Talent Talk: ‘On the Case With Paula Zahn’ Producer Scott Weinberger on True Crime Show’s 25th Season

ID’s signature newsmagazine “On the Case With Paula Zahn” celebrated a milestone with its 25th season (350th episode) debut Sept. 4 on both ID and streaming service Discovery+.

All new episodes are available to stream the same day on Discovery+ with past seasons available to binge.

Led by Emmy Award-winning journalist Paula Zahn, “On the Case” features storytelling and interviews that go beyond the headlines to reveal first-person accounts and expert insights of those connected to murder cases. In the 350th episode, “From Zero to Murder,” police investigating the brutal murder of a young woman ask themselves a chilling question: was the ambush-style shooting that ended Alisha Canales-McGuire’s life actually a terrifying case of mistaken identity?

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Producer Scott Weinberger discussed the series’ popularity and the appeal of true crime with Media Play News.

MPN: Why do you think “On the Case” has maintained an audience for more than a decade?

Weinberger: Paula brought a loyal audience to “OTC,” as a highly credible and compassionate journalist.

The show’s focus has always been honoring the victims in these tragic cases, and that message could not be clearer to her viewers. Paula and our team at Weinberger Media make sure “OTC’s” storytelling reflects the hard work put in by the dedicated professionals who untangle these complex investigations and strive to bring justice.

MPN: What is most shocking about the story in the debut episode of the 25th season (the 350th episode)?

Weinberger: Our premiere episode of our 25th season tells a story of a young mother gunned down in her Everett Washington home. As police being to dig into the details, they learn it was a case of mistaken identity. The real intended victim is a shocker.

MPN: What can viewers expect from the episodes to come in the 25th season?

Weinberger: More of true “OTC” storytelling, including cases where “OTC’s” loyal audience can step in and assist investigators in bringing justice for a family.

MPN: “On the Case” is also streaming on Discovery+ and streaming services have been a hotbed of true crime series, with series like yours sort of the “OG” of true crime. Why do you think crime stories are so popular at the moment?

Weinberger: Viewers love to see the process, the behind-the-scenes mindset that investigators go through to unravel a murder mystery. Very often, true to life events are later used on many Hollywood scripted TV dramas, but these stories are very real and tragic.

Editor’s Note: Media Play News publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold is featured in Episode 10, Season 24, “Eyes in the Darkness,” which first aired on May 1, 2022. The case follows the 1980 murder of a young San Diego County college student, Michelle Wyatt, which remained unsolved until detectives finally found the killer more than 40 years later through genetic genealogy. Arnold covered the case in the San Diego Reader.

FilmRise Co-Producing ‘The Interrogation Room’ Hosted by Vivica A. Fox

FilmRise, a New York-based film and television studio and streaming network, and Zig Zag Productions, a U.K. independent television production company, have announced the co-production of “The Interrogation Room,” hosted by Vivica A. Fox.  

FilmRise is at MIPCOM shopping the title as an original and/or exclusive for broadcasters and streamers in the United States. 

In the series, Fox, known for her performances in the box office hits Kill Bill and Independence Day, allows viewers to step inside the interrogation room alongside world-class experts who will examine the tell-tale signs a suspect is lying while revealing the master techniques that result in an all-important confession.

“This series shows what really goes on inside the interrogation room, firsthand,” Fox said in a statement. “I have long been a fan of true-crime and have been particularly fascinated by the techniques law enforcement utilize in trying to elicit a confession. I know crime show enthusiasts like me and even aspiring law enforcement officers are going to love this show.”

