For many people, the media is the main source of their knowledge and understanding about policing and crime. As a result, a common thread running through content analysis of television police shows is the gap between the “reality” of police work, crime, criminals, and the justice system and the picture painted by media representations. I argue, however, that all representations of social reality are partial and that commercial imperatives, working processes, ideological frames of the makers, and format of individual shows shape and constrain the stories told. Given that police shows can never be totally authentic, I argue that scholars should be exploring the symbolic value of these shows, the types of discourse produced, and whether such shows habituate viewers into ways of thinking about crime and punishment that may be excessively simplified.

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