The mystery is almost maddening, isn’t it - the twists and turns, questions over guilt and innocence, justice and corruption. There is a rise in true crime dramas and for good reason: they’re flat out entertaining.
The affinity for the crime genre has always been there, but for the first time, the stories are being done really well.
It started two years ago when Sarah Koenig created her podcast, Serial. In her story told week by week, listeners became enraptured by the controversial conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee back in 1999. Koenig went back and forth, and listeners with her, on Syed’s guilt as she returned “to the scene of the crime” as it were and examined all the evidence. It left listeners clamoring for more after only 12 episodes.
“I might still be insane, but at least all my listeners are now crazy with me.” - Sarah Koenig http://t.co/m5aZ6vLecV
— Serial (@serial) October 30, 2014
Hoping to gain a share of that enthrallment, CBS recently announced it too would jump into the reinvestigation of 1990s murder mysteries for our entertainment. The first season of Anthology, CBS’s new true crime show, will be dedicated to the unsolved murder of 6-year-old Boulder resident, JonBenet Ramsey.
It’s no surprise JonBenet’s murder is next on the list. The case received unprecedented media coverage, even for years afterwards, as the nation grappled with the little girl’s suspicious death.
The family was a quintessential American household after all – successful businessman father, former beauty queen wife, a young boy, and one darling blonde pageant star – living in a beautiful home in one of the safest towns in America. It seemed like they were made for television.
There’s little question the JonBenet series, if done well, will be equally qualified for the screen.
For a little taste of what CBS may use to push you to the couch every week, take a look at the scribble ransom note found the morning of JonBenet’s death on December 26, 1996.
Patsy Ramsey, the mother, awoke sometime near 5:30 a.m. and headed to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. As she began her routine, Patsy found the awkwardly written note on their home’s spiral staircase.
Right off the bat, it reads like it a bad Steven Seagal movie. The tactful “Mr. Ramsey” is followed up by “Listen carefully! We are group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction.” What group of foreigners call themselves “foreign”? And why would they take such a moral stand against the nation without identifying their affiliation?
The note ends with similar ridiculousness.
“Don’t try to grow a brain John. You are not the only fat cat around so don’t think that killing will be difficult. Don’t underestimate us John. Use that good southern common sense of yours. It is up to you now John!
Is this a joke?
Hours later, John Ramsey, the father, found his daughter’s strangled and beaten body lying in their cellar after police asked him to search his house for anything out of place. So not only was she not kidnapped, but she was in the first place “Mr. Ramsey” looked.
There is a plethora of other suspicious behavior surrounding the parents, and yet, years later, when the DNA evidence could be analyzed, no member of the Ramsey family was implicated.
Add in a false confession and police misconduct, and you’ve got another seriously maddening show to talk about around the watercooler.
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) April 9, 2016
CBS isn’t the only studio about to enable your addiction. NBC is launching yet another Law & Order spinoff called Law & Order: True Crime. Its first shows are dedicated to the much-publicized Menendez murders in 1989. Also, Netflix is developing Making a Murderer 2 as a follow-up on the continuing Avery trials.
As morally ambiguous as this source of entertainment is, there is hope the additional public attention can bring new opportunity for justice. Adnan Syed, for example, is serving a life sentence - and then some - for his controversial murder conviction, but after 80 million podcast downloads, he may get a new trial. Many think that this is due, in part, to the increased spotlight.
I’m not suggesting that means spending an entire weekend examining a grizzly murder two decades passed is a good use of time. But since we all will waste that time, at least we can use that piece of information to rationalize it.
Look for CBS and NBC’s new true crime shows to release sometime next fall. Netflix has yet to set a timeline for Making a Murderer 2’s release.