“‘The Interrogation Room’ will arrest viewers by taking them behind the scenes of interrogations, breaking down how detectives uncover the truth through interviews with suspects,” Max Einhorn, SVP of acquisitions and co-productions for FilmRise, said in a statement. “Combine that with the star power of host Vivica A. Fox, we know ‘The Interrogation Room’ will serve multiple audience verticals and be a must watch for fans of true crime, a genre in which FilmRise has increasing resonance and recognition, both as a studio and streaming network.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Partnering with FilmRise on this co-production ensures not only our continuation and commitment to high quality programming, but also creates a wide net of distribution, reaching true crime fans in numerous territories, and in a variety of ways,” Danny Fenton, CEO of Zig Zag Productions, said in a statement. “We are excited to offer this series to those audiences that subscribe to their platforms, and those that prefer to watch their programs for free.”

“The Interrogation Room” Hosted by Vivica A. Fox is expected to launch in early 2023. 

Under the Banner of Heaven

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Hulu;
Drama;
Not rated.
Stars Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Wyatt Russell, Denise Gough, Billy Howle.

Based on the best-selling nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer, this story about actual murders is told through the eyes of a fictional devout detective (Andrew Garfield) whose faith is tested as he investigates the crime’s connection to a well-known Utah family’s spiral into Mormon fundamentalism and distrust in the government.

Beginning with dull, desaturated tones, the series starts like a horror film, as dark clouds and a fallen bird’s wing enter the screen. The camera moves to a happy family scene as Detective Jeb Pyre (Garfield) plays with his daughters under the ominous sky. A call sends him to the aftermath of a bloody attack, which the viewer only glimpses. From the expression on Pyre’s face, viewers imagine the massacre he sees. Outside, Pyre finds a blood-soaked man. That man assists him in uncovering the mystery of the murder, as well as certain uncomfortable truths about his faith illustrated in period flashbacks involving its founding fathers.

Punctuated by historical reenactments, the seven-episode series unwraps the events leading up to and resulting from the 1984 murder of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter. We meet the Lafferty brood as Brenda becomes involved with and eventually marries one of six sons in the devoutly Mormon clan — a sort of LDS Kennedys, she explains to her family. But the loving facade of the Laffertys soon falls away under the economic pressure of a recession and the strict dictates of an overbearing father. Religion becomes a justification for flouting the law, abuse, misogyny — and ultimately murder.

Brenda’s husband (played by Billy Howle) is a (possibly unreliable) narrator of the story, pointing out to Pyre, “Our faith breeds dangerous men.” He relates many of the historical tales that show the violent and vacillating doctrines of revered Mormons such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, linking their teachings to the actions of his family. But while Mormonism is implicated, the series effectively portrays how men can use any religious teachings — Mormon or other — to rationalize their own selfish desires. Sam Worthington, as Ron Lafferty, and Wyatt Russell, as Dan Lafferty, skillfully portray the transformation of two brothers who lose their moral compass as they twist religious history to make sense of misfortune and fit their aims. Playing two other brothers, Seth Numrich and Rory Culkin — in a particularly creepy turn — also bring this family descent into antisocial behavior to life.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Daisy Edgar-Jones plays Brenda, the moral anchor, a devout Mormon showing the Laffertys’ apostasy in sharp relief. Likable, loving and helpful, she acts with righteous vigor, supported by the church, in the face of the “evil” infecting the clan — showing a bravery that ultimately ends in her death and that of her 15-month-old daughter.

Gil Birmingham’s wry turn as Pyre’s gum-chewing Native American detective sidekick Bill is a welcome relief. As a secular observer, he’s got many of the most clever lines, and Birmingham delivers them with an understated aplomb.

But Denise Gough, as Ron’s wife Dianna, who is also hunted by her husband and his family, delivers the most cutting lines, a condemnation of what would now be called “toxic masculinity.” “Do you step on women’s necks because it make you feel taller? Because your mother told you you were a chosen one? That our country is to blame for your failings?” she says to one of the clan. “Well, it’s a lie. You are not special. You are not chosen. You and your brothers simply failed. You are a small, weak child of a man.”

