Channel Surfing to a Life of Crime

Peter Mehlman, a television writer-producer, worked on "Seinfeld."

CBS has a new show called “Numb3rs.” It tracks an FBI agent who uses his math-genius brother to unravel patterns in criminal behavior. So specific and ultra-ultra is this show, it is practically graduate-level stuff. Really, if it makes it to May sweeps, “Numb3rs” should complete my education. Combined with all the other TV crime shows, if I’m not ready to go out there and be a successful, hard-core, violent criminal, the system has failed me.

I began my education in crime with that freshman survey class, “Law and Order.” That’s where I learned the basics: Don’t get five parking tickets within a block of my crime scene; don’t drop my Social Security card near the blood spatter; don’t take out life insurance on my victim a week before the crime; don’t hide my weapon in a coffee can on the kitchen counter. If I’m planning a murder, I should make it look like a robbery, and vice versa. Don’t smile at surveillance cameras. Wear rubber gloves. If the cops arrest me, lawyer up. If the D.A. offers a plea bargain, he’s got nothing on me. And when the most stunningly beautiful assistant district attorney in the history of American jurisprudence tries to seduce a confession out of me, look away.

I aced that class and enrolled in “NYPD Blue.” I took copious notes: Don’t call my potential “vic” from my home phone or the cops will track me through my LUDs. Work alone. When a cop offers a soda, say no thanks -- they want my fingerprints on the can. When a cop threatens to beat a confession out of me, take the beating -- prison is worse than pain. And when the most stunningly beautiful detective in the history of criminology tries to sweet-talk a confession out of me, clam up.

Then came “CSI,” which not only advanced my education but trained me for a life of crime in pretty much every major American city. What difference does it make where I ply my trade, as long as I thoroughly burn the nondescript clothes I bought just for the occasion? If I shave my head before my felony and drop a bag of someone else’s hair at the scene, what’s to stop me from living in Miami? If I don’t leave DNA-drenched cigarette butts three centimeters from the ligature marks on my vic’s neck, Vegas is infinitely livable. New York, Miami, wherever ... it’s my America! (That is, as long as I don’t roll corpses in carpeting with polypropylene continuous filament fibers that cling to the skin of victims moved from crime scenes.)


And when the most stunningly beautiful woman in the history of forensic science asks for my saliva on a Q-tip, it won’t match anything at any crime scene in the country. Why? Because I watch TV.

The toughest class for me was “Cold Case.” It’s hard focusing on a show with such a buried time slot. But, I figure, if I start perping now, by the time my work lands on the desk of a cold-case cop, the show will be there for me in a perpetual loop on TNT. In the meantime, I jotted down some reminders: When my crime goes unsolved for five years, move to Europe. Maintain a valid passport at all times. Never give family members any of my contact information. Don’t get married. Don’t date. Become estranged from old friends. Don’t make new friends. Don’t make acquaintances. Then, when the most beautiful woman in the history of detectives who never quite cut it investigating current cases shows up at my door looking for a swatch of my down comforter, I’ll be nowhere to be found.

OK. I’m feeling good about myself now. Ready to launch a career without having ever read a book. Sure, it would be nice if Fox aired a show exclusively devoted to beating a polygraph, but I won’t let that hold me back. Besides, if I ever become a suspect, I can always account for my whereabouts at the time of the crime: I was home watching “Law and Order” reruns. My recitation of plot lines and guest casts from episodes I’ve seen 85 times is as unimpeachable as alibis get. Education. Boy, it’s so important. If Scott Peterson had my TiVo, he’d be at Canyon Ranch now.