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Dan Korn: Keeping Ahead of the Pack in True Crime Documentary


Crime+Investigation’s vice-president of programming discusses the innovations helping content stand out in a crowded genre.

The market for true crime content has been booming over the past decade and the genre is an ever-present on our screens.

Crime+Investigation vice-president of programming Dan Korn says it is the extraordinary and extreme nature of true stories that drives audience appetite for the genre, and because it opens a “window onto humanity”.

But the glut of shows has led to widespread similarity within true crime, pushing producers and commissioners to seek innovation in the hope of producing shows that stand out in a heavily saturated market.

Social media is a key driver for innovation in the genre, Korn says. “Social media has a huge part to play, not just in the connections between people at the point of the crime, but also in terms of the true crime community,” he says.

Channels are increasingly looking to serve this virtual community of true crime fans outside of traditional linear television, he adds.

In Crime+Investigation’s case, this has involved commissioning mid-form programming to premiere on its online platforms, such as the 10 x 10-minute #Dead2Me. The series, about 10 couples who met online before tragedy struck, illustrates how social media has become not just a platform for channels to reach new audiences but part of the narrative itself.

Humans have a “compelling fascination with the idea of taking somebody else’s life,” Korn says, and he’s not worried about murder stories going out of fashion.

That said, in recent years, many true crime documentaries have veered away from the staple topics of murder and serial killers, instead illuminating cases such as fraud, cons and scams. 

There will always be “different types of crime that come in and out of the public eye” and offer different stories, Korn says, citing the recent rise in shoplifting (about as “old a crime as you can get”) as one that would make an interesting true crime topic.

Advances in technology have also played a role in driving innovation. The viewing experience is becoming more cinematic and immersive, as producers strive to make audiences feel they’re experiencing key details first hand.

Korn traces this innovation as far back as The Detectives, which first aired in 2015. Produced by Minnow Films and directed by James Newton, the series was the first to film a true crime docu-series using prime lenses – a video camera lens that is typically used in drama. Korn says this “raised the bar” in terms of the visual quality of the genre.

The commissioner says this shift towards immersive programming is part of the audience’s appetite for the “unadulterated version” of true crime. More commonly, documentaries will have access to new footage, as was the case with C+I’s Bubble & Squeak Murder and Body In the Suitcase, both of which featured CCTV and bodycam footage.

“A technology that can you take you into the crime scene in a different way, or give you a more immediate understanding of what’s happening, is going to be extremely important”

As true crime continues to evolve, there is one technology that Korn believes “without a shadow of a doubt” could play a key role: artificial intelligence. Generative AI programmes offer the possibility to create the victim’s or perpetrator’s point of view at the time of the crime and go one step further in immersing audiences.

“There’s no question that technology that can take you into the crime scene in a different way, or give you a more immediate understanding of what’s happening, is going to be extremely important,” says Korn.

But despite the advantages that AI can bring, Korn is wary of the danger it poses to authenticity. AI learns from the material it is fed, which can contain biases around gender, race or disability and, as a result, create something that is an artificial and inaccurate portrayal.

“If AI were to recreate something that was not accurate or that hadn’t happened, then you’re straying into fiction rather than fact,” says Korn. AI must be used “very sensitively and in conjunction with the family” affected, and true crime producers need to remain “true to the idea of true crime,” he says.

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