Like many millions of other folks, my wife and I watch true crime documentaries, such series as "Cold Case Files," "Homicide Hunter, "Unusual Suspects," and, of course, NBC's "Dateline" and ABC's "20/20."

Why do we watch? The reasons vary, but people have always demonstraed an interest in true mysteries. For many, many years, murders were exploited by newspapers because readers couldn't get enough of them.

The nicest reason put forth is we like to observe human nature, though morbid curiosity also has been suggested, along with the possibility that watching other people's fatal mistakes helps us feel superior. Another reason is that watching documentaries about murders teaches how to avoid being murdered.

Whatever the reason, my wife and I are hooked. We watch even though most of these programs are annoying, often failing to address obvious questions about a case. In order to create suspense, they also delay revealing information that was available early in an investigation. Occasionally a program will do such a bad job that my wife or I will become impatient in the middle of an episode and go online to read how the case was resolved.

Certain statements from family, friends and police are presented at least three times — in the opening tease that usually is more confusing than provocative, later just before a commercial break, then just after. We stream these programs on Hulu, Peacock, Max and other outlets, so we are spared the commercials, but we wish this needless repetition was edited out of programs once they become available to stream. We don't need to hear "She was loved by everyone" more than once.

ANOTHER REASON I watch is because most cases take place in small towns previously unknown to me. I enjoy learning about these places, though most programs ignore history in favor of tiresome clichés.

For example, the murder often takes place in a house on a quiet, tree-lined street in a peaceful neighborhood, where things like this never happen ... but, of course, they obviously do.

The murder occurs in a town that is:

an apple pie slice of Midwestern Americana.
a tight-knit community, a great place to raise children.
shaken to the core by the murder and robbed of its innocence.
the kind of place people care for and take care of other people; everyone knows everyone else, and nobody locks his or her doors. (Surely some residents must be bright enough to do so.)
built on family values; residents are working class, church-going people. (Yet many murders are committed by church-going people whose family values are warped.)

I'd much prefer a more interesting, fact-based account of the town's history, an approach used by my all-time favorite true crime series, "City Confidential," which for 88 of its 152 episodes was narrated by the incomparable Paul Winfield, whose silky voice and sly delivery did so much justice to scripts that were the best-written of all programs in this category.

(Keith David took over after Winfield died in 2004. I enjoy David's acting, particularly in the series, "Greenleaf," but he couldn't match Winfield when it came to conveying the script's eye-winking humor.)

INTERVIEWERS on these shows too often put words into the mouths of family members who are being asked to recall murder victims or how they felt when they were informed of the crime.

Call me hard-hearted, but I cringe when I hear, "My world came crashing down," "My stomach fell to the floor," "I fell to my knees," "It was like my heart stopped beating." A word that pops up in almost every episode is "surreal."

Female victims? "She had a smile that lit up a room." Male victims? "He'd give you the shirt off his back."

By now you know most married or divorced victims are killed either by a spouse or former spouse, of by someone hired by a spouse or former spouse, though occasionally an in-law or former in-law is behind the crime.

The motive usually involves a child custody dispute or life insurance. (Perhaps the most stunning thing about the latter is how people with little income are able to secure life insurance policies worth half a million dollars — or more.)

MOST TIRESOME clichés? "They were the perfect couple" and "They were living the American dream." And it's a cruel joke to have a friend recall, "We all thought she had found Prince Charming."

Useless clichés aren't confined to friends and family. I'm tired of hearing police says there was no sign of a forced entry (most killers either have keys or knock and are let in), that someone or something "raised a red flag," that ruling out a suspect took police "back to square one" (didn't they just learn something important about the case), or that it may have been was a robbery gone bad . (In the worst single episode of any crime show I've ever seen — “Unholy Matrimony” on ABC’s “20/20” — network reporter Deborah Roberts used the phrase "a legitimate robbery." Is there such a thing?)

Another line that should be expunged from crime series — whether documentaries or police dramas — is "He had no police record, not even a parking ticket." Since when it illegal parking a gateway crime?

And it's not always true that a particularly gruesome murder was committed by someone "who knew him/her and really wanted him/her dead." Often such a killer is a stranger who panicked and got carried away.

Many police are quoted as saying "it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up" and that murders were committed "in cold blood."

People don't go missing, they disappear into thin air or from the face of the earth. New evidence often flips the case on its head or turns the case upside down. The result is a game changer. And many people continue to say "at that point in time."

REGARDLESS of how clumsily the information is presented, there's much to be learned from these programs. At the top of the list: Do not have children until you are mature enough to be a parent. I'm appalled by how many mothers recall the moment their high school student daughter, since murdered, announced she was pregnant. "She was so happy!" Until the baby arrived and she became involved with a boy who was not her baby's father. Oops! Pregnant again.

Other lessons:

Do not shop at Wal•Mart. That chain has the best surveillance cameras and you will be observed in the store or the parking lot. Even if you pay cash to avoid receiving an identifying credit card receipt, you will be seen carrying your purchases — like that shovel, the plastic tarp and gasoline can — from the store to your car.
If you have to drive some distance to commit murder, turn off your cellphone or leave at home. A cellphone is a snitch.
If you intend to make your crime seem like a robbery, be sure to steal something, then put it where it will never be found. Most killers who ransack houses either forget to take something or toss it so close to the property that it is quickly found, proving robbery wasn't a motive.
If it's up to you to call 911 to report a murder you just committed, do not get hysterical. Many killers become suspects because they overacted on the phone. When interrogated, don't show grief by covering your face with your hands. That's a sure sign you're not really crying.

I'D END by saying crime doesn't pay, but despite all the programs that reveal how killers are caught, often through DNA results, "Cold Case Files," offers a chilling reminder at the start of every episode, claiming there are more than 100,000 cold cases and only few are ever solved. (The number of actual cold cases is much higher.)

Incredibly — at least, I found it incredible — the worst true crime documentary I ever saw inspired an eight-part HBO series that starred Toni Collette and Colin Firth. I could not bring myself to watch HBO's drama of "The Staircase," having watched the bloated, one-sided Netflix documentary about the same crime.