Very Often, Crime Pays

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Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Not Discovery Communications. This past Sunday (Jan. 27) the company was scheduled to shine the spotlight on investigative and forensics programming with the launch of Investigative Discovery (I.D., for short.)

The network is rebranding its documentary-based network Discovery Times Channel to make room for I.D. While the service will continue to offer some investigative and current affairs programming, it will also showcase such crime-busting, reality series as Fugitive Strike Force, which follows Las Vegas S.W.A.T., regional bounty hunters and U.S. Marshals as they wrangle with the baddest criminals in and around Sin City.

In fact when the re-branding was first announced last November, executives made a point to say that the network hopes to lure crime and punishment-hungry viewers who can’t get enough of scripted crime procedurals CSI: Miami and Law & Order on broadcast television.

Discovery also claims that it wants to pick off cable viewers who it says have been robbed and violated of their crime-time television fix after true-life criminal justice channel Court TV became the truTV reality channel, and A&E whacked its reality crime-related fare for reruns of Tony Soprano and his mob pals.

But if Discovery thinks it will corner the market on crime-driven reality content through ID, it may need to do a little more investigative work.

A&E says the body isn’t yet cold when it comes to its airing of reality crime shows.

While it’s true the network did lock down Duane (Dog: The Bounty Hunter) Chapman for committing the ultimately fatal celebrity offense of putting foot-in-mouth, the network said it will still proudly wear its crime scene gloves on air.

The network’s popular First 48 reality cop series remains among the most popular shows in the genre on cable. The series, which follows a team of police officers trying to solve various murders, assault and other ugly crimes within two days — usually the time a crime needs to be solved before the trail goes cold — is averaging 2.0 million viewers for A&E in its seventh season which launched Jan. 10. That was an increase over the 1.8 million the show averaged in its previous season, according to the network.

Further, A&E has greenlit several new crime and forensics shows for the 2008 season: Crime 360 will blend real-life crime scene investigations with high-tech GCI graphics, while Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force will follow an elite N.Y./N.J. fugitive task force and they track down dangerous felons.

And truTV hasn’t quite become the all Star Jones network yet. It still loves to air a good crime mystery, witness the who-done-it reality show Body of Evidence, and its long-running series Forensic Files, the granddaddy of all forensics-oriented shows.

Investigation Discovery will also face competition from other cable networks as well, including one of its own siblings, Animal Planet. O.K. maybe Animal Planet’s Animal Precinct isn’t quite on the same playing field as Fox Broadcasting’s COPS reality series. Still, watching those tough New York ASPCA officers rescue abused cats, dogs and the occasional rooster can be very intense and harrowing for pet lovers.

That’s not to say that Discovery misdiagnosed the viability of moving more aggressively into the crime/forensics arena. As witnessed by the incredibly successful run of COPS, and the CSI and Law & Order franchises — as well as crime dramadies like USA Network’s Monk and Psych, there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the desire among television viewers to watch crime-based content. After all, viewers love a good murder mystery, whether fictional or reality TV-based … as long as there’s a good chance the criminal’s I.D. is revealed by the end of the show.

Time will tell whether the Investigation Discovery crime-based programming DNA will arrest more viewers than the 130,000 prime time viewers the network averaged under the Discovery Times brand. But the evidence shows that crime is certainly worth a network’s time.

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