September 2, 2013

TNT’s ‘Cold Justice’ explores real-life cases

In “Cold Justice,” an ex-prosecutor and a former crime-scene investigator travel the country trying to solve cold cases in small towns.

If “Cold Justice” was a scripted drama, it would seem a tidy fit with TNT shows like “Major Crimes” and “Rizzoli & Isles,” series that showcase women in law enforcement. The new show, which begins at 10 p.m. Tuesday on TNT, focuses on ex-prosecutor Kelly Siegler and a former crime-scene investigator, Yolanda McClary, who travel the country to find the wrongdoers in small-town cold cases.

But “Cold Justice” is not fiction. Siegler and McClary are professionals brought together by producer Dick Wolf (“Law & Order”).

McClary may seem familiar because she inspired Marg Helgenberger’s character on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” And it’s that attempt to portray reality, especially the sometimes plodding reality of criminal investigations, that works against “Cold Justice.” The drama is sometimes lost in the procedure, and in two episodes made available for preview, the courtroom resolution of cases is not yet complete.

Instead, the investigators try to find more than is already known – for instance, whether a case ruled a suicide is actually a murder, or who should be arrested in the unsolved murder of an elderly woman. They meet with local law enforcement, review evidence, and gather their own information by examining crime scenes, interviewing witnesses and bringing in their own investigators.

According to the show, some of the cost of this new investigation is borne by the local law, since the cases are still open, while the show pays for Siegler and McClary’s time and travel. Cases are chosen based on analysis by Siegler, McClary and the off-camera team of “where we can do the most good and make the most progress given the limited time and resources we have to shoot each episode,” said an email by the producers.

One of the messages in the show is that DNA does not always solve cases; in fact, in at least one episode, a DNA test is of no use. Instead, there is a lot of basic investigative work, rethinking the elements of the case, and sometimes a little luck – as when the team finds a key piece of evidence that has gone unnoticed in plain sight for years.

That can be somewhat dry viewing. And, in a context where many viewers will expect a clear conclusion, a telecast does not go all the way, ending with an indictment or arrest – but not yet a confession or conviction. I wanted more. But then, I watch a lot of scripted TV.

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