The New York Times‘ Bill Carter looks at the strong Summer that true-crime shows such as Investigation Discovery’s “On the Case with Paula Zahn” and NBC’s “Dateline” are having.
Both “Dateline” and “48 Hour Mysteries” are serious productions from the networks’ news divisions, with staffs dedicated to combing crime blogs, newspapers and legal records for cases juicy enough to be told in multiple acts.
And therein lies the appeal. As David Corvo, the NBC News executive in charge of “Dateline,” put it, “It’s got good guys, bad guys, conflict over something that matters, suspense and then resolution — the classic elements of drama and great storytelling.”
People “find the characters fascinating,” said Ms. Zahn, the host and an executive producer of “On the Case.” “They wonder why a pillar of the community could be driven to kill.”
Carter even spoke to “Saturday Night Live” cast member Bill Hader, who appears in a recurring sketch about a fictional true crime show. Not surprisingly, Hader is a fan of the genre:
The “Dateline” style includes touches like cliffhangers before commercials and recaps after, often delivered in ominous narration. That’s certainly the signature of the “Dateline” correspondent Keith Morrison, the subject of a recurring “Saturday Night Live” sketch with Bill Hader, who portentously narrates while taking ghoulish delight in every frightening memory of his interviewees: “Oh no!” “Oh my!”
Mr. Hader didn’t have to do any research for the sketch; he’s a regular viewer of the true crime shows. “They totally suck you in,” he said. “They are way more bizarre than a ‘Law & Order’ episode. This stuff really happened.”