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With the peak TV-fueled documentary boom about to get even more crowded with anticipated direct-to-consumer offerings from content behemoths including WarnerMedia and Disney, Showtime is ramping up its own unscripted efforts. The premium network — part of CBS Corporation, which is expected to once again merge with Viacom — is rolling out what executives hope will be a second current continuing series and also entering the true-crime genre.
Couples Therapy follows four couples in therapy over several months with New York psychoanalyst Dr. Orna Guralnik. The initial nine-episode order bows Sept. 6, after the final season of The Affair wraps. It’s the first project from Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg since their revealing and award-winning 2016 film Weiner, about the second and final implosion of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.
The five-part documentary Murder in the Bayou, which explores the so-called Jeff Davis 8 murders, premieres Sept. 13, and investigates the deaths of eight women in Louisiana’s Jefferson Davis Parish between 2005 and 2009.
Showtime has steadily built a robust unscripted lineup with acquisitions and original films. But it has resisted true crime until now because, notes Vinnie Malhotra, Showtime’s executive vp unscripted programming, much of what they were being pitched was derivative of the two series that arguably kicked off the current craze: HBO’s The Jinx and Netflix’s Making of a Murderer. “We really wanted the Showtime documentary brand to feel distinctive, contemporary and a mirror of our times,” he says. “It took some time to figure out what that was.”
Showtime has additional true-crime series in development and at least one more in production. The Louisiana case has earned a fair amount of media attention with stories in Rolling Stone and The New York Times, a four-part series on ID, as well as a book penned by Louisiana-based journalist Ethan Brown that forms the spine of Showtime’s documentary. But it also promises intrigue; no one has been convicted in the deaths and there has been rampant suspicion of police misconduct. For the premium network, the lack of closure and the ambient details of the story — including the esoteric Bayou locale — offered a way in to a genre that is ubiquitous on television and increasingly podcasts.
“It’s not a story where you can pick up your phone in the middle of [watching it] and find out what happens in the end,” notes Malhotra, who previously worked at ABC News and CNN. “I like to think that what we’re doing, as we used to say in the news business, is moving the story forward.”
Kriegman and Steinberg forged a relationship with Showtime executives after the network picked up the rights to Weiner. The filmmakers were inspired to delve into relationship struggles after witnessing what in retrospect turned out to be the unraveling of Wiener’s marriage to Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s longtime adviser. Capturing scenes from the couple’s home life, and the obvious tension in their marriage, caused considerable consternation after the film was released. Weiner claimed Kriegman, who did a stint as Weiner’s congressional chief of staff, told him he would not use Abedin in the film without her consent and that she never consented. Kriegman and Steinberg denied this. But the filmmakers likely learned a lesson about managing their subjects.
Notes Malhotra: “They did a little bit of their own therapy with these couples to keep them in.”
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