The Murder List Flips the True-Crime Script

Stan Hsue, senior VP of development at Lion Television USA and executive producer on the series, talks to TV Real about The Murder List’s unique narrative, adapting its production amid Covid-19 and the evolution of the true-crime genre.

In the vast majority of true-crime content, the victim has been identified and it’s an investigation into the perpetrator that drives the program’s momentum. Turning the tried-and-true formula on its head, The Murder List aims to track down the identities of the victims of a potential serial killer.

Launched this week on discovery+, The Murder List dives into a case starting with the culprit, as law enforcement attempt to work their way backward after finding a suspect for multiple murders. “Police think they’ve found a serial killer and must use a cryptic list found in his possession—the so-called ‘list of ten’—to identify his victims,” says Hsue. “It’s this list, both eerie and prosaic, that makes this one of the most chilling true-crime stories I’ve encountered. I think The Murder List also stands out because it gives voice to victims on the margins of society, victims who sadly don’t often get the media spotlight.”

The show was set to commence filming last March, just as the severity of the global pandemic was hitting home around the world, leading to lockdown measures that put a halt to productions. After pressing pause, production on The Murder List resumed with safety top-of-mind. “Our very resourceful operations team came up with a number of solutions, including remote monitoring technology, that allowed us to produce this with limited travel and a smaller footprint,” says Hsue. “We’re very proud this doesn’t have the look of something shot in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Titles like The Murder List that push the boundaries of what the true-crime genre has traditionally been are part of the ongoing evolution within the content category as its popularity continues to grow. “Thanks to the true-crime boom, we are seeing unprecedented variety in terms of formats, POVs and the types of stories we tell,” says Hsue. “And true-crime fans are more sophisticated and discerning than ever, challenging us as producers to innovate like never before. That said, the strong storytelling at the core of the genre remains the same.”

The explosion of true crime is part of the larger trend across factual television, which is experiencing a period of profound change, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of SVOD and AVOD platforms. “The factual TV landscape is changing at breakneck speed,” says Hsue. “The dominance of the streamers is challenging producers to think bigger and bolder, to find stories and concepts that can cut through to viewers with infinite options at their fingertips. With all the old conventions being thrown out the window, it’s an exciting time to be in this industry.”

Lion Television USA is keen to take advantage of the possibilities the diverse and more daring platforms offer, as Hsue acknowledges that these platforms will also instigate changes on the linear, more traditional side of the business. “There is tremendous opportunity with the streamers of course, but also the linear networks as they evolve to adapt to the streaming universe,” Hsue explains. Looking ahead, he says that the company is “planning to build upon our successes in true crime and history, as well as returning to the formatted lifestyle space.”