"Reality" TV Shows?

How “real” are the reality courtroom/crime shows on TV?

I’ve worked for 30+ years in courtrooms and watch the “reality” courtroom/crime shows on TV with interest but the difference between TV and what I’ve seen is simple: TV says they’re “real” but real life is too strange to put on TV.


Because real life is so “real” no one would believe it! We know that TV and novels are not “real,” so we accept a certain amount of distortion and realize that’s what makes TV/novel drama compelling. At the same time, we all hold onto the illusion that our courts and the people who work in them are all usually sane, common sensical, sober, intelligent, and just. Mostly they are but then…

As a writer, I’m fascinated with the odd and unusual things that go on around criminal courts. For instance, the dislocation between how we think a judge should act and the real performance creates humor/drama that interests us because it’s truly happening.

I remember during a jury trial, the judge was having an affair with another judge in the same building. Anxious to get the trial over and save the jury/county time and money, our judge insisted on the lawyers hurrying to finish. Before we could, our judge was interrupted by a whistle from behind his door. His love-interest whispered to him to come out. When he disappeared around the corner, we all heard a loud squeal. Returning, our judge suddenly canceled court and left with the other judge. Trial was postponed.

Or the guy who was frustrated with his kids’ behavior and to “punish” them he grabbed their pet gerbils, placed them in air guns, and shot them across the back yard and over a neighbor’s fence. when the kids retrieved the shaken gerbils, their father drowned them (the animals!) in a pail of water in front of the kids. Still not satisfied, he scrounged in their desks in their rooms to root out the pet mice living there. He was shocked that a court would interfere with histreatment of the kids.

A family had an uncle living upstairs in their house. When a drug dealer came over, argued with the uncle, and shot him in his bedroom, the family didn’t know he’d been killed until several days later when one of the kids happened to look in the uncle’s room. (My question: didn’t anyone hear the gunshot??)

In my new novel, “Reprisal,” coming out next September, I recount some of these and other stories I’ve experienced. I have to laugh often when I try to separate the truth from…well, fiction I guess you could call it.

Why is it that so many people are addicted to reality shows on TV and to stories in novels that purport to be realistic? Do we all lead such boring lives that we need to live vicariously through these mediums?

While you’re telling me the answer to that, have a wonderful holiday!!

Check out my website at: https://colintnelson.com

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About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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