Indeed, the weakening of faith is the ultimate message of the series, which ends with the capture of the murderers by a shaken Pyre. True crime buffs may find the final episode a bit unsatisfying, as there is no court scene or slamming of the jail doors on the two culprits. What happens to the men who perpetrate the murders is left to further investigation by viewers. Their guilt is unquestioned, but at the conclusion Pyre, it seems, continues to secretly question his faith.

FilmRise Acquires Rights to Two More Seasons of ‘World’s Most Evil Killers’

New York-based film and television studio and streaming network FilmRise has acquired all rights to the recently wrapped sixth and upcoming seventh seasons of Woodcut Media’s long-running true crime docuseries “World’s Most Evil Killers,” represented by Keshet International for world sales.

The deal gives FilmRise exclusive digital SVOD, AVOD and FAST rights domestically to the two seasons, comprising 40 new episodes bumping the overall total to 140 episodes in the series. 

“The success of the first five seasons has shown us that viewers have a voracious appetite for this type of programming and are becoming more and more fascinated with the genre, in large part driven by their availability to watch for free on AVOD platforms such as our FilmRise True Crime app and FAST channels,” Max Einhorn, SVP of acquisitions and co-productions at FilmRise, said in a statement.

“Our ongoing partnership with FilmRise and Woodcut Media’s “World’s Most Evil Killers” continues to be mutually beneficial for all parties involved, not least the viewers,” Keren Shahar, COO and president of distribution at Keshet International, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled with the results the digital distribution has yielded for this brand, particularly on Filmrise’s AVOD platforms and FAST channels, which is part of our on-going strategy to grow the distribution side of KI’s business.”

“World’s Most Evil Killers,”produced by U.K.-based TV production company Woodcut Media and narrated by British-television presenter Fred Dinenage, delves into the true stories of the world’s most prolific killers, including Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacey, Richard Ramirez, Leonard Lake, Dorthea Puente and Ted Bundy, among others. Each episode includes first-hand accounts, interviews, archival footage, reenactments, and in-depth analysis from some of the world’s leading criminologists, crime journalists and psychologists.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

FilmRise had previously acquired U.S. and Caribbean digital distribution rights to the first five seasons of the series, which is currently available on the FilmRise Streaming Network, including on the FilmRise True Crime App and FAST Channel. The series is also available on The Roku Channel, SamsungTV+ and Amazon’s FreeVee, among other services.

Candy

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Hulu;
Drama;
Not rated.
Stars Jessica Biel, Pablo Schreiber, Melanie Lynskey, Raúl Esparza, Timothy Simons.

This true crime drama follows the story of Candy Montgomery, a 1980 Texas housewife and mother with a good husband, two kids and a nice house who also seems to be a cold-hearted ax murderer.

Portraying incidents before, after and during the death of her “friend” Betty Gore — not in any chronological order — the series unveils Candy’s secrets slice by slice, like a potluck pie, but ultimately leaves her somewhat of a fascinating enigma, prompting viewers to ponder the question: Does anyone really know the housewife next door?

While many true crime dramas play it straight, Jessica Biel’s portrayal of Candy leans toward the satirical, reminiscent of Nicole Kidman’s turn as the naughty, husband-murdering teacher in To Die For. This is a woman who can wield an ax to kill before lunch and help out with a smile at the church Bible school after. The facade of suburban homemaking chatter and activity contrasted with the gory murder and the ugly secrets behind it make for some very dark humor. Biel’s husband Justin Timberlake makes a supporting appearance as a cop investigating the crime as does Jason Ritter, the husband of Melanie Lynskey, who portrays Betty, further adding to the sardonic tone.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Lynskey’s aggrieved and doomed Betty comes off as such a milquetoast whiner that her murder seems almost deserved — though the actress gives her a despondent gravitas. Her ghostlike appearances toward the end leave us wanting a bit more verve, but then maybe Betty doesn’t have it in her.

Candy, on the other hand, is engaging, funny, sexy and exciting, the kind of gal you’d like to have over for gossip. Amongst the supporting players in the churchgoing, backyard-barbequing, casserole-baking neighborhood, Candy’s a star.

