True Crime Drama

By John B. Swift II posted 12-05-2016 08:34


At the behest of another attorney whom I very much respect (and happen to be married to), I watched the CBS JonBenet Ramsey documentary. Much in the vein of Netflix’s Making a Murderer, the Ramsey documentary more or less calls into question the investigation and, more specifically, the lack of prosecution in the Ramsey case. I don’t want to give away the ending, but this is a documentary, not a fictional murder mystery. It was the brother, in the basement, with a Maglite. It remains to be seen whether the Ramsey documentary will have the same effect on the lives of the accused as Making a Murderer did, but it was nonetheless fairly compelling.

Now, you could be forgiven for mistaking this for a murder mystery. Real crime TV is nothing new. Dateline and 48 Hours have been doing this for decades with very polished productions using public records, voyeuristic hosts, “dramatic reenactments,” interviews with a few wary neighbors, and a stark “no comment” from the family attorney.  Oh, and don’t forget the interview with the undisclosed family friend using a disguised voice from behind a shaded screen. The bizarre chains of events that result from the human condition will never be outdone by our best fiction. Reality is what inspires that fiction, and the raw material is, in a sense, more pure. That said, the Dateline-style formula is getting a little long in the tooth. The scripted “discoveries” of evidence by the reporters in the Ramsey documentary were never that believable when Dateline did them, especially not when compared to newer formats like Making a Murderer.

Perhaps being an attorney makes me less tolerant of these dramatizations of actual cases. I would rather read the police reports and witness statements, which I realize would not be that entertaining for the general public. Still, I think a balanced, accurate presentation of facts would be better received than our modern media overlords think. After all, the audience is no stranger to human nature. And for those of you who actually prefer the drama, don’t worry. Lifetime has your back.