On June 3, 2004, A&E Network turned its lens to Miami’s affluent Coconut Grove neighborhood, where the city’s homicide investigators plunged into a race against the clock to find key evidence in the 48 hours after a mother of two was murdered execution style in her kitchen.
“Gangs of Little Havana/Execution in Coconut Grove,” The First 48‘s first-ever episode, set the tone for the network’s flagship docuseries, which capped off its 18th season in May.
“The First 48 is a genre-defining series that has inspired countless true crime programs. Even after 15 years and thousands of investigations, audiences continue to be engrossed in the compelling cases and emotional stories featured in the series,” Elaine Frontain Bryant, EVP and head of programming at A&E Network, said in a statement to Realscreen.
For the last 15 years, the series has tailed thousands of homicide investigations in 27 cities across the U.S. in states such as Missouri, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Ohio, Georgia and Alabama, to name a few.
Maija Norris, who is an executive producer on The First 48 and has worked on the show for ITV Entertainment for the last decade, tells Realscreen the show is “constantly evolving.”
“Off-screen, in the last few years, we have moved towards devoting more time to each story. In the early days of The First 48, a lot of times it was two investigations we would feature per episode,” she says. “We’ve really tried to put more emphasis on doing single investigations per episode, because it allows us more time to delve into the stories and learn more about individuals that are involved — detectives, victims, their family members.”
Production crews have been given “unprecedented” access to crime scenes, forensic processing and investigations as detectives work to uncover key evidence in the critical hours after a homicide.
“The largest challenge for the team both out in the field and in post, is the subject matter,” Norris says. “We’re constantly working to make sure we’re handling every investigation and every person we encounter with the utmost sensitivity.”
The brutal homicides investigated in the series, from the murder of a doctor found hogtied in his home to an elderly man burned alive in a building fire and a good Samaritan shot dead while intervening in a robbery, never waver in severity.
“It’s different than a lot of other different series out there right now which do a lot of past-tense storytelling,” Norris explains. “We’re following real investigations and telling real stories and that does sort of set us apart and contribute to why people respond to the series.”
The First 48‘s popularity has spawned a number of spin-offs for the network, most recently The First 48 Presents: Homicide Squad Atlanta in January 2019 and Maria Clark Investigates the First 48 in March 2018, both produced by ITV Entertainment.
“Homicide is one of the most serious subjects you can cover,” Norris says. “The people who watch the series are drawn to it because its non-scripted, because it is real life.”
To kick off The First 48‘s 19th season, A&E Network will premiere an anniversary special, in which Tulsa, Oklahoma detectives work to solve the murders of two women gunned down in broad daylight. Norris says the sheer scope of the investigation, which unfolded over several years, sets the special apart.
“The investigation itself that’s featured in the two hour special, it’s just a different investigation than anything we’ve ever documented,” she says. “We got to watch first hand the determination of the lead detective and the rest of the Tulsa homicide unit working the case. Family participated as well.”
Commemorating the series’ anniversary, the two-hour special will include interviews with some of the most prominent homicide detectives featured in the series to-date. “There are certainly detectives that have been in The First 48 that you’d definitely recognize and know,” Norris says.
“As a series, we need to express a huge debt of gratitude to the detectives who allow us to follow them, and document their day to day work,” she adds. “And especially to the family members of murder victims who have been willing to tell the story of their loved ones.”
The First 48 anniversary special premieres Jan. 1 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. New episodes will air every Thursday beginning Jan. 2.
Watch the promo for the new season below: