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True Crime

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Robert Graysmith: Somebody should write a book.
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.

Examples of "Retrospective":