True crime docu-series have been around for decades but have recently sparked the interested of the masses. In an over-incarcerated country the number of false convictions has also been on the rise. Serial captured the nation with the story of Adnan Syed (a new motion was filed in court in March to overturn his conviction). The Jinx unveiled the creepy life of Robert Durst who was arrested when the series finaled. Most recently Making a Murderer went viral as viewers wondered if Steven Avery was really guilty.
NBC News' Dateline is the latest to unveil a compelling true crime story in their first ever digital docu-series that premiered online last week. "Conviction," which was filmed over the last two years focuses on New York State Inmate Richard Rosario who claims he was wrongly convinced of a murder 20 years ago. The series is indeed captivating and is already buzzing with the news that a judge threw out his conviction last week (he hasn't been exonerated yet and still might be retried but is currently out of jail) after a push from Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark.
Found Remote interviewed Dateline producer Dan Slepian about his documentary.
Found Remote: Why'd you decide to launch this as a digital series?
Dan Slepian: As we began to document Richard Rosario's case, Dateline’s executive producer Liz Cole thought that the digital platform provided a unique opportunity to tell an important story in a different and more flexible way than our traditional broadcast allows. For example, as opposed to television, there aren't specific running times we have to hit online, which allows us to dive a bit deeper into nuanced information that might not make it into a broadcast. "Conviction" is also narratively different than how Dateline traditionally tells stories in that it's a first person "producer’s journal." For the Dateline broadcast, we usually have an idea where the story will wind up, if it’s gone to court. In this case we had no idea where this our investigation would lead, so this was a way for us to be able to document and tell the story as it unfolded. As it turns out, it’s still unfolding and it was just announced Rosario has been released.
FR: You've been covering wrongful sentences throughout your career, were you surprised with the mass appeal of Serial, Making a Murderer and Jinx?
DS: I was surprised that people found these stories on platforms where true crime hasn’t traditionally been a staple, and binged on long-form storytelling. I am impressed by the great work of the producers of those programs. As a producer, I am pleased to see an audience interested and paying attention to stories that aren’t in the headlines of people that might normally be overlooked, like Richard Rosario. Covering these powerful stories, though, has always been an essential part of Dateline’s DNA, taking care to tell the complete story.
FR: Did those shows inspire you to produce this docu-series for digital?
DS: No. In fact, I began to be interested in the issue of wrongful convictions long before any of those series were even on the radar. My first story about a wrongful conviction was in 1999, about a Texas death row inmate named Gary Graham. But my real focus about wrongful convictions began in 2002. At the time, I was embedded with the NYPD, filming a documentary about homicide detectives, when one of the detectives began to reinvestigate a case where he thought two innocent men were locked up for a murder that they didn't do. The detective knew who the real killers were, but couldn't get anyone to listen to him, so he actually quit his job to talk to me on camera about it. That former detective, Bobby Addolorato, is interviewed in "Conviction". After seeing how difficult it was for Bobby, a homicide detective, to right a wrong, I was hooked and knew this was an issue that desperately needed attention. Digital was the perfect place to tell the Rosario story.
FR: Are you expecting a big response on social media?
DS: I hope so! Hopefully this will help!
FR: How do you use social media and how is it important for your reporting/for this story?
DS: I didn’t actually use social media very much in the reporting of this story, but our social community is heavily invested in people’s journeys to justice and I think they will embrace this story on a non-traditional platform, just as they do in our broadcast. I am hoping, of course, that our social community will help spread the word about the series.