3 Things to Learn from “Making a Murderer.”

You know your “show” has tipped when CNN does an article about it.

CNN did about a dozen on Making a Murderer.

Making a Murderer is the latest entertainment industry phenom.  It’s the Hamilton of television.  Everyone’s talking about it . . . and it seems to have hit that sweet spot we all lust for of critical and commercial success.

Whenever anything captures so much of the public’s attention, I always take a deep dive into the material to try to understand why so I can apply it to what we do . . . and because it also gives me an excuse to binge watch.

After taking a look at what makes up Murderer, here are three things I learned that I thought could help us all.

1.  People Love a Courtroom Drama

A Few Good Men, 12 Angry Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Inherit the Wind . . . are just a few of the examples of courtroom dramas that have hit it out of the park in our industry.  And outside of our biz, why do you think Law and Order has been running for 147 years and has 14 spinoffs?  Oh, and you do know there even used to be a whole TV NETWORK called Court TV?  Never mind The People’s Court and Judge Judy.  People love a judge and a jury and two parties going at each other.  And why not?  It’s perfect storytelling.  There’s a clear protagonist.  There’s a clear antagonist.  And stakes are high . . . usually life and death.  We haven’t seen a great courtroom drama on Broadway in a while . . . maybe we should?

2.  The Truth is BETTER than Fiction

You can’t make up the stuff in Murderer.  It’s just too . . . too . . . too . . . wow.  And you know what?  Even if you could make it up?  It wouldn’t have the same impact.  As you watch, you can’t help but think, “Holy crap . . . this really happened.”  It’s why so many movies, TV shows, etc. put a slide on the screen right at the beginning that says, “Based on a true story.”  It makes the audience lean forward and lean in to the story (which is why I call this the “Lean Forward Factor”).  Stories that are true . . . or that you make seem true . . . will always have a bigger emotional impact on your audience.

3.  The Big Networks Can’t Compete with the Independents

Now look, Netflix is no mom-and-pop shop anymore.  They’re a publicly-traded company, that was ironically up against the ropes a few years ago . . . until it started dedicating its time and resources to creating original and unique content.  The big three/four TV networks are getting crushed by the smaller, independent and more flexible TV networks.  NBC, CBS, etc. . . . they could never have found this story, produced this story . . . they’re too big, too inflexible, too dependent on advertising, too worried about what their boards and parent companies might think, etc.  But Netflix can.  As more and more big conglomerates (movie companies, etc.) come into Broadway, they’ll discover the same thing.  Sure, they can produce a star-driven revival of an old property and make some big bucks.  Sure, they can produce SpongeBob.  But they won’t produce the next Hamilton.   Unless they find a way to work with the people that can.


If you haven’t seen Murderer yet, I suggest you stop whatever you are doing, get on Netflix and watch it.  If you’re at work, tell your boss I said it was research.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.