HomeCultureFilm & TV

Why crime dramas are more popular than ever

Why crime dramas are more popular than ever

Ever since the days of Agatha Christie, Brits have been a sucker for a crime drama. But what is it about crime TV that British audiences find so compelling?

Luther: The Fallen Son is the latest crime drama to be released in the UK and its popularity is a strong indicator of how vital the genre still is for audiences.

Recent successes like Happy Valley, The Bodyguard or even Line of Duty demonstrate that there is high demand for these types of shows, and that the UK is perhaps one of best producers of the genre in the world.

But why are crime dramas still so popular? What is it that connects with audiences? And why does it seem that with each new release, fans of this particular television category just keep growing in number?

A strong genre history

Scene from crime drama Murder on the Orient ExpressCourtesy of 20th Century Studios. British audiences have been enamoured with murder mysteries since before the days of Agatha Christie

The crime genre has a strong and noble history in the UK. We’ve always enjoyed a mystery and have been treated to some of the best stories in the world, from some of the greatest writers of all time.

Before TV we had Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Before streaming we had Agatha Christie and Miss Marple. The genre is a massive part of our creative industries and it’s natural that this has transferred to the small screen.

Indeed, when looking for narratives to adapt, it’s no wonder that studios opted to reimagine classic murder mysteries and detective pieces.

"We’ve always enjoyed a mystery and have been treated to some of the best stories in the world"

There was an audience already there to cater to, and from a budgetary perspective the genre is a lot easier to film than a fantasy or sci-fi spectacle. Plus, the concept of a crime drama has always been easy to explain.

It’s built around a conflict and a riddle, making for compelling watching that everyone can understand the principles of. The rules of the genre are much simpler for audiences to get to grips with. There’s something familiar about them, linking back to the classic texts from iconic authors that wrote the rules to begin with.

Interactive TV

There is another reason why we’re drawn to crime dramas in the same way that those original books called to us. UK audiences love interactive TV. It’s the reason that panel shows, quizzes and talent contests are still pivotal in today’s media.

We love to have our say on what’s happening on screen, whether that’s voting for a contestant or answering a conundrum correctly.

"UK audiences love interactive TV"

Crime dramas are one of the few fictional mediums that boast this same interaction. Viewers love to unwrap the mystery at the heart of a program, following the plot and attempting to reveal the unsolvable themselves.

Crime dramas are built with a payoff too. Just like those non-fiction shows that give the audience the answer in the end, or a result based on their interaction, so too does this genre. Crime dramas have to tell us the solution to the “whodunnit”, so we can applaud our correct guesses and laugh at our inadequate investigative skills.

A heightened reality

Interestingly, there is another genre of TV that has appealed to UK audiences, especially in recent years. The procedural documentary. Whether it’s following the fire brigade, A&E, GPs or of course the police, we’re fascinated by the inner workings of our emergency services.

There’s tension built within the format, but it’s also a chance to celebrate the fantastic public sectors in this nation. Crime dramas continue that celebration of those hard-working professionals, while taking audiences one level deeper into those intriguing organisations.

However, the audience is one layer removed from the action. Crime dramas can produce a heightened reality; close enough to everyday life to feel authentic, but far enough away that they don’t become too personally intense. That’s a difficult balance to find.

Where fantasy or sci-fi takes us into completely different worlds, we can relate even more to the stories being told around the sectors we interact with on an almost daily basis. Thus, UK audiences can still get the buzz of a very real situation, but with the safety net of the fake scenario it’s built within.


Still from BBC crime drama Line of DutyCourtesy of BBC. British audiences love a drama that centres detectives restoring a sense of order

Periods of unrest, whether it be socially, politically, or financially, always leave a nation feeling that it needs a level of control. Crime dramas are all about law and order. In the end, the status quo is restored and some justice is served.

Although audiences in the UK do love an anti-hero, and are intrigued by stories from the criminal’s perspective, most of the biggest crime dramas are actually viewed through the lens of the detective.

While the US might prefer following the criminal enterprises of Breaking Bad, Ozark or Narcos, our TV is dominated by those stopping the chaos and bringing back control. Luther, Strike, Broadchurch and so many more all place the investigators as the heroes, just like Doyle and Christie did in their classic texts.

The imperfect underdog

We might want our heroes to represent law and order, leading to the increase in demand for crime dramas, but we also love an underdog. Having the protagonist be someone who is dead set on doing the right thing, thanks to their position on the correct side of the law, doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

In fact, we love a rogue, rebel and rough-around-the-edges type. Someone who we can still relate to and is deeply flawed but certainly redeemable. The true underdog.

Someone so passionate about their job that nothing will stop them from getting the justice they need.

"We can certainly relate to the idea of being caught up in bureaucracy, ready to cheer when our protagonist leaps past obstacles"

Any flaws within our systems are essentially made non-existent by a hero who can bypass these codes of conduct. And we can certainly relate to the idea of being caught up in bureaucracy, ready to cheer when our protagonist leaps past obstacles to put an end to the chaos.

Crime dramas say a lot about how we view the world from the perspective of the UK. Their popularity speaks even further to what we want as an audience.

These factors have made the genre more popular than ever, and its rich history has formed a valuable backbone that ensures we’ll have quality stories to tell for decades into the future.

Regardless of what the trends might rise elsewhere, crime dramas are consistent, reliable, and always ready to draw us into a new conflict.

Banner credit: Netflix

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter

*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. Read our disclaimer

Loading up next...