades are now hour-long television dramas that can be quickly
consumed and forgotten.

Works Cited:

Adler, Tim. Why TV Procedurals Also Rule the World. Deadline Hollywood. PMC, 27
June 2011. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
"Deja Vu All Over Again". Elementary. Writ. Robert Doherty. Dir. Michael Cuesta.
CBS, 2013. Television
Gilbert, Gerard. "American Law and British Order." The Independent. The
Independant, 20 Feb. 2009. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.
"Pilot". Elementary. Writ. Robert Doherty. Dir. Michael Cuesta. CBS, 2012. Television.

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Procedural Drama. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9


Aug. 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
West, K., et. al. The Reinvention of the Crime Procedural. Cinema Blend. Cinema
Blend LLC, 14 Nov. 2011. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.