Wednesday, June 27, 2018

1962 Nine Steps to Murder

Made for TV murder mysteries follow only a few story lines.  But they all have certain requirements.

--They’re set in a place where “things like this never happen.”  So, invent a small midwestern town where “everyone knows everyone else” and people “never used to lock their doors.”

--The victim is an attractive white woman who “didn’t have an enemy in the world,” and whose personality “lit up the room” and caused “everyone to smile.” Or make it a “beloved retired…” postman or grocer or cab driver who “always had a cheerful word for everyone,” told “great stories” and wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Keep those never-locked doors in mind.

There also are some plot requirements.  The eventual perpetrator can’t be accurately named until there are only 20 minutes left in the hour.  So, focus on some harmless character who
--Doesn’t have an alibi. Or
--Fails a lie detector test. Or
--Is the estranged or former spouse (if the victim is a woman) or is a mentally challenged neighbor who people shy from but don’t dislike. In this case, the gender of the victim doesn’t matter.

Things to remember:
--The cops are stymied.  Cops in mysteries are always stymied.
--The case “threatens to go cold” until
--There’s a sudden break in the case.
--Viewers have no short term memory so make sure you have a slightly different recap to begin each segment after a commercial break. Plus these things fill time because although the show runs an hour (37 minutes plus commercials) the stories are simple.

1.  Someone is killed.
2.  Police are stymied until
3.  There’s a big break in the case.
4.  The big break turns out to be a dead end.
5.  Police are stymied until
6.  There’s a “real” break that “takes the investigation into a whole new direction.”
7.  A “suspect” or two is identified.
8.  The “real killer” is found, tried and convicted or the case remains unsolved but if you have any information call the tip line number on your screen.
Some things that will come in handy:
--Posters and or billboards with a picture of the victim and the headline “MISSING.”
--Townspeople tacking up the posters.
--More townspeople walking through the woods looking intensely at each step.
--At least one tracking dog, preferably one that doesn’t look playful or dumb.
--Evidence boxes.
--A cop who is doggedly determined to “solve this one.”
--Actors or those who knew the victim who cry convincingly both in front of fake news cameras or (even better) real ones.
--The victim’s equally saintly sibling.

I’ve handed you a box of parts. Now get busy and use them to create your very own TV murder mystery.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2018

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