Claim Your
Off Discount
June 23, 2023

How to Write a TV Procedural

Why do we love TV shows that run for multiple series over new original shows? It’s because as viewers we love the comfort of what works. 

The same characters. the same situations. 

To make it interesting we need a slight twist to hook our attention.

 But be warned. Try to change too much and you end up alienating your viewers.

The art of the TV procedural is a hard one to perfect but it can be done.

Let’s break down the characteristics of the TV procedural by genre and see what we uncover. 

Crime Procedurals

This is probably the most common type of procedural and in recent years they flourished.These shows focus on solving a crime, typically a murder, in each episode and a detective and their team of colleagues who have to investigate. 

Examples include "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", "Law & Order", and "NCIS".

One of the best procedurals of recent years was the BBC’s gritty Line of Duty. In fact, it was almost never commissioned for being too procedural.

The show follows an anti-corruption in the British police force unit AC-12 as they uncover crimes committed by organized crime in conjunction with corrupt police officers - ‘bent coppers’ headed by the non-nonsense Superintendent Hastings.

The show prided itself on procedural realism; Line of Duty emulated the rules, regulations, and complexity of modern-day policing. It contrasts the excitement of the traditional elements of the police show: car chases, conspiracy, gun fights, with the mundane and formulaic aspects of policing. 

In the first series, the anti-corruption officers are tasked with investigating a top DCI for ‘laddering’ - charges suspects with as many offenses as possible to inflate the arbitrary targets set by the Home Office. 

In the fourth series, DCI Roz Huntley who is being investigated by the team is able to delay and confuse the investigation into her by claiming Superintendent Hastings broke regulations by using gender-neutral language towards her: he called her darling.

In the fifth series, an investigation is left hanging by a thread when the specific rules of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) are not followed. 

Medical Procedurals

These shows focus on the process of diagnosing and treating patients. Examples include "House", "Grey's Anatomy", and "ER".

Whilst police shows center around the solving of a crime, these medical dramas revolve around the completion of a medical operation.

Legal Procedurals

These procedures focus on the legal process, from the investigation of a crime to the court proceedings. Examples include Law & Order, The Good Wife, and Boston Legal.

We can see how the crime is committed all the way to the prosecution of the case and the trial. We are often anchored in a courtroom. Very often rather than being a who dunnit they can be a how dunnit or the questions can centre around whether the defendant is to be found guilty or not guilty. 

The protagonist is often a lawyer or a barrister. 

Forensic Procedurals

These are a subset of crime procedurals that specifically focus on the forensic process of solving crimes. Examples include "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", "Bones", and "Dexter".

The protagonist is usually a CSI - a crime science investigator. The procedural nature of these shows often brings the audience into the heart of the world of science and DNA testing.

Science Fiction Procedurals

These procedurals incorporate elements of science fiction, such as advanced technology or extraterrestrial life. Examples include The X-Files, Star Trek and Fringe.

Very often they center around a fictional organization of the future that has been established to keep peace on Earth or in the wider solar system. Every episode shows them solving a specific mystery or a crime. 

One example is Captain Scarlet. Set in 2068 it follows the Spectrum Organization from their cloudbase ship as they seek to keep the Earth safe from the Mysterons, a mysterious group of Martians hell-bent on destroying life on Earth. They possess a series of powers including the ability to kill and then reconstruct any human to work as an agent for them. 

TV Procedurals: Know Your Genre

The key to writing a good procedural is to know your genre inside-out. Understand what the conventions are and the basic elements that need to take place in each episode.

Once those are in play you can begin playing around with them and filling in your plots for each episode.

Remember whilst having one episode is great, having a plot that has a linear thread that draws all the episodes together will make a more satisfying series.

Remember if you need assistance with your first draft our FREE screenwriting software can be downloaded today.


Level-up your screenwriting software

With Arc Studio, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

Add the template to your Arc Studio Pro account

text content

Download the template
Go to Desk

Download your free template now

With Arc Studio pro, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease. 2
How to Write a TV Procedural
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

Level-up your screenwriting software

Arc Studio is the new standard in screenwriting software: stay focused, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

Go to Desk

Download your free template now

With Arc Studio pro, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

Go to Desk

Receive a free screenwriting book

Get your free ebook now!

Download Your Template
Go to Desk

Learn from the film industry’s top screenwriters

Our new podcast, How I Write: Screenwriters Share Their Creative Processes, launches Nov. 12th.

Go to Desk


This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.

Read More

Ready to get started?

Go to Desk
No credit card required