Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

TRUE CRIME BOOM: “Where’s OUR Quiet on Set?” by StoryCentric’s Ed Hersh

By Ed Hersh, StoryCentric, New York.

The popularity of True Crime programming across all platforms — broadcast, cable, streaming, and podcasting — continues to defy gravity.

Peter reported just last month that True Crime dominates all other genres in terms of net added programs on four of the Big 5 major streaming platforms.

And of course, ID/Max’s disturbing documentary series, “Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,”  has become a bonafide cultural phenomenon, dominating both minutes viewed and social conversation for documentaries in Q1 2024.

The great humorist Fred Allen once observed that “Imitation is the sincerest form of television,” and in development meetings and conference rooms at networks and prodcos around the world, I’m sure everyone is asking, “Where’s OUR Quiet on Set?”

But as I’ve been advising my clients and discussing at industry panels, this is all part of an evolution of True Crime storytelling in the streaming era that is important for producers to consider in a time of shifting priorities and business models.

Trailer: Quiet On Set

 

 

What You Need  to Know!

What are the new lessons to be learned from its success?

Here are my takeaways:

  • The Sweet Spot: Crime meets Pop Culture (and add Sex)
    The overwhelming response to “Quiet on Set,” and before that, “Surviving R. Kelly” underscores how a pop culture icon, whether a TV channel or a rapper, commands a built-in audience. Add the ingredients of tawdry sex and the audience seems to find it irresistible. “It markets itself,” one executive told me.
  • It’s Not Just Murder anymore
    With the flexibility of streaming, platforms continue to expand their definitions of True Crime, and audiences have responded. After years of “whodunits” — real-life mystery/suspense tales — and “whydunits” — deep-dives into the minds of serial killers — the new area of growth is in the expanding genre of “howdunits:” shocking scams, ingenious heists, terrifying cults, and Wall Street.  These stories take us inside slow-motion trainwrecks whether it’s the Fyre Festival, the Theranos collapse, the Nxvim cult, or Nickelodeon, and take us on fascinating journeys to answer a universal question: “How could this have happened, and how did they get away with it for so long?”
  • Access is EVERYTHING… and good storytelling is not enough
    From music to sports to biography to true crime, we’ve seen this trend develop with the rise of streaming, and the bar is higher than ever. You simply CANNOT pitch a true crime story without being able to use the phrase, “never before seen/heard archive” or guarantee exclusive access to witnesses, investigators and participants who have not spoken before. That access needs to be locked up before you even walk into a network or platform to make your pitch.

My Final Word

  • Even as linear television declines, the appetite for True Crime across all platforms is increasing.
  • But the key to success, I believe, is understanding how its storytelling — both in style and substance — is evolving as well.
  • And I always advise clients to do your homework: make sure you understand BEFORE you pitch what kind of stories and storytelling your potential network or platform is looking for!

About Ed Hersh

Ed advises networks and producers on their development, production and storytelling strategies — with a special focus on true crime — as the principal of StoryCentric, the NY-based consultancy he founded in 2007. He also serves on the adjunct faculty at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.

He has served as a producer and senior programming executive in the True Crime genre at ABC News, A&E, Court TV, and Investigation Discovery. You are welcome to contact him at ed@storycentric.com.

 


More on True Crime…

 

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