“CSI” and “CSI: Miami” are notorious for their gruesome murder and autopsy scenes. It’s not uncommon to see a dead person laid open on a table under dark lights or body parts strewn about in the desert. Both shows are extremely popular and their numbers have inspired other programs to follow their lead. But can the trend hold among network television viewers? Some previously popular shows have gone this route and fallen behind in network ratings. Others have added more lifelike scenes, without resorting to the sensationalism of showing every splatter of blood and open wound.
"ER" is one that has taken a turn down the gruesome road. In previous season’s the show’s producers would show only the mildest of injuries and leave others implied, but in the last two seasons they’ve been more graphic. As their ratings have gone lower, their explicit portrayals of actual accidents have gone higher. Some members of their official message board have expressed in distaste for this trend and have since stopped watching the show. Indeed, this is the final season for our favorite hospital drama. Even eyeballs popping out of sockets couldn’t keep the most die-hard fans watching this show.
“Law & Order”, on the other hand, has been running steadily since 1991 and rarely shows victims in graphic detail. Viewers are happy to be have those scenes left to their imagination and have come back week after week to show their approval. The show’s producers haven’t felt the need to shock their viewers into returning every week.
Other dramas that seem to follow the trend set by “CSI” and its offspring, “CSI: Miami”, are being a little more subtle. The new drama “Dexter” is a story about a serial killer who works for the police department. In the last episode, he is shown with his victims lying on tables, still alive. However, the actual murder scene is never shown. We next see him throwing his victims overboard in an attempt to rid himself of the evidence. Viewers are left to imagine what Dexter atrocities visited upon his victims. The question now becomes will “Dexter” turn to more grisly scenery as the show struggles for a spot after the highly popular “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”?
With shows like “CSI” and movies like “Saw” (and all of its sequels) audiences are becoming immune to the shock of seeing hideously mangled body parts and dead eyes staring at them. It seems like there is some kind of competition for who can be the most ghastly without crossing that line in primetime television: a line that seems to be moving farther and farther into gratuitous violence and graphic death. Even show that once would have shocked a nation and caused an uproar, like the tamer “House” with spatterings of obscene language, don’t make a blip on our collective shock radar. Television programs are forced to push that line further just to make an impact in our minds.
However, the increasing popularity of “reality television” and primetime game shows could mean that television viewers have had their fill of all the horror that television dramas are forcing down our throats. With “Survivor” and “American Idol” winning ratings wars week after week, it may be time for the producers of primetime to rethink their strategy. It may not be the “reality” of “reality t.v.” that’s drawing viewers, but the utter distaste for the needless graphic details forced upon them week after week.