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'The Jinx,' 'Serial' usher in a new era of true crime storytelling

Robert Durst in HBO's
Robert Durst in HBO's "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst."
Robert Durst in HBO's
Andrew Jarecki (Director of "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst") and Robert Durst
Courtesy of HBO
Robert Durst in HBO's
Sarah Koenig is host of WBEZ Chicago's popular podcast "Serial."
/Meredith Heuer

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The HBO documentary series "The Jinx" is an exploration of the life and suspected crimes of real estate millionaire Robert Durst. Durst's wife disappeared in 1982, his best friend was shot to death in 2000, and in 2003, Durst was acquitted for the murder of his neighbor. At the outset of the series, Durst's guilt or innocence was still an open question, but in the final moments of the series finale, audio was revealed of Durst in the bathroom whispering to himself, "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

"The Jinx" and WBEZ's podcast "Serial" are heralded as ushering in a new form of real time, impactful journalism.  On the day before the final episode of "The Jinx" aired, Durst was arrested and charged with the murder of his friend, Susan Berman. In a press conference Tuesday morning, Durst's attorney stated that the warrant for his arrest in Los Angeles was issued based on a TV series, not the facts.

Host Alex Cohen spoke with Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic, who wrote an article about the success of the shows and what this means for the future of true crime storytelling.

True crime docudrama is not a new genre, but Deggans says that "The Jinx" and "Serial" stand apart from their predecessors in that there's a sense that the audience is uncovering the story right along with the people who are reporting the story. Audiences are drawn by the open possibility of more to come.  

"They're working on a case that's still in play...There was a sense that something could still happen."

Social media, Deggans says, is also fueling the sense of engagement that people feel with these stories.  

"You have a whole other conversation happening on social media that we did not have when other classics of the true crimes genre were published like 'In Cold Blood' or 'Thin Blue Line'...What we saw with 'Serial' was that people were trying to do their own detective work...I imagine that we may see that with 'The Jinx' as well."  

When asked what the popularity of these shows means for the future of true crime docudramas, Deggans said that the variety and depth of  characters in these two projects will be hard to replicate. 

"These kind of crimes don't grow on trees and that's the reason why these programs are so impactful...There will be a lot of people trying to mimic this show's success, but this feels like lighting in a bottle."