It seems like the 2020s true crime lifecycle goes like this: A news item catches the eye of a journalist, who takes a deep dive and produces a longform piece/podcast on the case. Then, one of the scores of production outfits on the hunt for video-adaptable content snags the rights for a streaming or feature doc…and if that does well enough, a dramatic adaptation follows.
That’s what we’re seeing with some of the biggest-name dramatic adaptions coming down the pike, from the competing Candy Montgomery stories to the multitude of Tiger King takes to The Staircase (aka the casting gift that keeps on giving). I’ve seen a couple takes lately that suggest that a-list attraction to true crime is a bandwagon move, stars hopping on a trend. But I don’t think that’s true — think about Serpico, or Dog Day Afternoon (geez, what’s with me and Pacino today) or The Onion Field. All true crime yarns, all prestige dramas. This isn’t new.
There’s no shame in admitting that a starstudded property is more accessible and engaging — and, arguably, less “work” — that its real-life counterpart. I’ll give you an example: I couldn’t keep my head in the game with the Dirty John podcast, but the TV adaptation with Connie Britton and Eric Bana? It was like potato chips and Oreos had a baby and put it on my TV. I couldn’t stop watching.
How about you? What dramatic takes on true crime tales grabbed you in a way their other tellings didn’t? Which ones would you put on your “how to adapt true crime for TV/movies” syllabus? Are there any fictionalized versions that engaged you so much you went back and devoured the source materials? Let’s hear it.
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