You've traditionally got four show templates: cop, doctor, lawyer, and family shows. It's getting harder to come up with a new take on them. Nets are looking for shows with close-ended storylines and somewhat heroic characters.In the UK, there are two precincts that dominate British drama series - cops and docs. I've always through the situation was much the same across the Atlantic; certainly some of the best and/or most popular American dramas fall in either of those categories. For docs, see Grey's Anatomy, House, ER and many others. Cops is even more dominant at present: CSI, The Shield, Law & Order, The Wire and many others. You could argue that lawyer-based dramas are an extension of the cops precinct, but they tend to have their own, unique tropes and tales to tell. British TV has its lawyer-based drama series [e.g. New Street Law], but it's not much in vogue.
It's the family drama that particularly separates US and UK TV. I'm not talking about dramas that can attract the whole family for a shared viewing experience [like Doctor Who now does], but returning drama series about families. Families are more often the precinct for sitcoms than drama in Britain. UK family dramas do exist: witness the success of Wild at Heart [one of 2006's highest rated series and soon to be launched in an American incarnation]; other recent examples include Down to Earth; At Home With the Braithwaites; and, arguable, The Chase.
Come to think of it [you can tell I'm thinking this through as I type, can't you?], the family is a distinct British drama precinct - but the results are most often written by women and aimed at a predominantly female audience. Look at series created by Kay Mellor: The Chase, Fat Friends, Playing the Field - all based around families, be they literal, biological families, or the broader families we create in our daily lives. What about series created by Sally Wainwright? The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, At Home With the Braithwaites - ordinary families put under pressure by extraordinary circumstances.
Now, those shows may not be your bag, but they've all earned a devoted audience and all [bar Mrs Pritchard, to date] had multiple series commissioned. Is British television guilty of labelling family drama as women's drama? Ashley Pharoah may be best known right now for co-creating Life on Mars, but he's devised a long list of successful family dramas: Wild at Heart, Down to Earth, Paradise Heights. [He also devised the long-running family/docs hybrid, Where the Heart Is.] These series don't win many awards or a lot of critical kudos, but they've often much loved by audiences.
Just because a show is a family drama, it doesn't have to be cosy, comfortable viewing. One of the best TV series of the past ten years is The Sopranos, and that's all about family - Tony Soprano's biological family and his other Family - the mob. It's the family as metaphor. Wouldn't we all like to see more TV series as good as The Sopranos? I certainly would. Instead of developing the next iteration of cops and docs, perhaps creating a crackling family drama is a better path to success.
All of that's just me typing out loud, asembling my thoughts. I'll be back tomorrow, trying to wrap my head round a concept someone explained to me recently - returning drama series as metaphor.