Sunday, August 18, 2013

How To Write a Police Procedural Show

If you’re reading this blog, you are probably interested in becoming an author. Well, throw that dream away! Writing police dramas on television is where the real money is. And, it’s so easy! Here, let me show you how. 


All you really need for a title is a few random letters followed by the name of the series. Something like NCIS: Los Angeles or CSI: Miami. Let’s name ours SCNI: Minneapolis. Wow, we are almost half way there!


You only need about 4 characters for this type of show.

A rugged, quiet detective who has sacrificed his marriage to the force. He’s only interested in getting to the truth; not in just arresting the first suspect. This character should be played by a white B list actor who used to be in movies, but is now moving to television.

          Milenario: A strong willed female detective who isn’t afraid to stand up to the boys. She wears a lot of pants suits, and proudly displays her gun. Her hair is never frazzled, and her makeup is always in place.  Her age will be a bit of a mystery, as she will look 40 during the entire 8 year run of the show. She has sacrificed getting married to the force.

Hernandez: A thoughtful, hip detective. He is an ethnic character, usually African-American or Hispanic. He never wears a real suit or uniform, instead dressing in a stylish, casual outfit. He keeps it real, and is at home on the streets. Normally, this character is played by a former rapper.


Cross: A feisty woman with an eccentric personality. A computer whiz, she is permanently placed behind the desk for the entire series. She is quirky, loveable, kind of cute, and provides some comic relief. She can hack into any electronic device at a moment’s notice, but only does so during the third act when the team really needs a breakthrough.

There will also be a captain or authority figure that rails against the detectives. He is usually played by an older white guy. He will give them all crap, but be proved wrong by the end of each episode.


If you’ve ever been to a real police station, you know they are really just big rooms with a lot of bland cubicles. BORING! For TV, you’ll need a large room with exposed brick, a few desks at the front for our characters, a bunch in the back for the extras, and a shitload of high definition computer screens hanging on the wall.

The Story

Alright, we’ve got our name, characters, and now our set. We are all ready to go! Here’s how to structure the actual story.

Act I

Cross sits at her desk, perusing phone records and bank statements. Milenario enters with a cup of coffee.  In the background, we see Johnson on the phone, taking notes.
How was your date last night, Cross?

He was cute, funny, and said he’s an annuities broker.

Wow, that sounds great.

(wrinkles her nose)
Yeah, it was until I pulled up his records.

You did what?

Well, I wanted to check him out. Turns out,
He works at a pizza parlor, and lives at home with his mom.

The two women laugh, as we cut to Johnson hanging up the phone. Milenario walks over to his desk.

Is everything ok? You look worried.

It’s my mother. She had a heart attack last night.

Shouldn’t you be at the hospital with her?

Yeah, I think I’ll head up there now.

Suddenly, Hernandez walks in. He slams a manila folder onto Johnson’s desk.

Alright, people we have a (police code) at (address)! Let’s rock and roll.

Everyone, except Cross, gets up and puts on their jackets. Milenario looks knowingly at Johnson. He nods his head, but waves her off. The job comes first for him.

The team ends up at an apartment building of a wealthy business man whose wife has been brutally murdered. There is a crime scene team taking pictures and dusting for prints. Milenario and Hernandez make obtuse observations about the condition of the apartment and the body. They tell us things that we already know, point out the face that there's nothing missing, and state that there appeared to be signs of a struggle.  They are interrupted when the husband tries to enter the apartment, but is held back by police officers.

Johnson takes the man out into the hallway, and tries to question him. The man is belligerent, and confrontational. When asked, he says he was out of town on a business trip when his wife was murdered. He says he just arrived home that morning. Milenario steps into the hallway to catch the latter half of the man’s answer. Johnson and Milenario exchange skeptical glances. The husband  excuses himself to pick their child up from school. Johnson calls Cross and tells her to check the husband’s alibi. With two clicks of a button, she pulls up flight records and rental car receipts. She informs them that there is no record of the husband ever going on his business trip. The detectives stare at each other silently, as the screen fades to black.

Act II

Back at their office, Milenario leans against Johnson’s desk. Hernandez is on the phone at his own desk.

