Derrick Levasseur speaks to TV Real about his ID show Breaking Homicide.
Fans clamored to get a snapshot with Levasseur, the former police detective and PI who sets out to solve cold cases in Investigation Discovery’s (ID) Breaking Homicide, at IDCon in New York City last month. The event moved to a bigger venue for its fourth edition, with some 550 attendees descending on Center415 to meet and hear from the true-crime network’s biggest stars, among them Levasseur, Joe Kenda, Paula Zahn, John Walsh and Candice DeLong. As attendees waited in line to get IDCon tattoos, toting their ID wine tumblers and branded t-shirts, it was clear that a well-defined channel brand can still thrive in an on-demand media landscape.
“Investigation Discovery has the most devoted fanbase in the business, and we wanted to take our viewers ‘behind the yellow tape’ of their favorite TV network,” says Henry Schleiff, group president of Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, American Heroes Channel and Destination America at Discovery, Inc., on the creation of IDCon. “IDCon debuted in 2016 as a way for us to extend the most genuine ‘thank you’ to our super fans, and it has grown in both popularity and attendance ever since. We genuinely listen to what our audience wants, and it’s from this symbiotic relationship that we have found a way to lock in ID as the number one network for women 24 to 54 in total day.”
Breaking Homicide from Main Event Media and all3media America is among the shows driving those ratings gains for ID. Currently in its second season, it sees Levasseur (who is also known to reality TV fans as a previous winner of Big Brother) and forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie reinvestigating unsolved murder cases.
Levasseur says he was approached by a range of producers to do more television after winning Big Brother; but he wasn’t interested at first, returning to his job as a police officer. But when an opportunity arose for him to do a show for ID using his experience to explore the O.J. Simpson case, he couldn’t say no. In Is O.J. Innocent? The Missing Evidence, Levasseur says he quickly debunked a popular premise that Simpson’s son may have been involved in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
“We’re always focusing on cases that involve certain people of celebrity status,” Levasseur tells TV Real Weekly. “Forty to fifty percent of the cases out there go unsolved and their families get no closure. I said, Why can’t we do exactly what we just did [on Is O.J. Innocent?], but for people who really need it? Enough people are doing O.J., enough people are doing JonBenét Ramsey. There are families I hear from every day asking, Will you come help us?”
In season one, Levasseur and Mohandie investigated one case in each two-hour episode. Season two features a different format, with eight one-hour episodes, each devoted to a specific case. “We received over a thousand submissions,” Levasseur says. “The worst part of my job is picking.”
There are a few factors the team takes into consideration when selecting which cases to take on. “Cases that are 30, 40, 50 years old, there’s not a lot I can do. The witnesses are deceased, people’s memories are gone, evidence preservation at that time was not what it is today. I have to be realistic. Although we have done cases that were 30 years old and we solved one of them! It depends on the case, but I do try to stay with more recent ones. The number one prerequisite is the family has to want us [to investigate.] Number two would be to have police cooperation. If I have access to all the files, I can do a better job. And then finally, is there something I can do in the time frame where I feel like maybe this witness should have been asked a certain question, or maybe there’s an angle or type of analysis we can do?”
The families Levasseur has been working with have often not heard from authorities about what happened to their loved ones in years. “I go there, I re-interview everyone who is involved with the case, I speak with the original investigators, I speak with active detectives on the case now, I go to the DA’s office if I have to, I go to the medical examiner’s office if I have to. I look at what’s been done and say, What can we do differently?”
Levasseur points to the gains in DNA analysis and forensics, and says that he and Mohandie try to identify experts that can be brought in to deliver a fresh perspective on open cases. “In a few instances, I was able to track down people who had never spoken to the police before who had pertinent information about these murders.”
The new information uncovered by the show is then presented to authorities so they can move forward with cases. “At a minimum, the families get the exposure they deserve, where their loved one now has a voice and, regardless of the outcome, everyone will know who they were.”
“Last year we took on the Rebecca Zahau case,” Levasseur notes, referring to the girlfriend of millionaire pharmaceutical exec Jonah Shacknai whose death was ruled a suicide, but her family suspects foul play. “It was known on a local level. After we did the case, every network is covering it now. We’re setting a trend where local media and national media will cover these cases, and law enforcement will hopefully be more transparent in the future. They realize that allowing people like myself in, behind closed doors, is a benefit and not a hindrance.”