With the eternally expanding demand for crime and justice programming, AETN launched the Crime & Investigation Network in various territories over the past decade. In 2006 it launched the UK channel, with Richard Melman (pictured) as channel director. Realscreen spoke with Melman about the appetite for true crime programming and what’s working best for the channel.
Have you seen the audience change or expand since you launched the channel?
I think it has expanded. One of the big things on my agenda when we launched the channel was to make this a channel you were proud to tell your neighbors about. We didn’t want it to be, ‘Oh, I watch it in secret and don’t tell anyone.’ That was through the programming, the graphics, the whole design and layout of the channel. Crime is obviously a huge and growing genre. When we launched we had the field pretty much to ourselves; now we have a direct competitor from Discovery [ID] and we have quite a few other channels running a significant amount of crime in their schedules including mainstream channels and various others. The appetite for it is increasing, not decreasing. As is the competition.
Why do you think the appetite is increasing right now?
Crime books have always been incredibly popular. You only have to go through your local airport and half the books on the shelf are crime books of one sort or another. I think as we, the broadcast industry, become more skilled at telling the tales well, various police divisions around the world are finding it’s quite useful to give people access to stories of the past and how things are done. There are much better programs being made. Plus, I don’t think one can discount for a second the huge popularity of drama shows that are out there. Everything from The Shield to CSI all help deliver an audience for true crime. That was very much one of my mantras when we launched the channel, that we would only do true crime and stay away from drama. Not because it’s not good and doesn’t rate well, but because there are so many other people doing crime drama from Miss Marple Investigates to Murder She Wrote; all of that creates an appetite and then people want to go out and find out the true story.
What do you think this audience expects from this type of programming?
They expect not to [see] gratuitous use of violence or sex. They expect to be given the real truth as far as it’s known and all available facts so they can come up with their own decisions as well. What we find we don’t have success with is if we try to do rush out a story after a major murder or a crime. If we try to get something hotter onto the schedule, the audience isn’t that keen. What they’re looking for is the considered whole back story when all the facts are known and they can really get an overview of what that particular crime was about. Obviously, they want total honesty in the way the story’s told. We also try very hard to make sure that with the stories we cover, the villains are banged up at the end. What we don’t do is leave programs saying ‘…and they’re still out there.’ We don’t intend our audience to go to bed frightened.
How much of your programming comes through A&E and how much is acquired or commissioned?
We do about 50-60% [through] our output deal from A&E and then of the remaining 40-50% it’s about 30% acquisitions and 20% commissions.
What works best for your channel?
We’re always looking for insight – gripping stories with a really good beginning, middle and end. We don’t want to pick up a crime half of the way through. We will wait until whoever it is has been caught and is in prison because we want to tell the whole story. We always want to find out what makes criminals tick, what is it that caused the sequence of events along those lines. And first person testimony is just gripping television.