If he wasn’t on his business trip, then where was he?

It’s very fishy to me.
(to Cross)
Hey, check his credit card bills to see if he got a room anywhere in town for the dates in question.

Cross types a couple of times, and finds that there are hotel bills for a place nearby. The screens on the wall pull up a Google Maps rip off, and shows the location.

Hernandez hangs up the phone and asks what’s going on. They bring him up to speed. He says that he just got off the phone with school, and it seems that the teacher has been concerned with mysterious bruising on the kid’s body.

Hernandez and Johnson decide to check out the hotel, Milenario goes to the school.

Cut to Hotel

Hernadez and Johnson question the front desk clerk, who says that he can’t recall if the husband was there or not. They vaguely threaten the clerk with code violations or something like that, and he cracks. It turns out that the man stayed the weekend with another woman.

Cut to School

Milenario enters an empty classroom, with only the child of the murdered woman being questioned by a police specialist. She engages the teacher, and finds out that the bruises have been appearing for weeks. The specialist shows Milenario a crayon colored picture the kid did that seems very ominous.

Fade to Black


Johnson and Milenario are questioning the husband in a detention room. He is adamant that he had nothing to do with the murder. They posture and try to out badass him. They scowl a lot, and cross their arms numerous times. The man finds them annoying and contemptible.  

Suddenly, the door opens, and a smug lawyer enters the room. He informs the detective that they can’t hold his client any longer. The two begin to argue with him when The Captain pokes his head in the door. Milenario exits the room and walks down the hallway with him. He informs them that they have no right to hold the man, and they are making the department look bad. Milenario tries to argue, but is cut off. The captain makes a veiled sexist remark and walks away. She shakes her head, angry, but too proud to show it. Hernandez runs up and says that they found the mistress, and they should head to her work place. Milenario and Hernandez walk back to the interrogation room and interrupt the argument Johnson is having with the lawyer.

It’s ok, Johnson. We can let him go.

What are you talking about?

We have another witness to interview.

Johnson stares in shock as Milenario walks over to him and whispers in his ear.

Hernandez crosses and smugly grins at the husband.

We’ve got to make it over to (address) to talk to a Ms. Kathleen Corruthers.

The husband looks uncomfortable and buries his head in his hands.

Cut to :

The detectives find the mistress standing on the street corner. It turns out that she is a high end prostitute, and has no idea that the husband was married. She says that she was with him, but that there was another man who came by for a bit the night before the murder. She didn’t overhear the conversation, but could tell them where the man worked.

Cut to:

The detectives interview a man at his job. He is a mechanic, and not happy that they are there. He is confrontational, and says that he is way too busy to talk to them. Being seen with them, he says, isn’t good for his business. Hernandez wanders around the shop while the other detectives question the man. He finds a wrench covered in something that looks like blood. The team arrest the mechanic.

Fade to black.

Act IV

While questioning the mechanic, the team finds that the “blood” on the wrench turned out to be motor oil. They are forced to let him go. Cross calls them, from down the hall, and tells them she’s got something. It turns out there are security cameras across the street, and she hacked into them. She watches as the kid falls off of a skateboard, thereby explaining the bruises. She clicks a few more buttons, and taps into a web cam that was set up in the apartment on the day of the murder.  They watch a playback of the feed, and figure out that the cleaning lady murdered the wife. They arrest her, and she confesses.

Fade to

Johnson is sitting at his desk, filling out paperwork. Milenario comes up to him.

That was one hell of a case, huh?

Sure was.

How’s your mother doing, by the way?

(closes the manila folder and slowly looks up)
She died last night. And I wasn’t with her.

Milenario rounds the desk and places her hand on his shoulder. She stares down at him as the camera slowly pulls back in slow motion and

Fade to black.

Credits roll.

There you go! You’ve just written your first police procedural. The beauty in this format, is that you really only have to change the nouns for each script. The murdered wife can become a high school student, prostitute, grandmother…any number of people. The apartment can easily be changed to match (or not!) the victim. And, there’s no shortage of people who can be suspected until the final act!

Good luck on your next case, and happy writing!


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