Hallmark has launched an all-mystery channel, moving into the territory NBC’s Cloo cable channel abandoned when it went belly-up in February. (The name should have doomed it anyway.) The mainstays of the new channel are a fleet of “Murder She Wrote” rip-offs starring a string of female C-list stars TV and has-beens: Allison Sweeney, Candace Cameron Bure, Kelly Martin and Courtney Thorne-Smith so far. The flagship show is the real McCoy, Jessica Fletcher herself. Take it from me: there is no current scripted drama as trite, predictable or badly acted or written than “Murder, She Wrote”—the closest in years would be Debra Messing’s idiotic “The Mysteries of Laura,” but that was officially a “comedy.”
Another mainstay on the channel is “Diagnosis, Murder,” which is marginally less terrible than watching in Angela Lansbury collect a check for doing the same thing over and over, in part because I am entertained by Dick Van Dyke doing anything. ( “Diagnosis, Murder” was a drama, yet still about ten times funnier than “The Mysteries of Laura.” ) Still, I don’t expect thought-provoking episodes on the Mystery channel.
Two nights ago, I was surprised. The episode showed Dr. Dick’s police detective son (played by Van Dyke’s real son Barry, who sounds just like Dad) chasing a perp he had stopped while the man was roughing up a woman in the park. Barry was chasing him on foot, gun drawn, and in the shadows (it was evening), the suspect quickly turned, stopped and pulled something metallic from his pocket. The officer fired, killing him. Barry’s troubled partner shows up (he had been backing up Barry) and checks the scene as police sirens are heard. He finds a flashlight, not a gun, right by the unarmed deceased man, and Barry says, mournfully, “I though the had a gun” His partner (played by Joe Penny) pulls a revolver out of his own pocket, wipes it, and places it in the dead man’s hand as he pockets the flashlight. “Don’t worry,” he tells distraught Barry, contemplating his career going down the drain, “It’s clean,” meaning “It can’t be traced.”
The police arrive, and Joe quickly tells them that it was a good shooting, that the victim was armed. Barry knows that his partner has strikes against him already for substance abuse, and to rat him out about the flashlight would end his career for certain, and maybe Barry’s as well. He doesn’t say anything, thus becoming complicit in the cover-up.
What intrigues me is this: what if the shooting victim had been black? What if Barry was in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; or in North Charleston, South Carolina, where racial tensions over police shootings were already at the boiling point? What if this happened while Obama’s Justice Department was poised, as it always was, to immediately side with any black victim, and move to investigate such a shooting as a civil rights case?
What if Barry and his partner immediately knew what lay ahead: Barry’s vilification as a racist, a prosecution for murder, the end of his career, national infamy, and riots and probably deaths, all sparked by a just shooting. (As portrayed on the show from the detective’s perspective, it really did look like the perp was turning to shoot. Who turns around knowing an officer is behind him and pulls out a flashlight? The guy was begging to be shot.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Under these circumstances, would the detectives cover-up be justifiable and ethical?
I recommend thinking about the Ethics Incompleteness Principle if you are even tempted to argue “yes.”