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Oxygen Pumped for Christmas Mourning

Santa stuff is all over the TV dial these days, but Oxygen takes it in a different direction, with a December chock full of juicy crime programming. Season three of Criminal Confessions, a Dick Wolf series about the work investigators do to get perps to cop to a crime, starts Saturday, Dec. 7, as does season four of the festively titled Homicide for the Holidays.

Oxygen will counterprogram feel-good holiday fare with a slate of true-crime shows like ‘Criminal Confessions.’

Oxygen will counterprogram feel-good holiday fare with a slate of true-crime shows like ‘Criminal Confessions.’

An Unexpected Killer, about a murder investigation where detectives discover, as the name suggests, that the killer is not who they anticipated, begins Dec. 5. Murder for Hire, about the sketchy world of contract killings, has its season finale Dec. 15.

The season premiere of Criminal Confessions features the case of Christopher Watts, and the murder of his pregnant wife, Shanann, and their two daughters in Colorado last year. Oxygen starts the season with a 90-minute episode.

The investigators on that crime were deeply impacted by the case, said Stephanie Steele, Oxygen senior vice president of programming and development, and reluctant to share their stories on Criminal Confessions. Producers sent the investigators the first episode from the first season, about Robert Earley and the murder of his girlfriend, Emily Lambert, in New Mexico, to showcase the series’ thoughtful approach.

The investigators then came around. “They felt this was the right format, the right program for them to speak on,” Shed Media executive producer Adam Kassen said.

Criminal Confessions does not have voiceovers, Kassen added, so the investigators’ words tell the story. “It really is an authentic representation,” he said. “It’s not exploitative.”

When inviting investigators to share their stories, it doesn’t hurt to have Dick Wolf behind the show. “He’s the king when it comes to showcasing and representing law enforcement at its best,” Steele said. “He understands wholeheartedly how hard these people work.”

Kassen mentioned Wolf’s “street cred” among law-enforcement types. “He’s been working with investigators and cops and victims a long time,” he added.

The series shows the strategies law enforcement deploys to get the truth out of those who are reluctant to give it up. Wolf said season three “will continue to give crime buffs insight into a side of police work that has never been examined before.”

Steele promised “many different layers” to the Watts interrogation. “It’s a fascinating deep dive,” she said. “You really feel in the moment with these investigators.”

Criminal Confessions had done a two-hour episode before, about a serial killer, but the Watts case marks the show’s first 90-minute installment. Steele mentions the “incredible assets” available to producers — home footage, interrogation footage, bodycam content — that pushed the network to go long.

It makes for intriguing stuff. “Any time you have a case involving children, which we don’t typically do, those stick with you a bit more,” Kassen said.

Homicide for the Holidays shows how the festive season becomes upended when a loved one gets murdered. Season four starts with “Thanksgiving Terror,” which sees a mother shot to death while driving her sons home from Turkey Day dinner. “Investigators soon realize her murder is not as random as it once seemed,” Oxygen said.

Steele said the juxtaposition of happy and heinous is key to viewers connecting with Homicide for the Holidays. Frightful content, she added, works well for devouring multiple episodes.

“There’s something about the crime space that makes it a bingeable space,” Steele said. “Viewers like to cozy up with a blanket and binge.”

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.