Making Their Own ‘Murderer’: Cable Grabs at Netflix Mojo

Without ratings to measure its true might, you can debate Netflix’s influence in the TV world these days. But it’s shown in the short expanse of 2016 that it can, at times, set the agenda in terms of programming trends. Making a Murderer, which debuted on Netflix Dec. 18, had more holiday buzz, it seemed, than Santa himself. People had free time over the holidays, and they had Netflix. Put the two together, and Steven Avery became something close to a household name.

The 10-part documentary series focused on Avery and the murder of Teresa Halbach. As puts it, “The documentary begins in 2003 in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, when Avery had just been released from prison after serving 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. He had been exonerated by DNA evidence. Two years later, in 2005, just as Avery was in the middle of a $36 million dollar lawsuit against the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s department related to his 1985 wrongful rape conviction, he was arrested for murder.”

Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos directed the documentary, which resembled season one of Serial in its ability to seize the tastemaker zeitgeist. (Season two of Serial, about Bowe Bergdahl, not so much.)

On Jan. 30, Investigation Discovery debuts Steven Avery: Innocent or Guilty? which ID says will present “critical details” related to Avery’s case. The special is produced by NBC News division Peacock Productions and hosted by Keith Morrison, the Dateline NBC correspondent. Steven Avery offers insights from Ricciardi and Demos, along with interviews from both the defense attorney and the prosecutor in the case, among others.

(ID appears to have coined the neologism “instamentary”, as in, instant documentary.)

HLN has been all over Steven Avery too. On Jan. 8, the cable net premiered Nancy Grace Mysteries: Teresa Halbach, a 60-minute special that reveals “evidence you didn’t see in Making a Murderer,” says HLN.

Host Grace guides viewers through “a deeper look at the highly controversial” Netflix series, “and what crucial evidence was not exposed” by the filmmakers. Grace conducted interviews with the key players, and also shares a 2005 sit-down with Avery himself. She told CNN a few weeks back she’s quite sure Avery belongs behind bars. "I think he's guilty of the murder because he told me to my face that Teresa was there in his auto salvage pit the day she goes missing around 2 o'clock," Grace said.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer, addressed the Avery-focused projects following his executive session at TCA in Pasadena earlier this month. ID and HLN "are smart” to get on board, he said. “They get the sense that the entire world is talking about this story and that's what they're following as a news story.”

Sarandos noted how the project landed at Netflix in late 2012, and had been in the works for seven years prior. Asked about whether more episodes about the Avery case would be commissioned, Sarandos said, “The story is still unfolding. So we'll certainly take a look at it."

Additional reporting by Dade Hayes

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.