Crime Spree Underway across Nets and Cable

By Owen, Rob | Variety, August 3, 2017 | Go to article overview

Crime Spree Underway across Nets and Cable


Owen, Rob, Variety


TRUE CRIME has always been a part of TV in some form - newscasts, news magazines, TV movies and docu-series, as well as the inspiration for fictional scripted shows. But with the success of the podcast "Serial," HBO's "The Jinx," Netflix's "Making a Murderer" and FX's "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story," true crime content proliferates at a greater rate now than in the recent past.

"American Crime Story" executive producer Brad Simpson says true crime docu-drama on cable outlets for the past 10 years, coupled with the rise of the anthology limited series, gave rise to the current spree. And the current political and cultural state of the country may play into the resurgence as well.

"People feel like something is broken in America and watching true crime speaks to that," says Simpson, who is in production on the next "Crime Story" installment, about the murder of fashion icon Gianni Versace. "Really good true crime isn't just about the crime itself; it's the crime that's indicative of something in society"

Rich Ross, group president for Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Science Channel and Velocity, notes true crime has made up a quarter of the Discovery schedule at various points over the years, but scripted true crime offers fans of the genre new ways to see historic stories. "When I came in [in 2015] I certainly looked at categories or genres that heretofore had worked, and crime was one of them," he says, pointing to Discovery's success with recent docu-series "The Killing Fields," which will spawn a spinoff.

"It is always about figuring it out [and] 'Manhunt' is the perfect example," Ross says of Discovery's upcoming scripted turn at true crime. "['Manhunt: Unabomber'] is told from the point of view of the Sam Worthington [FBI profiler] character of Fitzgerald. He's the key to figuring it out."

Greg Yaitanes, who directed all eight hours of "Manhunt," echoes Ross' point about shedding new light on stories the longer an audience can spend with them. "My first professional directing gig was doing reenactments on 'America's Most Wanted' the day of the Oklahoma City bombing," says Yaitanes. "I remember working and following the case and the thing that caught me by surprise when I read the 'Manhunt' pilot was how everything I knew was just a small fraction of the story."

Burgeoning Paramount Network, which replaces Viacom's Spike TV in 2018, will get its start using a true crime series: The six-part "Waco" is about the 51-day standoff that began with an ATF raid in Texas in 1993. "Waco" stars Michael Shannon, Taylor Kitsch, John Leguizamo and Melissa Benoist.

"What's really en vogue now are these limited event series where you can get big-name feature actors who aren't signing up for seven seasons," says Keith Cox, Paramount Network ?- president of development and production. "When you do shows like this one, we all know the outcome, but when you put it in these unbelievably skilled actors' hands, you're almost humanizing it and getting in the heads of the characters in a way that maybe in a documentary you wouldn't."

Given the success of ripped-fromthe-headlines drama "Law & Order" across the networks of NBCUniversal, it's no surprise to see true crime on USA Network, too.

"We have a pretty substantial audience circulating through our network that loves 'Law & Order,'" says Bill McGoldrick, executive vice president of scripted content for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. "That may not be true crime, but it's inspired by true crime. We know how to access that base."

USA is producing a new anthology series, "Unsolved," with its first season devoted to "The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G." The series follows an investigation by LAPD detective Greg Kading (Josh Duhamel), and the real-life Kading serves as an executive producer on the series after writing the book "Murder Rap: The Untold Story of the Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur Murder Investigations. …

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