Emily Nussbaum points to an interview with Homeland showrunner Alex Gansa that contains this interesting tidbit about a network that banned any suggestion that police could ever disagree:
Well, I recently did a police procedural for a major broadcast network. And the note came down from the network time and time again that there could be no conflict among the police officers and detectives who were trying to solve the crime. In other words, they didn’t want any dissention in the ranks among the good guys. Because if you showed dissention among the ranks, then people would begin to question if they were actually doing their jobs properly. And, of course, that robbed every single scene in the precinct of any drama whatsoever. They had to get along. They became just mouthpieces of exposition instead of real people.
And it was infuriating on a weekly basis to get that note. They couldn’t disagree. They couldn’t be wrong. They had to always be on the straight and narrow. And it was impossible to construct stories under those kinds of conditions.
There’s no conflict? I mean, that’s the first thing I ever learned as a writer in television. You know, you have to have conflict for any kind of drama. And this particular network just believed that there was enough drama in the good guys catching the bad guys, so that you didn’t have to muddy the good guys in any way, shape, or form. They just had to be right all of the time, and they had to be in sync all of the time. I mean, it was absurd.
And Kate Arthur from The Daily Beast notes that “There’s at least one another network that has the rule that doctors can never be wrong.”
This doesn’t just make for bad storytelling: it’s an actively dangerous endorsement of the idea that we should never question people in positions of power. It would be ridiculous to present a vision of a police department where no one ever commits an act of wrongdoing or negligence during an investigation. And it would be worse to present a department where, say, mistreatment of suspects, lying about what you’d witnessed, or God forbid, using pepper spray or live ammunition on the public went unquestioned.
Similarly, having television deliver the collective message “trust me, I’m a doctor” carries considerable risk with it. We live in a country where medical professionals have sterilized black women, lied about providing treatment to people with sexually transmitted diseases, and massively overdosed infants on blood-thinning drugs. Not to mention the fact that perhaps the most prominent doctor on television routinely abuses and harasses his patients. We need stories that encourage patients to be informed about their health, and to be their own advocates in the doctor’s office.
Obviously, living in a society is grand, and I appreciate the police keeping my neighborhood safe. I find the rise of vaccine deniers who refuse to accept the consensus of the medical establishment and are making the rest of us less safe really disturbing. But there has to be space between giving doctors and the police absolute authority and no authority, for narrative, and for our own safety.