Procedural drama

A procedural or procedural drama is a cross-genre type of literature, film, or television program involving a sequence of technical detail. A documentary film may also be written in a procedural style to heighten narrative interest.

Television programs in this genre focus on how crimes are solved, and are centered around a law enforcement agency, legislative body, or court of law. Some dramas include a lab or high-tech conference room where the main characters meet to work out the problem. Shows usually have an episodic format that does not necessarily require the viewer to have seen previous episodes. Episodes typically have a self-contained (also referred to as 'stand-alone') plot that is introduced, developed, and resolved within the same episode.

The procedural format is popular around the world.[1] In 2011, the director of a TV consultancy said, "The continuing trend is for procedurals because they use a predictable structure."[1] Due to their stand-alone episodic nature, they are more accessible to new viewers than serials. Self-contained episodes also make it easier for viewers to return to a show if they have missed some episodes.[2] In general, procedural dramas can usually be re-run with little concern for episode order.[1]

Procedurals are often criticized for being formulaic.[3][4] Procedurals are also generally less character-driven than serialized shows. However, some procedurals have more character emphasis than is typical of the format.[5][6] Some may occasionally feature a storyline stretching over several episodes (often called a story arc).[7]

A popular subgenre is the police procedural.

Types of mediaEdit



In television, "procedural" specifically refers to a genre of programs in which a problem is introduced, investigated and solved all within the same episode. These shows tend to be hour-long dramas, and are often (though not always) police or crime related.[citation needed]

The general formula for a police procedural involves the commission or discovery of a crime at the beginning of the episode, the ensuing investigation, and the arrest or conviction of a perpetrator at the end of the episode.

Modern examples of this genre are the Law & Order, CSI & NCIS franchises. House is an example of a non-crime-related procedural.

  • Procedural dramas are generally very popular in broadcast syndication because the lack of long-term storylines makes it easier for viewers to tune in for just one episode without feeling lost.
  • Procedurals are sometimes noted for their lack of character development, with little attention being paid to the lives of the recurring characters outside of their jobs.[8]


  • Non-fiction science procedurals such as the PBS Secrets of the Dead series or Court TV's Forensic Files take a viewer step-by-step through an investigation, much like a fictional procedural.[9]


Television examplesEdit

This list provides examples of procedural dramas; it is not exhaustive.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Adler, Tim (June 27, 2011). "Why TV Procedurals Also Rule The World". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 27, 2011.
  2. ^ Gerard Gilbert (2009-02-20). "American law... British order". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2009-02-23. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  3. ^ a b Chuck Barney (2009-01-21). "Review: Fox's "Lie to Me" mostly a formulaic procedural". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  4. ^ James Hibberd (2009-02-06). "Networks' new pilots favor formula over experiment". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  5. ^ a b "Duelling sleuths". The Age. 2006-08-10. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  6. ^ a b Bill Carter (2008-11-16). "No Mystery: Ratings Heat Up for 'NCIS'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  7. ^ Jason Hughes (2009-09-23). "What if House stopped being a procedural?". TVSquad. Archived from the original on 2009-12-27. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  8. ^ Ames, Melissa (2012). Time in Television Narrative: Exploring Temporality in Twenty-First-Century Programming. University Press of Mississippi. p. 277. ISBN 9781617032936.
  9. ^ "Secrets of the Dead | PBS". PBS.
  10. ^ "A History of the Police Procedural". Archived from the original on 2006-11-15. Retrieved 2006-11-03.
  11. ^ Peters, Ralph (May 1989). Red Army. ISBN 0671676687.
  12. ^ "Dambuster, the".
  13. ^ Andy Dehnart (2008-12-02). "'Mentalist' follows CBS formula, with a twist". Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  14. ^ Scott Collins (2008-11-17). "How does CBS spell success? 'NCIS'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  15. ^ "'Rizzoli & Isles' renewed for sixth season". New York Post. 2014-12-09. Retrieved 2015-02-21. The procedural drama stars Harmon as police detective Jane Rizzoli and Alexander as medical examiner Maura Isles.