Paul Avery: Somebody should write a fuckin' book, that's for sure. About what?
Graysmith: About Zodiac. I've been thinking, if you put all the information together, maybe you could jog something loose.
Some shows focus on real crimes rather than fictional ones. This isn't the same as Ripped from the Headlines, where the show creates a fictional counterpart to a real crime, complete with new fictional people to be part of it. True Crime shows aim to dramatize an event (more-or-less) exactly, with names only changed if the victims or their families request it.
There are at least two distinct types of these shows:
- Calls for Aid: The show is organized to see if the public can provide any clues or information the police don't already have to find a criminal who perpetrated an unsolved crime. For example Aktenzeichen XY ... ungelöst, Crimewatch UK, and America's Most Wanted.
- Retrospective: Solved crimes or cold cases from many years ago are profiled. This overlaps with a documentary. For example The First 48, Forensic Detectives.
Both types make use of Crime Reconstruction. Within both types, broadcast-network offerings tend to be made by the news division. They're what hourlong Prime Time news shows often decay into; true investigative journalism costs serious money and carries the risks of speaking truth to power while True Crime retrospectives are just about the cheapest thing you can put out and still call "news programming".
The term is also used for Non-Fiction novels of varying quality, covering Real Life crimes. On one side you have novels written to cover the events as clearly and factually as possible, and then there are works thrown together for quick and easy public consumption, often advertising things like "10 pages of shocking photographs!" on the cover.
Should not be confused with the entirely fictional video game.
Examples of "Calls for Aid":
- Aktenzeichen XY ... ungelöst (File Number XY... unsolved) is a German show aired on ZDF that mixes both flavours, but also practically started the whole True Crime genre to begin with. Has been on the run since 1967, and has a current case resolution rating of around 40%. Through a mixture of photofits, mugshots, re-enactments, dramatizations, and the presentation of evidence, the anchorman tells the public to call the local police dealing with each case. Occasionally also presents cases from a few years back. Regularly awards members of the public and law enforcement with the XY-Award to honour exemplary cases of courage.
- American Justice
- America's Most Wanted
- Crimewatch UK
- Missing Live is more or less the same thing, but it calls for help looking for missing people rather than criminals.
- Unsolved Mysteries
Examples of "Retrospective":
- 10 Rillington Place
- 48 Hours Mystery
- The Act
- Abducted in Plain Sight
- American Crime Story
- BuzzFeed Unsolved has a series dedicated to crimes both well known and obscure.
- City Confidential gives a travelogue introduction each week to a different U.S. city, its "in" crowd and its culture each week, and then documents a murder case that was particularly scandalizing to that city. The Soap Opera aspect is emphasized, and the narration is mildly humorous.
- Cold Case Files
- Dateline NBC
- Deadly Women
- Delhi Crime
- Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done
- Disgraceland centers around the messy criminal acts of famous musicians.
- Exhibit A
- Fat, French and Fabulous
- The First 48
- Forensic Detectives
- Forensic Files
- The Gray Man
- In Cold Blood
- Investigation Discovery a cable channel dedicated almost entirely to true crime programs, including several of the shows listed above as well as their own original series.
- Likewise, the Crime Library.
- Jim Cant Swim
- The Jinx
- The Keepers is a Mini Series about the unsolved murder of Baltimore nun Cathy Cesnik.
- L.A. Noire uses real crimes from 1940s Los Angeles.
- The Last Podcast on the Left
- Making a Murderer
- The Manson Family
- Mea Culpa, a Chilean anthology series.
- My Favorite Murder
- My Friend Dahmer
- The New Detectives
- Red Handed
- Red Web
- Sick Sad World, which also covers some supernatural horror as well
- Snapped is largely about wives who kill their husbands, though there have been cases shown where women kill their boyfriends' wives/SOs, daughters kill their parents and husbands kill their wives. In most cases, the accused play it up as a crime of passion (or that they were framed or set up by the cops who couldn't find a better suspect) even if the evidence clearly points to premeditation.
- The Stranger Beside Me
- Swindled is devoted to white-collar crimes and corruption.
- Tiger King explores an especially sordid saga from the bizarre world of exotic animal collecting.
- Wonderland is based on the Wonderland murders that occurred in 1981.
- Top Cops presented dramatizations of true life police incidents told by the cops involved.
- Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. follows the two failed investigations into the murder of rapper Biggie Smalls and its possible connections to the earlier murder of Tupac.
- American Vandal is a mockumentary of true crime docs.
- Done Disappeared parodies disappearance true crime podcasts.
- A Very Fatal Murder parodies murder mystery podcasts.
- "EVERY PODCAST EVER" includes parodies of true crime podcasts.
- Portlandia has an episode where the police lieutenant invites podcasters to cover the case.
- The Break with Michelle Wolf has a segment titled "The Husband Did It" parodying The Staircase.