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"I'm telling you, DeGroot, keep Crime Scene Unit out until you're done and not before. They've all seen CSI and suddenly they're all Sherlock Holmes now. Magic words for dealing with CSU: 'shut up and lift the fucking fingerprint, lab monkey.'"
Frank Ironwine, Ironwine

Police detectives, private detectives, amateur detectives, beat police, retired police, lawyers, reporters and judges... almost every major career that could have something to do with crime has been used at one point or another as inspiration for a Police Procedural, so it was inevitable that TV would eventually turn to the lesser-known elements of police investigation for material.

As a result, we get the Forensic Drama. Most commonly this genre follows forensic pathologists — they're the ones that cut up the corpses — but will also include shows or characters that specialise in general forensic science (lifting fingerprints and the like), forensic psychology and forensic toxicology among a dozen other specialisations. Basically, if you can put "forensic" on the front of it, there's probably a pilot episode in existence somewhere.

As dull as this may seem, viewers do actually turn on in droves to see the adventures of a bunch of people who mostly spend their time sitting in laboratories or offices rather than chasing armed criminals. Some series get around this by always having the investigator to get caught up in the murderer's private life, or by bending the rules a bit to allow him or her to interview and arrest suspects. In real life, though, they're mostly just The Lab Rat.

See also The Profiler.

Examples of Forensic Drama include:


  • Manhunter, based on the book Red Dragon, is about an FBI agent who is an expert in forensic profiling and who ends up asking for the help of one Hannibal Lector (spelled Lecktor in this version). Its star, William Petersen, went on to play Gil Grissom in CSI.


  • The Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell is an incredibly popular range of books about a forensic pathologist.
  • The Temple Brennan series by Kathy Reichs, on which the TV show Bones is (very loosely) based.
  • The Elizabeth MacPherson series by Sharilyn McCrumb of Bimbos of the Death Sun fame is an example of this trope.
  • Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy was supposedly inspired by someone who complained that in this sort of story for all a lay person could understand, they might as well be doing their detecting with magic spells. Garrett said to himself, "Hmmm. . . ."

Live Action TV

  • Probably the best known example is CSI, which became hugely popular and engendered a slew of spin-off TV series, books, games and comics. Follow the Leader means it's probably responsible for a lot of the current wave of these shows since 2000.
  • Bones. Technically, it's a Forensic Dramedy. Unlike many of the other examples, they actually have an explanation for WHY the labrat leaves the lab: She's the absolute best in her field and it was her condition for providing her services to the FBI.
  • Cracker was a British television series about a forensic psychologist who 'cracks' suspects. It was later made into a rather poor US series.
  • The TV Asahi drama Kasouken No Onna (known to KIKU viewers in Hawaii as Investigator Mariko) is a Japanese version of CSI, although its first episode was aired in Japan in October 1999, a year before CBS debuted CSI. (info link)
  • NCIS
    • Only a few of the characters are forensic specialists (Abby, Ducky), one's a computer expert (McGee), one's an Action Girl (Ziva), one's The Ace (Tony), and one's the team leader. Much of the fun of the show comes from the cast arguing about how to go about solving the crime.
    • The show deftly blends multiple formulas of the Police Procedural, Forensic Drama, and a True Companions-based action dramadey. And it works.
  • Numb3rs is a TV series about solving crime with math!
  • Profiler is a 90's beta version of over-the-top, stylistic shows like Criminal Minds.
  • Silent Witness is a TV series about a trio of forensic pathologist and actually pre-dates CSI.
  • Tru Calling had elements of this.
  • Quincy, M.E., the granddaddy of them all.
  • Waking the Dead, narrowly pre-dating CSI
  • Dexter throws in a few aspects of this, though you can't really call the show a Forensic Drama; Dexter himself is a forensic investigator, though, and there is a lot of swabbing and lab-checking at least once an episode, sometimes even as an important plot point.
  • Hec Ramsey: Forensic science meets cowboys.
    • The short lived USA Network drama Peacemakerscould also be described as forensic science meets cowboys.
  • Body of Proof is House if he was a female medical examiner played by Dana Delany.
  • Medical Investigation was NBC's Follow the Leader entry to CSI.
  • Sign is a Korean forensic drama modeled after CSI