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Realscreen January/February 2019

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014 JANUARY / FEBRUARY '19 FIRST LOOK rom sensational tabloids to long-running investigative broadcast network shows such as CBS' 48 Hours and NBC's Dateline, entertainment focused on true crime has always had massive appeal. In recent years the genre has seemingly exploded to new heights in our cultural zeitgeist. NPR's podcast Serial was downloaded by millions; while Netflix's Making a Murderer helped popularize the true crime doc form across platforms. But in the midst of the true crime content craze, there has been some concern raised in the consumer media and elsewhere about how such programming can potentially impact investigations and how it should be viewed when considering the lenses of race and gender. From The New York Times to Vulture, true crime content, and the production of it, has landed squarely in the spotlight. Realscreen reached out to industry leaders in the true crime space to learn more about the process they undertake when evaluating projects and how they navigate the sensitive social issues that can arise in producing within this increasingly popular genre. Jupiter Entertainment's Stephen Land says producing true crime requires those working in that space to show an extra measure of sensitivity towards victims and their families. As founder and CEO of the prodco behind Oxygen's long- running true crime show Snapped and Investigation Discovery's Homicide Hunters, Land says producers need to have and display compassion for those who are reliving traumatic events. "It's not transactional — it's emotional, and it takes time," says Land about the process of gaining trust with those whose lives have been changed by the crimes covered. According to Land, in almost every series Jupiter has produced in the genre, there will be a case that the production team wants to explore only to find out that those closest to it do not want to discuss it. F If people start to talk to us, we want to make sure that we funnel the right information to the right authorities." "We will tell them why the case merits sharing, but at the end of day if they don't want to talk about it, we don't try to twist [their arms]," says Land. Still, having insider access is paramount for true crime storytelling. Kevin Bennett, general manager, Investigation Discovery, says his team feels responsible for taking seriously the stories being told by the people who are sharing them. If they lose the trust of victims, their families and their stories on a shoot it would have serious long- term consequences. "It would shut down our access in the future," Bennett says. At NBCUniversal's Oxygen, Rod Aissa, EVP, original programming & development, says when deciding to greenlight a project for the true crime net, access to the actual investigators, the prosecutors and even the defense attorneys (if they can get access to them), as well as family members of the victims, is essential. "We want those things so we're not just telling a story with experts or generic talking heads, or reporters, unless they were actively involved in the case," says Aissa. Some of the most captivating crime content of late has involved ongoing, unsolved crimes. Although Jupiter, Oxygen and ID generally work with adjudicated cases, there are times when the content covers open or cold cases. For example, on ID's Cold Valley and Killer Unknown, Bennett says the team aimed to cooperate with law enforcement to ensure they didn't reveal information that could interfere with any ongoing investigations. Sometimes, according to Bennett, producing programming about certain stories will help bring in new information as people become willing to step forward and to open up. "Our hand in hand cooperation with law enforcement in those circumstances is essential because if people start to talk to us, we want to make sure that we can funnel the right information to the right authorities," says Bennett. Producers and networks should also aim to sensitively handle the societal or cultural issues that can add context to the stories. But care needs to be taken to ensure that such Bennett

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