What America Needs Now Is A Successful Television Heist Show


Television loves conventions. That’s why we have a million police procedurals, law procedurals, medical procedurals, murder mysteries, spy shows. And yet there’s never been a successful, straightforward heist show. BUT THERE SHOULD BE.

When I say “a straightforward heist show,” here’s what I mean:

The planner/planners has/have an idea for a theft. A group of collaborators is assembled. A plan is formulated. We learn about the security, the problems to be overcome during the theft. We do not necessarily have to learn (in fact, we usually don’t learn) exactly how the theft will be done, but we’re given clues that will make the theft’s intricacies make sense after it’s done. We meet the adversary: sometimes a bad guy, a gangster or something, but sometimes a good guy, like a cop. After all, the heist crew is, objectively, made up of bad guys.

Then the theft is carried out. Something goes wrong, usually; maybe a double-cross, maybe just bad luck. Then the thieves have to figure out how to fix whatever went wrong, and attempt to get away with, preferably, whatever they were trying to steal, but with only their freedom is just fine too.

Nobody’s managed to do a show like this and have it last very long. “Thief,” an Emmy-winning miniseries on FX from 2006, had laughably low ratings and wasn’t renewed. “Heist,” also from 2006, was cancelled after five episodes. There are shows with nods to the heist formula—con man shows, spy shows, mystery shows, some episodes of general crime-based shows like “Breaking Bad”—but no straight-up heist show has ever cracked the television puzzle. The newest attempt is a web series called “Caper,” which is about superhero burglars, so, you know, let’s reserve judgment, but.

The heist is a very specific and strict formula, perhaps even more strict than the procedurals that litter our TVs. Would anyone watch that same structure, six or 10 or 12 or 22 times over the course of a season? I mean, I would, but nobody else would, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for that. But! What hasn’t really been done is a season-long heist. Why not stretch it out? Spend a couple episodes assembling a crew. Maybe one of the needed crew members is in jail, so the proto-crew needs to do a little heist to break him out. Fun episode! Then spend another few episodes creating the plan, figuring out what the obstacles are. That’ll require a bunch of little heists! The crew will have to get the right equipment, get people undercover in the right places, figure out the layouts, sneak in and out of places. Unexpected developments should be expected.

Then there’s the heist itself, which should take place with a good few episodes left in the season, because oh man, someone is going to double-cross someone else, or the loot is going to be not as expected, or the getaway is going to fall apart. I don’t know. I’m not going to write the whole thing for you, you lazy TV writers. This is just a skeleton proposal.

Then at the end of the season, the crew gets away with it. Or doesn’t. Next season can start all over again.

Who do I have to call to get this to happen?