Cold Case (“Pilot”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 28, 2003 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 15.9 million viewers, 10.5/16 in Households, 3.4/9 with Adults 18-49

COLD CASE is the prime example of a television show being unable to live past its existence on television, thanks to the music that was used for each episode. The show is a perfect example of how music rights are handled differently for broadcast, streaming, and publishing on hardcopy, and that each of the ways a Hollywood product can live out its life have their own price. COLD CASE is the reason I am sometimes asking myself what makes music rights so cheap for simple broadcasting, and what makes them so expensive when put on a DVD or BluRay, or when available in an episode for streaming. I am also wondering why some artists and music studios ask for more money than the producing studio of the show can handle, which means the music either has to be swapped with a cheaper piece, or completely cut from the episode. Wouldn’t it help the artist or the music studio, if the piece used in a scripted program is being listened to by a new wave of viewers years later? Wouldn’t it help the sales of that piece of music? Or is there something about music rights that nobody gets due to the complex nature of it?

Music isn’t the reason I decided to tackle this CBS drama though. COLD CASE sort of had a fascinating history with me, as I only watched it when it aired on German television because it happened to be the lead-in show to WITHOUT A TRACE, which I was watching back then. The first season of the Anthony LaPaglia-led show was the lead out to season nine of ER, which made me watch that show, and I immediately loved it. But low ratings pushed WITHOUT A TRACE to a sister network for the second season, and there it was paired with COLD CASE, which I watched, just to waste some time waiting for a new episode of WITHOUT A TRACE. I only kept that up for a year, and then I gave up both shows, probably because the proceduralized nature bored me after a while. But this is how I came to watch COLD CASE on TV, and I always liked it enough to try and watch the remainder of the show. Here I am now, trying for the third or fourth time to get through the seven years of Lilly Rush investigating forgotten murder cases. By now it’s a great watch, just to see who were the guest stars of each episode, and how many of them have come to be A listers in Hollywood. How many of them did I not know midway through the first decade of the twenty-first century, and how many of them do I love now? Kate Mara certainly belongs in that field, as she has become a fantastic actor, with MEGAN LEAVEY not only turning out to be an emotional and surprisingly great movie, but also a once-a-year must-rewatch for me, and films on that special list of mine come in short supply.

Cops are never seen like this on television.

The pilot for COLD CASE couldn’t have been more generic though. It’s just like any other crime procedural episode, in which the detectives investigate a murder case and solve it by the end of the hour. COLD CASE is like a 1960s or 1970s crime drama, produced with a slick effort, looking pretty, sounding almost bombastic with the collection of songs used to drive the flashback narrative. COLD CASE is not a show you should expect continued storytelling from, let alone character development. After one episode, the only thing of importance was Lilly’s mention of her abusive ex-husband, and even here I believe she just dished out that story for the victim’s mother, because it happened to help get Lilly closer to her, win her trust. It’s what detectives do in detective shows — it’s what they being taught in detective school, since trust is the first thing you need to get from a potential witness, so they will talk.

The idea is to let the suspect sweat.

COLD CASE also happened to open with a rather generic murder case, making me wonder why it remained unsolved in the 1970s. There were essentially two suspects all the way, maybe three, begging the question how Philadelphia police wasn’t able to solve this one, if the only thing that was needed was a little pressure from the detectives. Even more so, after Lilly’s investigation revealed what was pretty much expected: Both Eric and Todd were involved in Jill’s murder, and when interrogating them in the 1970s, you could have put some pressure on their post-murder panic and they would have sang like they were the leads of a Broadway musical. All that makes COLD CASE a convenient crime drama, in which murder cases get solved, but because a bunch of crime dramas were already on the air in 2003 and before, CBS needed a unique element to get the viewers to tune in. And voila, the premise of cold cases was developed. Put a few flashbacks in, get an entire cast to portray those flashback characters throughout the episode, create a memorable soundtrack, and include a great way to conclude the investigation, in which the perps are arrested and brought to the precinct, while the victim’s family, portrayed by both the flashback cast and the present-time cast, watches on. And finish that off with one final look at the victim, making eye contact with Lilly, which essentially comes to a “thank you for solving my murder, now I can rest in peace.” Especially that moment at the end of the episode worked beautifully, although you are allowed to ask how long that can be beautiful, and when it is going to turn into just another element of the show that doesn’t persuade you to tune in next week.

One final look at the victim to make sure she is alright in the afterlife.

When it comes to the central characters, not much was shown. This was Lilly’s investigation, so she was having screentime all the way. Her partner Chris was kind of forced into attending witness interrogations during the second half of the episode, while the remainder of the central cast only looked in once or twice, commenting on random things, then walked off again to let Lilly work on the case. Not much of character introduction, let alone an establishing of relations between each of them. Is it proof that COLD CASE only needed to be a crime procedural, and character development was not important? Will it take half a season for the writers to depict the home life of any one of the characters?

Best part of the episode: The slow-motion scene at the end was made to look better with the help of the rainfall. There was quite the beautiful imagery there, which tends to show how much you can get out of a scene with the lowest of budgets. Although I have no idea how much it cost for this pilot to be produced.
Worst part of the episode: The writers made use of a red herring more than halfway through, when they introduced a potential third suspect for Lilly and Chris to talk to. Turns out he was only there to mention the aunt’s place and tease that something like the murder weapon might still be buried there. By the way, who buries the murder weapon? At least throw it in the ocean.
Weirdest part of the episode: Todd was kind of a dick. Going off on a police detective, right in front of police plaza? The guy really wanted to be arrested right there and then. The episode could have ended at that point, but I guess the 44 minutes weren’t filled up yet.
Victim/Perpetrator rate: It’s something I wanted to do, now that I attempt making my way through an entire CBS crime procedural. What I will count are the gender of the murder victims and the eventual killers. What I hope to realize is that the majority of victims are women, and the majority of killers are men, because that might statistically be true, but it’s also a cliche of the genre. Anyway, here we go: The victim rate is Men 0:1 Women. The perp rate is Men 1:0 Women.
Player of the episode: Kate Mara gets the award for opening up the show as the first victim. Not that she wins this award for being the victim, but 16 years after the show premiered it does look good that a CBS crime procedural starts off with a B-lister in Hollywood. I would consider Mara an A-lister, but who really knows her work at this point, except me? Also, Kate Mara is bae.