1969 · The Kicker · Oh, Mercy!
Plus: Lethal Lit, Dean Strang, and Over My Dead Body
|Best Evidence||May 28, 2019||1|
ABC's 1969 historical docuseries ends tonight; should you head into the archives? The network has not done a great job publicizing 1969, from what I’ve seen; I’ve received the occasional PR email, but the limited series is a bit difficult to track down in Spectrum’s onscreen guide (not least because the circulars looked so similar to those for 20/20 that I assumed the show came under that rubric), and I can’t tell what if any promotion “civilians” saw.
Perhaps that’s because the network doesn’t care whether people see it, and while I’m not going to rip Cruel Doubt out of your hands and shove you in the direction of the TV tonight at 10 PM ET, the episodes of 1969 that I’ve seen are...fine! Well, I think Episode 2, “Manson Girls,” is fine? That topic has me glazing over within five minutes no matter what the delivery system, but Episode 3, “The Girl In The Car,” concerns Chappaquiddick; that Mary Jo Kopechne became “a footnote in her own death”; and the stunting power of the Kennedy name to erase evident, flagrant felonies from the consciousness of local law enforcement -- and it’s a perfectly good overview if you don’t know much about the case. Or that it should in fact have been a case.
The series as a whole is, I think, safe to skip; with, presumably, years to choose the topics that would make their list of a half-dozen critical moments in that wild year, ABC News honchos picked the biggest, which also means the most well-trodden, chewed over, and vulnerable to shallow shorthanding in a modest runtime. Perhaps some lesser, related headlines from that year would have made more compelling subjects, but perhaps also that isn’t fair to expect from a big-three network.
Speaking of the author of Cruel Doubt, though, if you’ve not read Joe McGinniss’s hella gossipy takedown of Ted Kennedy, The Last Brother: The Rise And Fall Of Teddy Kennedy, I recommend it...not because it’s good (it is not) or accurate (nope again) or a worthwhile part of McGinniss’s legacy (oh my: no), but because it is so slanderous, petty, and scathing, you almost can’t believe what you’re reading. ...Or hearing; when Dan and I listened to it in the car on our honeymoon, I almost blundered off the road a few times laughing at it. It may only be available as an audiobook, if at all, but if you stumble across it at the used bookstore, grab it with both hands. (If you can’t track it down, you can at least enjoy WaPo’s Jonathan Yardley kicking it for the extra point in 1993.)
“The last brother” was a complicated guy: committed public servant, traumatized sibling, wretched spouse, and a member of our country’s chosen toothy race of demigods. He should have done time for leaving Kopechne to smother, and the way power and access sanded off those edges for him is a story that resonates today. But 1969’s accounting is a bit thin. (We welcome recs on the topic, though! Was 2017’s Chappaquiddick any good? Has American Experience covered this? Hit reply and let us know.) -- SDB
Inside crime journalism baseball fans will dig last week’s The Kicker podcast. The Columbia Journalism Review show is a reliable listen for anyone who’s interested in how the media biz sausage is made, but as someone who in my day job (if what anything a freelancer/shop owner/dog sitter does can be called a “day job”) is scrambling to fully cover an out-and-out attack on the rights of a reporter by my hometown police force, I was primed for Thursday’s topic.
The episode, which clocks in at a tight 17:48, is an audio accompaniment to Nick Pinto’s CJR piece “The impossible task of covering the NYPD.” In the article, Pinto, who’s been a smart and critical police beat journo for a good while now, details the roadblocks the NYPD has put in place for reporters who are seeking to cover the police slaying of Eric Garner. “Reporters assigned to cover it, myself among them, have come up against a remarkable lack of transparency,” Pinto writes. “There are no public transcripts or recordings of the proceedings, nor are any of the underlying documents -- charges, motions, rulings, exhibits -- publicly available.”
Something Pinto highlights in the podcast (which you can listen to here) is true for almost every city’s crime beat, I suspect -- that police spokespeople are pretty helpful when it comes to covering day-to-day incidents, but as soon as the topic turns to questions about the department, that well dries up. Phone calls, even related to other stories, aren’t returned, and the buck is passed and passed. Given how many news orgs have limited resources and even more limited time, it’s a smart strategy. Make things hard enough for a reporter -- or offer the implied (and career-ending) threat of access denied, and a lot of stories get swept under the rug, while mean world perpetuating tales on suspects get headlines. -- EB
A big screen adaptation of a high-profile French crime got mixed reviews at Cannes. Oh, Mercy (it’s called Roubaix, une lumière in France) is a dramatic take on a 2008 TV doc called Roubaix commissariat central, affaires courantes, which followed the day-to-day happenings at a police station in Roubaix, a town on the country’s Belgian border.
The film tackles one of the cases from the televised movie, a homicide in the town. IndieWire burns it pretty sickly, however, describing the film as “an especially dull episode of Law & Order: Roubaix.” The Guardian characterizes it as “self-admiring and self-conscious,” and Variety says it is “bigger on atmosphere and potential character development than the murder meant to be the film's focus.” The movie doesn’t appear to have US distribution yet, but when this ends up on the streaming platform of your choice, you might want to keep those publications’ take in mind.
Lethal Lit, a scripted podcast about a true crime podcaster, is set to get a TV take. The fictional podcast, which is intended for the YA market, is about teen detective -- who also hosts a true crime pod -- and her investigation of a serial killer called the “Lit Killer.” It’s been picked up as a potential TV property, which is fine…but I’m thrilled (and a little bemused) that “person who has a true crime podcast” is now a TV job, joining the ranks of lawyers, doctors, and sex columnists. Here’s hoping Lethal Lit’s podcaster is better than the ones in Halloween. -- EB
Dean Strang didn’t enjoy the second season of Making a Murderer. Sarah and I discussed the second season of the seminal true crime series on The Blotter Presents last fall, and while I can’t recall if either of us said as much, I recall thinking that I missed Strang -- who defended Steven Avery in his 2007 murder trial -- in the show’s second outing. Speaking with Irish website TheJournal.ie, Strang also gives insights into the first season, saying “Jerry [Buting, Strang’s co-counsel] and I had the first reaction of not wanting to cooperate with the filmmakers, but were eventually won over. You can read the interview here. -- EB
Podcast Over My Dead Body might also get the TV treatment. The six-episode show, which concluded last week, details the murder of Florida State law prof law Dan Markel. Wondery, which produces the show, has reportedly been “in talks with high-level showrunners” to bring the show to television, with execs from the company comparing its potential to that of Dirty John, another pod turned TV movie. (Here’s The Blotter Presents’ take on how successful that adaptation was.) This is a good time to start writing, as the real-life trial in the case is set to begin next week. -- EB
What is this thing? This should help.