The first season of the anthology series, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson ended this week, and by all accounts, it was a great series, the best show of the year, so far. It worked, however, because many of the issues that the series dealt with — racism, domestic violence, feminism — are still as relevant today as they were 20 years ago. The series was also more about the characters than the crime and it benefitted from powerful performances from Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, and Courtney B. Vance.
As is often the case when something strikes a nerve, competitors try and duplicate the success by ignoring the what resonated — complex themes, strong characters, great acting — and focussing on the premise. If O.J.’s murder case made for compelling television, producers assume that other true-life murders will be equally compelling.
The Law & Order franchise was the first to jump into the fray with its own true-crime anthology series, Law & Order: True Crime . The first season will take up the Menendez Brothers case. The Menendez Brothers, Lyle and Erik (who were 21 and 18 at the time), murdered their parents. The brothers, who were not initially suspects, started spending their parents money lavishly (spending around $1 million in six months). Eventually, however they were tried for the crimes (after one of the brothers confessed to his psychologist) and claimed they killed their parents after suffering a lifetime of abuse. There were two trials — the first ended in deadlocked juries, while the second ended in their convictions and life sentences.
There’s plenty of sensational material to work with, but it’s hard to imagine it will be an “important” series (I will nevertheless watch the sh*t out of it). The grosser series is the one coming from CBS. They will tackle the JonBenét Ramsey murder. This series will re-examine the unsolved murder of the six-year-old 20 years ago by uniting the original team of investigators as well as new experts. It will come from Tom Forman, the guy behind Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
In other words, it’s a gross, cynical cash grab capitalizing on an obsessions with true crime series that will probably have dissipated by the time the series airs.