'Detective': riveting --and irresponsible

TV REVIEW

May 02, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

ABC thinks "American Detective," which premieres at 9 tonight on WJZ-TV (Channel 13), is a show for the '90s.

The scary thing is they may be right.

"American Detective" is what the networks call a "reality" show. What that means to network executives is that such a show can be made for a lot less money than one requiring scripts and actors. In this case, all you need are a few camera crews and a producer to line up real-life detectives willing to let the camera crews follow them around.

Tonight, the detectives are from Portland, Ore., and they are led by Lt. John Bunnell, who has the TV hair of Jim Rockford and the compassion of Frank Furillo. The cameras get us up-close and personal as Bunnell's detectives smash down doors of suspected drug houses and generally do their best to imitate the behavior of the detectives on "Hill Street Blues."

There are all sorts of ethical problems, including one that is at the heart of shows like this: The police grant access to life-and-death scenes of great drama. In return, the shows celebrate the police as heroes who can do no wrong. There is also the matter of people who are only suspects being portrayed as criminals to millions of viewers.

What makes it scary is that tonight's hour is so riveting, most of us won't think twice about the messages this show is sending.

Inexpensive, riveting and irresponsible. Let's hope for better television for the '90s.

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