Depicted in all her sickly sweet and horrifyingly sour glory, Biel’s Candy makes suburban murder very entertaining — though we learn little about what really drives her. At the end of the story, she is still a mystery. And perhaps that’s the point. Candy is somewhat of a facade. What goes on behind the face she shows the world is unknowable. What’s clear is that we don’t know the whole truth. 

In Hollywood, nothing succeeds like imitation, so viewers will get another chance to delve into this character. Elizabeth Olsen is set to take her turn playing Candy in yet another adaptation for HBO Max. She’ll have a hard act to follow.

True Crime Series ‘The Staircase,’ Starring Toni Collette and Colin Firth, Hits HBO Max May 5

The eight-episode Max Original limited series “The Staircase,” created by Antonio Campos (“The Devil All the Time”) and starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette, debuts on HBO Max May 5 with three episodes, followed by one new episode each week through June 9.
 
Based on a true story, “The Staircase” explores the life of Michael Peterson (Firth), his sprawling North Carolina family, and the suspicious death of his wife Kathleen Peterson (Collette). 

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Also starring are Michael Stuhlbarg, Juliette Binoche, Dane DeHaan, Olivia DeJonge, Rosemarie DeWitt, Tim Guinee, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sophie Turner, Vincent Vermignon, Odessa Young and Parker Posey.
 
Created by Campos, the series is co-produced by Annapurna Television.

 

FilmRise Orders ‘Making a Serial Killer’ True Crime Series

New York-based film and television studio and streaming network FilmRise has ordered a 10-episode true crime series from FirstLookTV, “Making a Serial Killer.”

The deal gives FilmRise all rights for North America, German-speaking Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

“FilmRise and FirstLookTV are both clear leaders in the true-crime space,” Max Einhorn, SVP of acquisitions and co-productions at FilmRise, said in a statement. “We are amazed by the access and exclusive content Will Hanrahan and his team have secured in this production. After the success of our co-production ‘Meet, Marry, Murder,’ we were excited to partner with FirstLookTV again on this series. Serial killers and their atrocities did not disappear after the 1970s. These look like everyday people, so heed the warning signs this show shares with you.”

Each episode focuses on a different serial killer and offers an answer to the question, “What makes a serial killer tick?” The reasons given by each killer are dissected by criminologists and psychologists and include interviews with detectives, first-person accounts by survivors and their families, and footage from interrogation rooms.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Episodes feature accounts from the parents of a victim of Jesse Matthew, the “The Back-to-School Killer”; two siblings who survived Don Miller, the “East Lansing Serial Killer”; the lead investigator who caught Toronto’s Bruce McArthur; and much more.

FirstLookTV is an international television production company creating factual content and specializing in investigative and true crime content seen in more than 70 territories. Titles include “Evil Up Close,” “10 Steps to Murder,” “Nurses Who Kill,” “A Killer’s Mistake” and “Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer.”

True Crime Drama ‘Last Testament’ Coming to VOD Oct. 19 From Gravitas Ventures

Gravitas Ventures has acquired North American rights to distribute writer-director Anthony Catalano’s Last Testament. It will be released Oct. 19 on VOD, with DVD and Blu-ray releases to follow.

The indie true crime drama was produced by Catalano and stars Dominick Alesia, Anna Roemer and Rima Sabal.

Last Testament explores the true story of Ricky Rodriguez and the Children of God cult. Born into the infamous cult, Ricky (Dominick Alesia) was subjected to years of abuse while also being groomed to one day lead the cult. He was finally able to escape with his wife Elixcia (Anna Roemer), but he remained haunted by his past. Ricky reaches a breaking point and he vows to take down the cult and its leaders — including his mother — by any means necessary.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and someone who struggles with mental illness, I became fascinated by the harrowing story of Ricky Rodriguez,” Catalano said in a statement. “His story isn’t a happy one, it isn’t easy or convenient, but it’s one that needs to be known.”

