Ahead of the Oxygen Media premiere of The Turpin 13: Family Secrets Exposed tomorrow (April 28), Michael Welsh, ITN Productions’ VP of production and development, U.S., tells how the London-headquartered company got access first, and why the timing is right for the story.
In the two-hour television event, acclaimed journalist Soledad O’Brien investigates the story of David and Louise Turpin, who are currently awaiting their preliminary trial for child abuse after allegedly imprisoning, shackling, beating and strangling their 13 children for years in their Perris, California home. The victims ranged in age from two to 29-years-old.
Welsh says he and his executive producer saw the news and immediately sent producers out to California and West Virginia. “Lo and behold, nobody was out hunting. We were shocked and are still shocked to say the least. It was so hot and fresh at the time, we really thought people would be out there doing what we were doing.” They called Oxygen, the execs were interested in their leads, namely the siblings of the parents, and the doc will be a nine-week turnaround once it’s delivered.
“It got stranger and darker in unexpected ways. There’s a lot more to say about that situation than the press has picked up on. It’s a pretty deep and troubled story that goes back decades.”
They gained access to siblings of the Turpins, as well as the Turpin’s neighbors across their various homes from West Virginia to Texas to California. As such, the two-hour special will feature interviews with Louise Turpin’s sister Teresa Robinette, half-brother Billy Lambert and past neighbors of the Turpin family.
The arrests happened in January, the trial is set for mid-May, and Welsh believes that their doc is well-timed. “The story has gone underground until it comes back to trial, so we’re in a position to tell the story while it’s in this respite right now, to dig into it before it comes back to the news,” he says. “We’ve gotten to the marketplace twice – one when it first happened, and two while there’s this quiet and downtime.”
Besides the quick turnaround timing, Welsh says that it was also challenging to tell the whole story with due diligence. “You want to ensure you have an adequate chorus of voices to take a 360-degree approach to the narrative, so you’re not tunnel visioning – we cast a wide net of family and neighbors who knew the Turpins, but also law enforcement voices, and mental and physical health specialists to talk about the greater challenges facing these kids and parents.”
Welsh notes that finding the siblings and neighbors, and getting their stories is relevatory because of the trail of secrecy left behind by the the Turpins as they moved west across America. “They’re almost running and leaving these breadcrumbs behind,” he says.
In addition to the Turpin doc, the U.S. arm of UK-based ITN Productions has been busy, churning out Smithsonian Channel’s Waco: The Longest Seige and Netflix’s Drug Lords, as well as a slate of royal specials for NBC, ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, and a package of royal specials for TLC.
The NBC special is the first U.S. primetime network documentary for ITN Productions, while Drug Lords made the media company one of the first UK firms to receive a non-scripted commission from the streaming service. Netflix has aired four episodes, with four more waiting on a release date.
The Turpin 13: Family Secrets Exposed premieres April 28 at 6 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen.
ITN Productions’ Ian Russell, Michael Welsh, Anne Garofalo Paterno and Soledad O’Brien serve as executive producers.