It's an opening familiar to millions of Americans. A New York resident is walking down the street, minding his own business—maybe arguing with his spouse or chatting with a friend. Suddenly, he stops, a look of horror spreading over his face. At his feet is a dead body. The blood and gore are clues the victim probably didn't die of natural causes.
It's the beginning of Law and Order, one of the most popular cop shows of all time. And it's far from the only cop show on television these days. Police and courtroom dramas have all but taken over prime time: Monk, Bone, The Shield, The Closer, Without a Trace, three versions of Law & Order, and three variations of CSI.