Cold Case is an American police procedural television series revolving around a fictionalized Philadelphia Police Department division in Pennsylvania that specializes in investigating cold cases. The series first aired on September 28, 2003 on CBS. Cold Case has been renewed for a seventh season which will begin airing Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 10pm.

Each episode of Cold Case follows a formula that begins with a flashback scene that establishes the year—sometimes the actual date—in which the crime took place, as well as a set of characters in a seemingly mundane situation. These flashbacks feature a different style of direction, whether it be the colors, lighting, shading, or camera angles. Flashbacks often match a style from that era, such as a black-and-white flashback depicting the 1950s. The next scene generally shows one or two of the characters introduced in the flashback scene dead at some future point in time.

The show then flashes to the present day, with the detectives of the homicide division of the Philadelphia police department prompted to investigate an old case gone cold following, for example, a revelation of new evidence, discovery of the victim’s physical remains, or a witness who has decided to come forward. The detectives then give the cold case a new look and begin researching the victim and interviewing their friends, acquaintances, and family.

During the cold case investigation, those who were introduced in the flashback at the beginning of the episode have aged (in one case, a seven-year-old witness to the crime is interviewed by the detectives when she is 95). Gradually, the detectives gather enough evidence to determine the killer, who is usually then arrested. In contrast to many procedural, such as the CSI series, Cold Case stresses cooperative interviews with potential witnesses who each fill in a part of the story, usually in chronological order. There are few adversarial interrogations and very little use of forensic evidence. Violent confrontations with suspects are rare.

At the end of each episode, the detectives mark the case as «closed,» putting the evidence box back on the shelf, while an apparition of the murdered person(s) looks on, although the apparition may appear to a friend or family member of the murdered person instead. Sometimes they may make scenes about the apparition victim’s future, had they lived. In one recent case, the evidence box is being shipped out of state as it became evident that the crime took place outside of Pennsylvania. This happened with the episode «Wednesday’s Women,» where the crime took place in Mississippi in 1964.

The problems in the detectives’ personal lives are also featured, though the main emphasis of every story is on the victim and the search for the killer. Most notably, Detective Lilly Rush grew up in a severely dysfunctional, poverty-stricken home with an alcoholic mother. As the show goes on Lily’s mother grows worse. In one of the latest seasons Lily’s mother passes on, because her poor health due to her addiction.

The show usually casts a young actor for the flashback sequences and an older actor for the shots in the present, and cuts back and forth between the two to show how the character has aged. The same actor could be used if the crime is in the recent past, or if the character is not likely to have changed much in appearance except for added weight and grey hair.

While all of the information shown in the flashbacks is true, what the characters say in the present day about the flashbacks is not necessarily true and, in fact, is often used for misdirection of the audience.

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