CarterMatt Extended: Investigating ‘Blue Bloods,’ TV’s not-so-little engine that could

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For the past six years, there has been a show airing on CBS Friday nights that routinely draws more than ten million viewers, and yet at the same time, there is a good chance that if you ask casual TV viewers, they will have never heard of it. “Blue Bloods” is an interesting addition to the landscape. It is a show that is barely promoted on CBS let alone elsewhere, and fails for the most part to get much promotion in mainstream media or trade publications; yet, it draws routinely more viewers than “Shark Tank,” is the strongest show on the night for its network in the 18-49 demographic, and has a legion of devoted followers making sure that they are around every Friday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern in order to watch it.

There may be some readers out there who are checking out this article in our CarterMatt Extended series without ever seeing the show, and therefore, they may be wondering the following: What makes something that appears on the surface so similar to other cop shows on the air, something that continues to be successful? Also, what makes it immune to some of the same consistent drops that other shows receive? It may because “Blue Bloods” is a far different show that it is perceived to be.

It starts with quality

It should be said that this show is not necessarily one out to reinvent the wheel. It is a story about an Irish-American family who have become key players in New York City and its law enforcement. Frank Reagan is the Commissioner of the NYPD, his father was the former Commissioner, his son Danny is a detective, his son Jamie an officer, and his daughter Erin an Assistant District Attorney. They hold a lot of power in the city, but this isn’t a family of crime-fighters in a way that makes them look like superheroes, nor does the show make them out to be mobsters. They are created to be real, flawed people who make mistakes, but are in the business because they want to do the right thing and keep the streets of the city safe. They hearts remain almost constantly in the right place, even if their actions may be controversial.

The show has created such a basic, simple premise, and then elevated it with stories that are about issues rather than individual crimes. Sure, here and there we have the prototypical “go solve this murder,” but they often tie in either to larger problems impacting the family or the city. It also is unafraid to touch on difficult subjects such as charity scams, racism, police brutality, gender politics, and frequent protests. Next to “Law & Order: SVU,” it may be the most-daring show in its genre at bringing to the table subjects that are happening in the real world. Just this past week we saw Frank booed at a college speaking engagement over police distrust, and in the past we’ve seen hot-button topics like body cameras featured on the show. Sure, many other series out there present you with police officers and detectives, but the majority of the politics involved are stripped away. This show is at times about the procedure, the paperwork, and the problems that perpetually envelop working for the NYPD. The majority of the time, these stories are done quite well and facilitate discussion.

To go back to the wheel analogy, think of the show as creating a familiar wheel that just happens to run a little more efficiently.

Blue Bloods

Then, it goes to Tom Selleck

The actor does deserve a great deal of credit for much of what the show has accomplished, given that he was the big name to get the show’s older demographic aboard; meanwhile, Donnie Wahlberg was there to snag a younger generation. People trust Selleck in the role of crime-solver, and many of the best storylines often involve him since they are the ones that differ the most from any other crime procedural out there. You see Frank really wrestle with not just decisions, but what their implications will be. This is a show that makes you feel the weight of its world, and realize that for every decision that Frank makes that is good for some, it probably will damage others. When he stands up for controversial officers, for example, he puts himself in a damaging position in front of the media. The adversarial relationships on the show that are the most effective are not the ones that end in handcuffs; they are the ones that end in heated discussion.

Selleck doesn’t need huge monologues or a wide range of emotions to pull off this part; he is able to do this at times with subtlety and quiet power.

It doesn’t promote a single agenda

While we do believe “Blue Bloods” is pro-police, it does show that not all cops are good cops. Meanwhile, it shows that not all protesters are doing so for the right reason, or that every media outlet is out there for the truth. For the most part the show is extraordinarily even-handed when it comes to the serious topics that it takes on, and makes it clear that compromises sometimes are right, even if they do not always make everyone happy.

It gives you variety

Not every episode is focused on Danny and his partner Baez stopping a murderer, or Frank negotiating contracts or figuring outhow to defend a police officer. Sometimes Danny is helping with something for Erin or Jamie, Eddie is building trust, or Frank is going back and forth with the Fire Department. The show does not have many serialized stories, but they do tend to mix up the sort of standalone hours they give you almost every week. That’s why unless you read promotional materials or watch promos in advance, each episode is in some ways something fresh.

Finally, it’s tradition

To us, this may be the most important thing. “Blue Bloods” is a shining example that even in this age of immediacy and having television work around your schedule, there is something still charming about sitting down once a week at the same time to watch a good show. You may not know the specifics about the storylines going into them, but you know the tone and you know that by the hour’s end, the Reagans are going to have tried to figure out how to do the right thing. It’s compelling entertainment that doubles as TV comfort food. The show even reflects some of that literally in its famed family dinner sequences, which are there at times for exposition, but to also create some sort of community and something in the midst of all the chaos viewers can expect. It makes them feel at home while watching, and that their Friday nights would be incomplete without joining the family at the dinner table.

Is “Blue Bloods” one of the older-skewing shows on TV? Sure, and that is in many ways why it does not get the press that it deserves. The media tends to flock to things that people 18-49 go ballistic for on social media. However, drawing a different crowd does not make something boring or unimportant; instead, it makes it all the more fascinating how a show with so little attention can draw so many viewers while many young, hip shows with a full late-night talk show circuit can only draw half or even sometimes a third of the viewer totals. Our response? You can’t buy loyalty with air time, hype, promotion, or Twitter followers. You buy it with reliability, familiar faces, and tradition. “Blue Bloods” has all of that, and this is why it remains one tremendous example of classic television. We can only hope that never disappears.

CarterMatt Extended is a feature, comprising of in-depth articles on various TV topics posted every Wednesday night. If you want to sign up for news sent to you every week, you can do so on our Newsletter page.

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