Got a Crime-Drama Habit? Try These 6 Series Based on True Events

by | November 3, 2016 | Comments

Who Killed JonBenét? (Lifetime)

If you’re a fan of true-crime drama, Lifetime’s made-for-TV movie Who Killed JonBenét?, premiering November 5, is one of several TV outings this season about the tragic death of the child pageant queen.

It’s also part of a resurgence in the genre. In fact, 2016 has been the year of the crime docudrama series. And 2017 is shaping up just as nicely.

Emmys-sweeping FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is greatly to thank for that. While real-life crime stories have long held allure for Hollywood creatives, never before has an entry in the genre ascended to the level of prestige achieved by the decorated miniseries about the trial of former football hero O.J. Simpson for the murders of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman.

American Crime Story’s success has paved the way for a number of projects now in the primetime pipeline, including a Fox 21 TV adaptation of award-winning podcast “Serial”; a nonfiction anthology scripted series from Dick Wolf, Law & Order: True Crime; and TNT’s Finding Chandra, which follows 24-year-old Chandra Levy’s 2001 disappearance and death.

Want to get in on the true-crime hype? Here are six notable series inspired by real crimes, real people, and real consequences. While the bulk of these programs take sizable creative liberties, each is a gripping account of the stories behind the headlines of today and yesteryear.

1. American Crime Story 93% (FX)


The debut season of American Crime Story reimagines one of the best known court cases in American history and peels back its many layers. Think you know Marcia Clark, Robert Shapiro, and Christopher Darden — or even O.J. Simpson? Think again. This 10-episode season lays the surprises on thick and does justice to the trial in a way the 1995 television event never could. Season 1 starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. VanceJohn Travolta, and more. Next year’s season 2 offering will take a bite of something bigger: Hurricane Katrina.

2. Aquarius 77% (NBC)

Aquarius: Grey Damon and David Duchovny (NBC)

Though it received mixed reviews, this David Duchovny–starrer tracking the early cult-leader makings of murderer Charles Manson and the LAPD detective hot on his trail packs a punch with kills and thrills.

3. Orange Is the New Black 90% (Netflix)


Showrunner Jenji Kohan’s Netflix series is a case study on how to ground a series in fact while expanding it for the sake of entertainment. Provocative and boundary-pushing, the series based on Piper Kerman’s bestselling memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, boasts one of the most colorful and beloved ensembles on TV with the rich and unexpected narrative turns to match.

4. Boardwalk Empire 92% (HBO)

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Steve Buscemi took home the 2011 best actor Golden Globe for his bone-deep portrayal of real-life crooked Atlantic City politician Enoch L. Johnson (here named Enoch “Nucky” Thompson). His performance in this Prohibition-era crime noir is reason enough to revisit it.

5. The Secret (ITV)

James Nesbitt in The Secret (ITV)

Here’s one you may not have heard of: Based on journalist Deric Henderson’s Let This Be Our Secret about an affair that led to the 1991 murders of Lesley Howell and Constable Trevor Buchanan in Northern Ireland, this U.K. miniseries stars Irish actor James Nesbitt as Colin Howell, the dentist-turned-murderer. Genevieve O’Reilly stars as his lover and accomplice, Hazel Buchanan.

6. Narcos 89% (Netflix)

Like Boardwalk Empire, Narcos takes a closer look at a formidable and feared crime figure — in this case, Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar (played by Wagner Moura). Season 2 just premiered to rave reviews in September and is available for binging.

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