Weird But True: Freakonomics-Flavored Cop Show Bought by NBC

(Photo: Mark Heard)

A few months back, Levitt and I were asked help put together a TV cop show based on the concepts of Freakonomics. The gist: a big-city police force, in crisis, hires a rogue academic (sound familiar?) to help get crime under control.

It struck us as a totally crazy but also strangely appealing idea. The concept had been hatched by Brian Taylor, a  young exec at Kelsey Grammer‘s production company, Grammnet, which then partnered with Lionsgate; and the acclaimed writer Kevin Fox was brought on board. The show would be called Pariah.

A couple weeks ago, Levitt and I went to Los Angeles to help pitch the show to the TV networks. Since we know nothing about TV, we tried to not talk too much and let Kevin, Brian, and Kelsey do their thing. And they did! Here’s the news, from

NBC has bought Pariah, a drama project from Lionsgate Television and Kelsey Grammer’s Grammnet Prods. Written by Kevin Fox (The Negotiator, Law & Order: SVU), the police procedural features characters inspired by the economic theory ‘Freakonomics’ made popular by authors/economists Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner. In Pariah, the Mayor of San Diego appoints a rogue academic with no law enforcement background to run a task force using Freakonomics-inspired alternative methods of policing. This causes an uproar within the police department as the morally conflicted, conspiracy-minded academic solves crimes by conducting his controversial experiments on citizens of the city. Grammer and Grammnet’s Stella Stolper and Brian Sher will executive produce, with Levitt and Dubner attached as producers.

Who knows how far this will go, but the ride has been fun so far. It was particularly enlightening to talk to Grammer about acting (he’s currently starring in the high-end drama Boss, playing a Daley-ish mayor of Chicago). At one point, I asked him what is it about certain people that make their faces appealing on the screen while other people, who might be better-looking or more attractive in some other way, just don’t have that appeal? He answered immediately: “Head size. Most successful actors have really big heads.” Physiologically, he meant.

chuck georgo

well, it's not as "freaky" as it may enforcement has been trying for many years to crack the nut on predictive policing - compstat, problem oriented policing, intelligence-led policing - so it's not that strange to step-it-up to introducing an economics (or freakonomics) based approach. I have been advocating LE take a much more strategic perspective in my work, but calls from the mayor, short budget cycles, headlines of the day, resource constraints, and general political ambitions have precluded long-term views of crime. Good luck to you, I will certainly be watching...r/Chuck

Chuck Georgo


Oh boy, I liked this show a lot when it was called "Numb3rs"!

Ian M

Congratulations to everyone at freakonomics.

Did anyone else think of this?
Since NBC bought Pariah, I will assume that both Dubner and Levitt were bright enough not to stare at the breats of the producer's 16 year old daughter.

"Get a good look, Costanza?"


"You're a loose cannon Levitt! I'm getting sick and tired of explaining your shennanigans to the commisioner! The mimes were cute, but this time you've gone too far!"


"Don't worry, chief, I'm gonna do things by the book... The text book."

Bill B

His name must be Steve Levner.


"Hey Charlie!- getta load a the rookie here- he thinks we should legalize prostitution- hawhaw!- he don't even know it's a giffen good"


"Statsky and Hunch"? Set it on the beach for "Bayesian Watch"? 
(Actually, Chuck is right: nowadays it's all Markov chains and fibonacci sequences. In fact, over 1/2 of all recently hired LEOs are either autistic savants or OCD.)