Credit: Ranjit Grewal for Statement Magazine/Courtesy of Tandam Inc. Photo: Emily Deschanel Glows in Statement Magazine, Issue 3

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a Bones fan, and if you’re a Bones fan, then you probably know how popular the show is.

Just how popular, you ask? Well, Wikipedia has a pretty good breakdown of Bones’s climbing viewership over the years (our college professors told us not to cite Wikipedia, but we’re fighting the power here), noting that “[v]iewership began to steadily increase with its fourth season.” We’ve pimped that “God bless Bones” quotation from Fox’s entertainment president so much that you should have it memorized by now.  And on top of all that, there’s the proof in the pudding: Fox just keeps on renewing our favorite crime drama.

But we’re starting to think that maybe this Bones love goes beyond just our favorite crime drama. Think about this: in TV Guide’s 25 most popular TV shows, Criminal Minds comes in at number five. We’ve also got The Closer, NCIS, House, Bones, Grey’s Anatomy, and Castle. (Okay, okay -- Castle’s at number 26, but we’re willing to knock off a few of these goofy reality shows to accommodate it.) Crime and hospital dramas dominated prime-time Nielsen ratings in 2009. Magnum, P.I.; The Fugitive; and MacGuyver feature in the top 25 most-watched series finales of all time, and M*A*S*H (often characterized as a medical drama) sits on top of the list.

So why do these gruesome, bad-guy-catching/disease-curing spectacles rake in so many viewers? As a matter of fact, we think CBS hits the nail on the head in a piece from two years ago.

Credit: Ray Mickshaw/FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Photo: Booth in Season 6, Episode 23: "The Change in the Game"

The piece is long, and the author runs through a lot of hypotheses -- but for our money, we’re going with “reassurance.”  Experts interviewed by CBS say that, especially in the wake of 9/11, people are looking for “an answer to a failure of intelligence and a failure of technology.”  That is, “[i]t’s much more reassuring at the end of this show than it is at the end of the news.”

See, the sad fact is that all too often, in real life, the bad guy gets away or the patient dies. Look at a show like A&E’s Cold Case Files vis-à-vis how often crimes go unsolved. (In fact, the television powers that be at CBS capitalized on even this.) Look at...well, every hospital ever. So when we sit down at the end of the day and turn on Bones, there’s finally a time in our lives when we can sit back and say to ourselves, “The system works.”

As Mark Twain and others have said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” In other words, we love shows that solve a mystery or cure a disease in thirty to sixty minutes because that makes sense in an often nonsensical world. These shows give us faith in societal systems (hospital, law enforcement, justice) that often sorely test us in reality.

There is a dark side to this sense of reassurance, though, and it’s showing up in our real-life justice system. Boston.com published an article this week about the “CSI effect,” wherein potential jurors “require irrefutable scientific evidence in order to return a guilty verdict.” Now, like we said before, the real world rarely deals in absolutes -- so when you have people who’ve grown up on shows that reliably (irrefutably) put people in jail every week, your district’s prosecutor is going to have trouble getting by with “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In fact, this has become such a problem that, per the article, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts has upheld prosecutors’ ability to grill jurors-to-be who might be “less impressed by compelling circumstantial evidence,” making them more likely to acquit defendants “when scientific evidence is not part of the case.”

(Granted, the court pooh-poohed the very idea of the “CSI effect,” but hey...they’re still letting prosecutors excuse potential jurors for cause on exactly those grounds, aren’t they?)

All this goes to show that, as is often the case, we have a pros-and-cons situation for television. On the bright side, it’s good to maintain people’s faith in our law enforcement system. We need to be sure that our doctors, lawyers, and cops (and especially our lawyers!) are ready, willing, and able to save the day. On the other hand, we have to be careful not to turn ourselves into glassy-eyed drones who expect real life to run like a well-calibrated watch.

So in short, Bones-ios, keep enjoying your crime dramas -- but don’t let Booth’s and Brennan’s ironclad convictions cause you to do something you might regret in the courtroom. (On the other hand, your Bones love might be the perfect thing to get you out of jury duty!)