When Australian TV creators think they’re onto a good thing, they really go for it. Lovers of true crime are spoilt for choice, with three new Australian shows on the commercial channels already this year.
On March 15, Channel Seven premiered yet another Aussie true crime TV show, Million Dollar Cold Case. Murder Uncovered, hosted by Michael Usher, has also been running on Channel Seven this year, and was up against Channel Nine’s Murder Calls Australia on Wednesday nights. The latter has now been moved to Thursdays, chased in the line-up by UK-produced and Piers Morgan-hosted Killer Women.
Over on pay TV, Foxtel has signed up former Ten journalist Matt Doran, now based in LA, to present a new program called Crime Watch Daily on Fox 8, focusing on US crime. Doran will also to host the third season of Crimes that Shook Australia on the Crime and Investigation channel.
The onslaught of local true crime on telly this year adds to the popular podcasts created over the last couple of years by Aussies.
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The Australian’s podcast on the Bowraville murders won a Walkley last year, and TV production companies are reportedly in talks to produce a series about the case. Australian true crime podcast Casefile is in the top charts on Australian iTunes. Mamamia‘s Australian True Crime podcast is also in the charts, as is Seven’s Little Girl Lost: The Unsolved Murder of Leanne Holland.
Media analyst Steve Allen says this sort of content is relatively economical to produce compared to drama or even reality TV, and it delivers reasonably reliable ratings.
On top of that, producers are always keen to jump onto a trend. And the success of international programs such as Making a Murderer and O.J: Made in America have inspired Australian producers.
“TV creators are always looking for the next big thing,” Allen said. “The emergence of these shows around American crime that have rated pretty well have suggested that if we have a local window with local subjects and local villains, they will rate just as well, if not better.”
Host of Murder Calls Australia Leila McKinnon told Crikey that viewers were always intrigued by crime, as well as programs that go into the detail of the emergency calls and behind-the-scenes of investigations.
“The general public are always saying they are fascinated with true crime and wonder themselves why these horrific acts occur,” she said.
“We have seen a lot of shows focus on the crime and the perpetrators, but for the police to be so open about what they do to solve the crime is something we don’t often see.”
One concern Allen has is the potential for cross-promotion of content. Melbourne’s Channel Seven news ran a news story promoting Million Dollar Cold Case in its 6pm bulletin ahead of the show’s premiere.
“They need to be very careful with cross-promotion,” Allen said. “It’s clever, but some of these true crime shows are rated M or R, and the news is in a G time slot.”
Allen also said the networks should be careful when pitting the shows against each other.
“For any genre, there’s only a certain, finite audience that is truly interested. Running the shows against each other could just end up dividing the ratings.”
Victoria Police co-operated with Channel Seven on Million Dollar Cold Case. The format uses police investigators discussing cases to take viewers through the evidence of two unsolved murders each episode.
The biggest hook on that program is, of course, the million-dollar reward for information leading to the arrests.
Allen says the investment in the genre won’t stop at what is on air now. “There are more coming too, ” he said. “It’s one of the hit sectors for TV production and creation.”
But, he warns, network executives should be wary of going overboard — there’s only so much room in the market for a single genre.
“When networks jump on these genres and think they’re on the next big thing, sometimes they get greedy and overdo it.”