What is it about mystery shows that make them so popular with television viewers? Is it the violent crime? The charming detective? The hunt for clues? I think all those pieces play a part, but the deciding factor is the tidy and satisfying wrap-up at the end. I was thinking about that last week while watching Persons of Interest. I've noticed that almost every episode has a feel-good warm and fuzzy ending. The bad guy is defeated, the victim is saved, and Reese and Finch congratulate each other on another job well done while simultaneously worrying about what number the machine will spit out next week (you have to keep the suspense alive after all). Likewise, Patrick Jane and the CBI crew always catch the killer on The Mentalist (except the elusive Red John, of course), while Beckett manages to nab the perpetrator week after week with Castle's help.
Why do people seem to enjoy a conclusive ending all wrapped up with a pretty little bow? I think for one thing, people want to see justice win out in the end. If the world worked according to the morals and values we try to teach our children, people would not commit crimes in the first place. But since they do, we want to know that they'll be caught and punished. It's not right when a killer gets away with a crime, but unfortunately, it happens all the time in real life. That's not to say the police aren't smart or good at their jobs. But some murders, random attacks in particular, are close to impossible to solve. And even if the cops make an arrest, there's no guarantee that a jury will convict them. There might be a shortage of evidence. The defense attorney might present enough reasonable doubt to convince a jury that they need to let the defendant go. Anything can happen.
But we don't have to worry about these things while watching television. There's something relaxing about knowing I can turn on an episode of The Mentalist, and an hour later, Lisbon will snap on the cuffs. I don't worry about whether the guy will go to trial and be convicted. That's the beauty of imaginary crimes. Justice always triumphs.
I read an article recently about how the major networks need to change their methods in order to capture more viewers, particularly those of younger ages. The writer suggested they need to follow cable's lead and start having shorter seasons with serialized programming. No more crimes that get wrapped up in one episode.
While I do enjoy shows that are only six or thirteen episodes long and have a continual storyline, I have to disagree with the writer that every show should be like that. I still love that "crime-a-week" format with that feeling of satisfaction and resolution. Based on the continued solid ratings of these detective shows, others agree.