Part of what makes crime a good base for a show is it’s versatility, as it spans both documentaries and also dramatic retelling of cases. For example, both The Act and The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel encapsulate True Crime, and both are highly popular shows for many reasons.
Often, the interest in criminals’ private lives and what led them to committing the crime is the driving force of audience interest, with many being fascinated by the psychological disturbances that may have been the cause of their actions. For centuries humans have enjoyed the bizarre, and True Crime is intriguing for that exact reason. A TV show’s episodic format makes this a perfect way to portray the many aspects of a case. Each episode unearths a new motive or connection, a new mystery for people to speculate on. It is the satisfaction of knowing each step to get to the final result that makes people so engaged by a true crime show’s content.
Speculation and mystery mean that true crime generates a lot of engagement
What also appeals to audiences is the shock value of many cases. For example, the gory details in Don’t F**k with Cats shook many audiences to the core due to its incredibly unusual nature, not only in the perpetrator’s actions but the way internet sleuths came together with the police to solve it. Another more recent documentary, American Murder: The Family Next Door, also captured the attention of many as familicide is such a heinous crime, and in this case, there was very little motive, therefore making it far more devastating.
Social media also increases a show's traction. Speculation and mystery mean that true crime generates a lot of engagement and therefore increases the popularity of many shows. In March 2020, Tiger King captured the imagination of many, with conspiracies spilling out of every corner of the internet. Although ending in Joe Exotic’s incarceration, the mystery of Carole Baskin’s husband still remains, with many presenting supposedly bulletproof theories as to what happened to him.
There are so many possibilities with cases that watching each detail unfold can also make for compelling entertainment. Seeing how different elements of evidence and leads come together can be obvious for some, however, the fascination of how law enforcement investigates a crime can also be intriguing for many. It is especially interesting when seeing how investigative mistakes can impact a case, and rectifying these mistakes also add another layer to what may already be a thought-provoking story.
Each episode builds suspense as to the outcome
True crime is a genre that may be considered niche, however never fails to capture people’s attention. The main driving force of these shows’ success isn’t just the cases themselves, but the way that each episode builds suspense as to the outcome. There is also more opportunity for interviews with people involved, such as police and victims’ families, that can increase empathy for the victims of the crime.
What makes a True Crime show so good is that crimes form such a solid baseline to work off. Most of the 'storyline' has therefore been constructed, and a lot more attention can be put into how to illustrate it in the most effective way possible. With some cases already being familiar with the public, this can attract an audience quite easily, especially if the show provides answers not seen previously. Therefore, audience attention can be grabbed very easily, meaning that success is almost guaranteed for many True Crime series.