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The Business of True Crime: Exploring the Lucrative World of Gripping Narratives


True crime has become a thriving industry, capturing the attention of millions of viewers and listeners across various platforms. With the recent success of Netflix's "Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" and the acquisition of Serial Productions by The New York Times, the popularity of true crime is evident. This article delves into the business of true crime, discussing its evolution, the process of developing true crime shows, the financial aspects, and the ethical considerations surrounding the genre.

Evolution of True Crime

True crime has experienced exponential growth, expanding into numerous sub-genres and platforms. From classic documentary series like "Unsolved Mysteries" and "Dateline" to scripted dramas and podcasts, true crime now has a wide reach. Dedicated TV networks like Investigation Discovery and Oxygen cater exclusively to true crime enthusiasts. Ed Hersh, a TV executive and industry consultant, emphasizes the diversity within the genre, including ride-along reality shows, crime-science programs, and documentaries. Additionally, true crime stories can be classified as "whodunits," "whydunits," and "howdunits," exploring the criminal mind, motives, and methods.

Creating a true crime show is a complex and competitive process. Filmmakers like Rob and Cindy Dorfmann, known for their work on Lifetime Movie Network and Discovery ID, highlight the importance of a unique entry point to stand out in the market. Networks such as Oxygen and ID typically start with a six-episode order, while pilots are increasingly common due to economic considerations. Budgets for episodes can range from $400,000 to $600,000, depending on production requirements. However, true-crime documentaries generally cost less than scripted shows or movies, which involve additional expenses like hiring writers, directors, and actors.

Financial Aspects

The true crime business presents lucrative opportunities, with projects often selling for millions of dollars. For example, The New York Times' acquisition of Serial Productions for $25 million demonstrates the financial value of engaging true crime content. While producing a 90-minute film can cost over $1 million, nonfiction documentaries tend to have lower production costs compared to scripted dramas. Television networks and streaming platforms invest significant resources to capitalize on the genre's popularity, often leading to substantial returns.

Ethical Considerations

As true crime gains widespread popularity, it also faces criticism for potentially exploiting victims and glorifying criminals. Critics argue that some narratives focus too much on perpetrators, causing distress to the families and friends of victims. Concerns about revictimization and the ethical implications of storytelling have grown in tandem with the genre's rise. However, responsible true crime storytelling can prioritize the victims, as demonstrated by Netflix's "The Keepers," which centers around the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik.

The business of true crime has experienced significant growth in recent years, with its popularity spanning various platforms. From streaming giants like Netflix to dedicated TV networks, true crime content attracts large audiences and generates substantial revenue. The process of developing true crime shows requires a unique and compelling storyline to stand out in a competitive market. Financial investments vary depending on the production format, but the potential for significant returns remains high. As the industry evolves, ethical considerations surrounding the treatment of victims and responsible storytelling are increasingly emphasized. The future of true crime business lies in finding a balance between captivating narratives and ethical storytelling practices.

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