Whose Cop Shows Rule: L.A.'s or N.Y.'s?

New York people, as a rule, are not Los Angeles people, or vice versa. For instance, no one in the history of L.A. has ever yelled "I'm walking here!" while navigating a busy intersection (because no one in L.A. has ever actually walked across an intersection). The country's respective glamour capitals are even further apart culturally than they are physically, but they have one thing in common: they both make great settings for cop shows. So why, over the last decade or more, are most of the better ones set in New York? Between NYPD Blue, the hydra-headed Law & Order franchise, and the Manhattan-set CSI spin-off, New York procedurals have stuck in a way that recent Angeleno shows (Boomtown, Robbery Homicide Division, etc.) have not. Sure, there are exceptions. The Shield just finished a stellar seven-season run, and The Closer is still going strong. But given that Los Angeles practically invented the cop show and monopolized the genre in its early years (see: Dragnet, Police Story, 77 Sunset Strip), it's curious that the city has largely relinquished its dominance. Dark Blue, a new L.A.-based cop drama from Jerry Bruckheimer, is an excellent example of why.

Dark Blue isn't a bad show. It stars Dylan McDermott as the leader of an arcane squad of deep-cover LAPD officers. At its heart, the show deals with questions of identity: when you pretend to be someone else for a living, do you really ever know who you are? It's a smart theme for a city of pretense, but the place still seems like an afterthought. The action unfolds almost exclusively in sedans and empty warehouses, forfeiting the sun-soaked panoramas that belie the city's brutality. Good cop shows are character-based, and in the best ones (The Wire, for instance) the city is the most interesting character. The rhythm of the streets, its traumas, its ghosts, its history—they're all instrumental in making the audience invest in the stories that are born there.

Los Angeles is, admittedly, a tough town to know—sprawling; disparate; consumed by gaudy, showbiz culture. A New Yorker would call it soulless, as if the whole city had gotten Botox. But its cop shows don't all have to turn into stiffs. The Shield was the best L.A. cop drama in years, probably because it used the LAPD's own renegade Rampart Division as its source. It just goes to show: even in Hollywood, you can't fake true grit.