Menendez Brothers Set as Focus of NBC's Dick Wolf 'Law & Order' Anthology Series

menendez brothers - H 2016
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menendez brothers - H 2016

NBC is getting into the true crime business.

Fresh off the finale of FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, NBC announced Wednesday that it is developing its own true crime anthology series with prolific producer Dick Wolf.

Like Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story, the project will focus on a different real-life crime every season. Titled Law & Order: True Crime — The Menendez Brothers, the first eight-episode season of the project will focus specifically on brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez, who were convicted of murdering their parents and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 1996. The brothers, who were 21 and 18 years old, respectively, at the time of the murders, were tried separately but eventually found guilty in a third trial after no verdicts were rendered in the first two trials because of hung juries.

Defense attorney Leslie Abramson represented the brothers during all three trials and claimed that they had suffered a lifetime of abuse from their parents. Their father, Jose Menendez, was accused of sexual abuse as well as being unusually cruel while their mother, Kitty Menendez, was accused of being mentally unstable, with a violent history of drug and alcohol abuse.

However, jurors believed the brothers killed their parents to inherit their money. Jose and Kitty were found murdered in their Beverly Hills home in August 1989. The brothers were arrested six months later and are both still serving life sentences in the California Department of Corrections. Like the Simpson trial, the Menendez brothers trial became an early hit for then-burgeoning cable channel CourtTV. The case was also the basis for a 1994 film in which Edward James Olmos and Beverly D'Angelo played the victims.

Like American Crime Story, the events surrounding the murders and subsequent trials will be recreated for the NBC series. True crime series have been a hot trend on the small screen, thanks to other success stories, such as HBO's True Detective. Season one of American Crime Story, more commonly known as The People v. O.J. Simpson, has been averaging 7.7 million viewers. True crime docuseries have also carved a niche thanks to HBO's The Jinx and more recently Netflix's Making a Murderer.

Wolf will executive produce the project through his Wolf Entertainment banner in association with Universal Television. If picked up to series, this would mark his fifth at NBC, joining Law & Order: SVU, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med. Wolf has also a fourth Chicago show, Chicago Justice, in development, as well as unscripted series You the Jury. The series are part of his lengthy overall deal at the network, which extends to 2020. The extension of the Law & Order brand comes a year after talks stalled on a revival of the long-running drama series, which was canceled in 2010. The Emmy-winning series was known for ripped-from-the-headlines storylines, with a season-one episode based on the Menendez case.

“We’ve been talking with Dick about how to create an event series coming out of the Law & Order ripped-from-the-headlines brand," NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said Wednesday in a statement. "This case captured the public’s attention like nothing before it as it examined taboo issues such as patricide and matricide in gruesome detail, all against a backdrop of privilege and wealth. We will recreate the cultural and societal surroundings of both the murders and trials when people were not only obsessed with the case but examining how and why these brothers committed these heinous crimes.”  

Wolf added: “[NBC chief Bob Greenblatt], Jen and I have been focused on the natural evolution of the Law & Order brand for the last several years and are excited to extend the franchise with a scripted limited anthology series that focuses on a high-profile trial. There is no shortage of compelling real-life criminal cases, and the Menendez trial was more scintillating than most crime fiction.”