If you haven’t heard its name, forget living under a rock, you’d have had to have been living on another planet. Spreading like wildfire amongst TV bingers everywhere, you can’t enter a room without hearing the words ‘Making a Murderer’.
Social media is alight with the hashtag #freestevenavery, office colleagues now whisper conspiracy theories to one another in dark corners, whilst others hurl the warning: “No spoilers, I haven’t seen the end yet!” But what is it about this show and other real crime documentaries, such as the Serial podcasts, that has suddenly captured the hearts and minds of audiences all over the world? After all, we’ve all heard some extraordinary and bizarre headlines in our time but it’s rare they cause such a reaction.
One of my theories for the meteoric rise of the real crime documentary is our recently discovered appetite for binge entertainment. That is, a series or show that you can watch/listen to in quick succession, endlessly fuelling your need for more until it is all consumed, leaving you feeling empty and hollow. Until you discover a new show to feed the habit, of course.
But both Making a Murder and the Serial podcasts go beyond this. These aren’t just hour long documentaries that give us limited information within a narrow window of time. These shows give us intricate details, depth and insight, the kind we’ve never experienced before. Audiences are drip fed years’ worth of research, one episode at a time, allowing documentary makers time to leave no stone uncovered. It’s this slow burner approach that forces us as viewers to invest our time and emotions in the case at hand. Take for example, the Averys. Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos are able to paint such a rich picture of the family that by the end we feel like we know them.
One of the reasons for the show’s popularity, plain and simple, is because it’s unparalleled ability to tell a story. And when a story is told right, what a profound affect it can have. Since both Making a Murder and Serial have been released, a petition to free Steven Avery has gathered over 250,000 signatures. Whereas Adnan Syed, the protagonist in Serial and the man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, has since been involved in post-conviction proceedings, with his lawyers pushing for a re-trial based on new evidence.
If you look back at some of the most successful shows in recent years, many are crime related: The Wire, True Detective, Homeland, The Sopranos etc. However, the stories in Making a Murderer and Serial are no work of fiction, they’re true, they actually happened. As the saying goes ‘you couldn’t make it up’. These stories appeal to our innate sense of justice, something many of us feel strongly about. Often throughout these shows you have to remind yourself that you aren’t a part of the jury but in fact you feel like you are. These stories want you to come to your own conclusion by presenting you with the facts and there’s nothing audiences love more than a classic ‘whodunnit’, especially a real life one.
As PRs it’s the Holy Grail: to be part of something that causes a tidal wave of discussion and makes people stand up and take notice. Whether these types of shows remain popular is unknown but one thing that is for sure; when told properly, the power of a story remains supreme.