BuzzFeed Motion Pictures Investigative Series Gets Greenlight at Oxygen

'What Happened to…Jessica Chambers' will examine the death of a Mississippi teen, whose story was first told in an investigative piece from BuzzFeed News senior national reporter Katie J.M. Baker.
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Joe Berlinger

BuzzFeed has received its first television pickup. 

The digital publisher, which through its BuzzFeed Motion Pictures division has spent the last several years developing projects with an eye for traditional distribution, has set docuseries What Happened to…Jessica Chambers at Oxygen. 

Based on the investigative work of BuzzFeed News senior national reporter Katie J.M. Baker, the series from BFMP and NBCUniversal's Wilshire Studios will explore the mysterious death of Mississippi teen Jessica Chambers, who was set on fire in December 2014. Last year, a grand jury indicted Quinton Tellis on charges of capital murder, and he has pled not guilty. What Happened to…Jessica Chambers, a working title, will cover his trial date, which is set for October. 

The project is being executive produced by Joe Berlinger (Brother's Keeper) and BFMP head of development Matthew Henick. 

NBCU has invested a total of $450 million in BuzzFeed over the last two years and has forged partnerships with the digital company in a number of areas. They teamed up to create daily coverage of the Rio Olympics for Snapchat last summer. Other projects in development include a TV adaptation of web series Mom vs. Chef and a series based on the Try Guys franchise. Oxygen is part of the NBCU Cable Entertainment network. 

BuzzFeed established the Los Angeles-based Motion Pictures division in 2014 and proceeded to strike deals with much of its homegrown talent, including the Try Guys and comedian Quinta Brunson. What Happened to...Jessica Chambers will be the first project developed at BFMP to debut on a traditional television network. 

Editor-in-chief Ben Smith tells The Hollywood Reporter that the pickup of the project shows the way in which BFMP can work with the news division to bring stories to film and television. "What's exciting for us is that Matthew has been building a development arm in Los Angeles that takes advantage of what we've got, which is all this data about these stories and a big audience that we know is invested in this story," he says. 

To that end, the company recently hired a New York-based development executive, Cinetic Media veteran Linzee Troubh, to help BFMP turn the news division's stories into documentary features. Says Smith: "Some reporters see this as a really interesting new muscle to build, to work on nonfiction and television docs. It's exciting for us to give people that opportunity."

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