Dennis Quaid · Zachary Quinto · Monica

Plus: Did the pandemic help foster the true crime hype cycle?

Sarah’s going to kill me for taking this one. As you likely know, my better Best Evidence half is also the co-host of the Quaid In Full podcast, which “rates, reviews, and ranks every single televisual work in which Dennis Quaid appears.” So, she’d probably be better at writing this than I would — but, then again, I used to live directly across the street from the Breaking Away car lot, so maybe it’s a toss-up. [“I trust you completely.” — SDB]

In any case, Quaid In Full will soon have a new property to evaluate: Peacock series Joe Exotic, that Kate McKinnon-starring dramatic take on the Tiger King yarn. McKinnon, as you might recall, plays Carole Baskin; John Cameron Mitchell is in the title role. And now, Variety reports, Dennis Quaid will join as Rick Kirkham — that’s right, the producer of the Tiger King series, himself. You sort of had to assume a level of irony with McKinnon and Mitchell on board, I guess, but including the guy who made the show that spawned this and a jillion other projects takes this thing to a whole other meta level.

That whole meta weirdness might be why plans to air Joe Exotic across NBC, Peacock, and USA were scrapped last month. Instead, Deadline reports, the show will be Peacock only. Let’s read between the lines of this paragraph, shall we?

Deadline understands that the decision came after Susan Rovner, Chairman, Entertainment Content, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, who joined after the series was purchased, and her team saw scripts and heard more about the producers’ vision of the show, which is more suited to the streaming environment than traditional broadcast television.

So, did Rovner say “folks, this is too weird for TV” or what? Your interpretation, please:

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Despite this arguable demotion, Quaid jumped aboard. In a perfect world, and for Sarah’s sake, I hope this means that Joe Exotic is inappropriate for broadcast in an amazing, edgy way, not in a “this show sucks” way. — EB

Joe Exotic isn’t the only animal-adjacent true-crime tale headed to a screen near us. He Went That Way isn’t the most SEO-friendly title (see the current top result in Google if you don’t believe me), but it’s the one chosen for the “true crime story of celebrity animal trainer Dave Pitts and his famous TV chimp, Spanky, centerpiece of the traveling extravaganza The Ice Capades, and his fateful three-day encounter with the serial killer Larry Lee Ranes,” Deadline reports.

The movie is based on decades-old book Luke Karamazov, a Wayne State University Press entry in their Great Lakes Books Series that’s described as “an unusually vivid and detailed study of two contrasting psychological types drawing on Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death.” Wait, where are you going? Let me attempt to lure you back:

Luke Karamazov is the true story of two brothers who were convicted of serial murders. In 1964, Luke Karamozov (née Ralph Searl) confessed to killing five men over a three-month period; following in his grisly footsteps was his younger brother, Tommy Searl, who was sentenced for the rape and murder of four young women in or around the brothers’ hometown of Kalamazoo.

The events described in the book have the drama of fiction, but are very real events. Conrad Hilberry based his account on interviews with the two men, their friends, the woman whom they both married, and prison officials. Choosing to focus more on the texture of the men’s lives than on the crimes themselves, Hilberry explores the movement of their thoughts and the ways in which they have each dealt with their brutal childhoods and their lives in prison.

That this ambitious book, written by late poet and academic Conrad Hilberry, is getting a dramatic adaptation is a testament to how hard development execs are hustling for the next big thing, I’d wager. The cast is interesting, too: Zachary Quinto will play the Pitts character, while Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi will play a character named Bobby Falls, based on killer Larry Lee Ranes.

So, get this: according to the Upper Peninsula Wiki, “Ralph Searl” was the name Hilberry assigned to Ranes “to protect identities (as per his agreement with Larry), when he wrote the book, Luke Karamazov.” So that means that Larry Lee Ranes, renamed Ralph Searl and then “Luke Karamozov” by a book about his crimes, will again be renamed as Bobby Falls. That’s a lot of renaming.

Director Jeffrey Darling, who until this film has only directed commercials, says via statement that the movie will be “A cinematic tale on the road across the U.S. in the early ’60s where people come with a rawness forged from the landscapes they inhabit. It is for our two leads Jacob and Zachary as well as myself, a great opportunity to explore with an improvised sensibility.”

Yeaaaaah. Plus, there’s Spanky the chimp, which will be “a fusion of a suited character actor and animatronics.” They haven’t even started shooting this thing yet, which gives us plenty of time to decide of there’s anything more “true crime” than an animatronic, ice skating chimp. — EB

Monica is working for her true crime paycheck. As Best Evidence previously reported, R&B superstar Monica made a career pivot this year, taking a gig as host of VH1’s Infamy: When Fame Turns Deadly.

The show made its debut last night, but prior to that, Monica was making the broadcast rounds: In one day, I saw her clips on broadcast stations across the country, each conducting their own interview with the actor/musician turned true-crime commentator.

And according to Monica, she’s been a true-crime buff all along. “I’m one of those ID channel, First 48-type of girls,” she told ABC Audio. “And even growing up, I liked to watch America’s Most Wanted and different shows of that nature.” Sure, if you say so…but, seriously, I really do think it's OK if one just says “I am a famous person and I make money by hosting things.” No one expects everything you do to be a passion project, Monica! — EB

The director of Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer says that wild times call for boundary-pushing true-crime content. In an interview with The Wrap, director/producer Tiller Russell says that “We are living in unreal, surreal times — what America has been through in the past four or five years, it’s been moment after moment of unprecedented shock,” which means that “there was a reaction to the kind of lunacy of daily life that leaves people hungry” for edgy true-crime content like his.

“I’ve made docs for a long time,” Russell says, “and suddenly the global appetite for them is shocking to me, and it’s exciting to see that.”

Russell also says that he avoided sensationalizing Ramirez’s crimes in his Netflix docuseries (I’ll wait for you to rewatch its totally non-sensational trailer above), which, you tell me if you think he succeeded. “You are taking the most traumatic experience of someone’s life,” Russell says, “so we treaded very lightly…what happens often with these victims, it becomes dehumanizing.”

I don’t know that the spike in interest during this last, lost year was a reaction to what was going on outside, as much as an inability to, like, go outside. Without much new to watch, and scripted content on hold, true crime with its backbone of oft-repackaged archive content makes for an easily manufactured sausage to sell to the bored masses.

Then again, hearing that your life’s work is suddenly popular because people are stuck at home and bored isn’t what anyone wants to hear, so you can see why other, headier explanations might gain traction. — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: Sarah was intrigued by a plan to table-read a script about Vincent Chin; now she has a follow-up on that project.

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