Last Testament was filmed in Northeast Wisconsin in May 2020, just as statewide COVID restrictions were being lifted. Its world premiere was held at the 2021 Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival, where Anthony Catalano was nominated for Best Experimental Feature Filmmaker.

Last Testament Trailer #2 from Dead Letter Productions on Vimeo.

 

True Crime BritBox Original ‘In the Footsteps of Killers’ to Stream on Service Beginning July 6

The true crime Britbox Original “In the Footsteps of Killers” is exclusively streaming on the service in North America beginning July 6.

In the series investigated like a documentary and filmed as a drama, “Silent Witness” actress Emilia Fox teams up with top criminologist Professor David Wilson to solve Britain’s most heinous murders.

Through Fox’s extensive research for her role in the hit BBC Series, she has become an expert in unsolved cases. Combining her talent with Professor Wilson’s professional background in studying serial killers, the unlikely pair investigate a different unsolved murder in each episode. The series follows the duo as they base themselves in the vicinity of the crime and reexamine the evidence for themselves. By meeting with police, witnesses, journalists, experts and others, the two walk the murder scene in the footsteps of the killer.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

There are three episodes: “The Disappearance of the Milk Carton Kids,” “The Disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh” and “The Murder of Rita Ellis.”

Discovery+ June Programming Slate Includes True Crime Series, Weight-Loss Doc

Streamer Discovery+ has announced new and original programming that will be available in June.

The lineup includes “Pushing the Line,” focusing on an extreme, high-intensity sport known as “highlining”; the true crime series “Relentless,” which documents a filmmaker and her involvement in the case of a missing young woman; and “Too Large,” a docu-series that follows seven 400- to 800-pound people on a weight-loss journey.

Other new series include Bryan and Michael Voltaggio in “Battle of the Brothers” and Michelle Buteau in “Weekend Getaway with Michelle Buteau,” executive produced by Queen Latifah.

“Pushing the Line,” which premieres June 5, gives viewers a taste of what it is like to walk on a line, hundreds of feet above the ground, on a one-inch rope that’s thinner than your belt. The series follows the top highliners and the up-and-comers of the sport, both in action and behind the scenes.

“Relentless,” which debuts June 28, follows the case of 21-year-old Christina Whittaker, whose disappearance in the small town of Hannibal, Mo., triggered a frantic search. Eight months later, filmmaker Christina Fontana met Whittaker’s mother when filming a documentary about the families of missing persons — and her focus changed to explore the intricacies of that one case. Using more than 400 hours of footage from field investigations and video diaries filmed over 11 years, this documentary follows not only a complex search for a missing person, but the journey of a filmmaker who becomes dangerously ensnared by the story she’s documenting.

“Too Large,” launching June 2,  introduces viewers to seven desperate hopefuls, each weighing between 400 and 800 pounds, who seek the help of renowned bariatric surgeon Dr. Charles Procter as they attempt to lose weight and change their lives forever.

“Battle of the Brothers” (June 17) pits Bryan and Michael Voltaggio against one another as they each lead a team of aspiring chefs in a culinary competition.

And “Weekend Getaway With Michelle Buteau” (June 10) finds the comedian, actor and author hitting the road for a few weekends of fun, food and wild times, from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi with Tig Notaro to New Orleans with Sasheer Zamata to Malibu with Chelsea Peretti.

Other new shows include “Shock Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It” (June 11), which follows a bizarre murder case in which a Connecticut man insists “the devil made me do it”; “90 Day Journey: Pride Month” (June 6), a curated miniseries of “90 Day” couples’ love stories from the beginning to the present day; and “The House My Wedding Bought” (June 16), which follows designer and real estate expert Breegan Jane (from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” as she helps couples on a budget who want to pay for a dream wedding as well as put a down payment on a house.