Reality television is something that's been on the rise since Survivor disrupted the airwaves in the year 2000. It paved the way for a myriad of shows, many of which took inspiration from hidden camera and variety programs of decades past. As "unscripted drama" gained in popularity, it also succeeded in challenging the status quo.
One hour dramas like Law & Order gave way to episodic series' with story arcs spanning an entire season. In the past, many popular themes in fictional television drew upon real life events for inspiration, most notably those that showcased the darker side of human nature. So it's not surprising to see the latest wave of viral entertainment taking on the subject of true crime, and more specifically, homicide.
Reality TV has inspired storytelling in a variety of media, including podcasts like NPR's Serial (Season 1), and the documentary series Making a Murderer produced by Netflix. Both projects explore the possibility of a wrongful conviction and offer their audience unprecedented access to the convicted parties in the forms of interviews and recorded telephone conversations made directly from prison. Both have also become the subject of intense scrutiny by Internet sleuths. Members of both the innocent and guilty camps are determined to turn up some fact or missing piece of evidence that will crack the cases wide open.
Something that has not changed throughout the evolution of reality entertainment is criticism of its biases and what has been left on the cutting room floor (....and for the record, that was not a Dexter reference). Hundreds of hours of audio and video files must be edited in order to convey a concise narrative that appeals to a mass audience. In the process, information might be presented out of order or out of context.
One of the biggest elements of interest in this current wave of true crime productions is the fact that the programs themselves have influenced the cases in real life. Popular interest in these investigations and verdicts has prompted unprecedented legal developments that are having real world implications. As a result, long after the shows have wrapped, the stories remain in the news almost daily.
And there can't be a conversation about true crime without thoughts going out to the victims and their families who find themselves in the position of reliving tragedy in the public eye. If anything meaningful can come from our collective fascination with these cases, let's hope it is the delivery of truth and closure once and for all.