For the most part I hate reality TV. Ever since so-called reality has been infested with games which encourage people to backstab each other and self-absorbed a-holes, I had kind of written the genre off.
But I found myself getting hooked on a police procedural called "The First 48." The concept follows the maxim that if the police don't get a good lead on a homicide within the first forty-eight hours of a crime, their odds of ever solving the crime is reduced by half.
I've only seen a few episodes, but I am hooked. The show follows several homicide detectives in different cities (I have seen mostly Miami, Memphis and Dallas) for the first 48 hours of their investigation, from the time they get the call, and the 48:00:00 clock starts, until the clock hits zero.
The show has a few really good things going for it. First of all, it's real. Like really real. These homicide cops deal with the dregs of society. They get the call, check out the body (with lots of blood and often dismemberment), and try to find out what happened. It doesn't go too deep into the detectives' lives, but rather stays on the case itself (much like "Law & Order"). It has a very tight narrative spine. The show takes on two cases per show, so if one of the cases doesn't interest you, the other one surely will. Also, although the show recaps what you have just seen, it doesn't do it in that repetitive, annoying "reality TV" way (see "Age of Love," "Unanimous" or "The Surreal Life" for examples of what I'm talking about). They give you the basic facts and move ahead.
Secondly, the police procedure is fascinating. We watch how the cops attack all different sorts of techniques, from interviewing witnesses, to forensics, to anonymous tips, to computer searches, all the way to interrogations and charging criminals. These are true needle-in-a-haystack cases, and though they don't always get a suspect, their track record for hits is pretty remarkable. You gain a whole new respect for law enforcement.
Thirdly, the drama is great. Watching the perps get collared and interrogated is riveting to me. Also -- though it's very macabre -- the scenes where they tell the loved ones about the deceased are intense. Also, scenes where perps are trying to lie and stall are great, because the interrogators just wait and wait, and try all sorts of techniques, and some of these crooks start singing like birds. This isn't "Cops," where you sometimes feel sorry for the poor, stupid drunks or losers the cops have to detain. These are murderers, flat out. And though the title card at the end of each show says "Suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty," there is usually little doubt in my mind.
"The First 48" is a true reality show, with the ugliest sides of some of our biggest cities put front and center. Give it like two episodes. You know you can trust me.