Murder, fraud and sex tapes: Why Hulu and other streamers are cashing in on true crime

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This was one of the most bizarre crimes of the 1980s in Los Angeles. An ambitious Indian immigrant and founder of Chippendales, a club consisting of shirtless male dancers, plots the murder of his business partner and several others.

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The gruesome tale was covered in the 2014 book “Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders” and helped inspire the Hulu series, “Welcome to Chippendales,” which launched Tuesday, starring comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani.

It’s one of about a half-dozen Hulu limited series launched this year that are based on real-life true-crime stories pulled out of the limelight.


True-crime programs and documentaries have always been a part of streaming platforms like Hulu and Netflix. Increasingly, streamers are doubling down on the genre by developing scripted limited series based on true stories and with notable actors like Nanjiani, many of whom are drawn to the format.

“It usually deals with really heavyweight stories that entice people to watch characters that they usually to some extent might completely lose their minds… and eventually, in most cases , pay a significant price – whether it’s prison time, death, suicide, their business collapsing or all of the above,” said former studio executive Tom Noonan. “It’s the most colorful kind of drama.”

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Streamers looking to cash in.

Netflix’s “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” was the third most-watched series in its first 28 days on the platform. Viewers spent over 856 million hours watching the show, which delves into the origin story of a real-life serial killer.

Despite some blowback from the families of Dahmer’s victims, Netflix has ordered two additional installments that will focus on other demonic figures.

Other scripted series based on real-life murders released this year include HBO’s “The Ladder” and Hulu’s “Candy.”

“There’s a rabid audience for these stranger-than-fiction, rip-off stories on the platform,” said Jordan Hellman, head of scripted content at Hulu Originals. “There is a pre-awareness and a curiosity factor that drives any narrative non-fiction adaptation. They also often serve as catnip for A-list onscreen talent to transform themselves, both physically and otherwise.

Hellman said that Hulu Originals saw the popularity of true-crime series rise in 2019 with breakout success from “The Act”. The limited series was based on author Michelle Dean’s BuzzFeed article on the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard. Then came “Dopesik” last year, which starred critically acclaimed actor Michael Keaton and was nominated for 14 Emmys.

This year, Hulu Originals launched five shows based on real-life true crimes, including “The Dropout” about disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, “Pam & Tommy” about her stolen sex videos, and most recently , “Welcome to Chippendales”. The streamer will soon go into production on a project starring “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Ellen Pompeo that touches on the story of Natalia Grace Barnett, a woman with dwarfism who is accused of tricking her adoptive parents into thinking she was She was a child and then accused them of neglect.

According to Parrot Analytics, three of the top 10 Hulu Original shows this year were related to real-life true-crime stories, which were based on online American consumer demand. Scripted shows including “The Dropout,” “Pam & Tommy” and “Dopesik” received “excellent demand,” meaning they were in the top 2.9% of TV series across all platforms, according to Wade Payson, an analyst with Parrot Analytics. Denny said.

Hulu executives say true-crime series have helped expand the reach of the platform — which had 47.2 million subscribers for on-demand and live TV in the fourth quarter — but they’re not overly dependent on the genre. Hulu is known for dramas including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the comedy series “Only Murders in the Building,” and the sci-fi show “The Orville.”

“These narrative nonfiction are limited—they do big business for us, but we’re also really mindful about making sure we’re not just repeating ourselves or not being too defined by any one genre or lane. are happening, which is why we look at these as one piece of a much bigger puzzle,” Hellman said.

Hulu parent Walt Disney Co.’s streaming business — which includes Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+ — posted a $1.5 billion loss in the most recent quarter, reflecting higher production and marketing costs related to Disney+ and Hulu ( Which costs $7.99 per month with and $14.99 per month with ads). The loss alarmed investors and Disney board members, who ousted CEO Bob Chapek on Sunday.

True-crime stories that have already generated books or podcasts are also attracting studios because they have an established audience for the content.

“The things that do exist are safety and comfort,” said “Welcome to Chippendales” creator, co-showrunner and executive producer Robert Siegel.

Co-showrunner and executive producer Jenny Konner said “Welcome to Chippendales” would have been difficult to make if it weren’t based on a true story.

“If you turn in a script like that, I can imagine people saying, ‘Well, no, that’s impossible, that’ll never happen,'” Conner said. “So you have something to lean back on creatively.”

Actors are also drawn to playing characters in stories where truth is often stranger than fiction.

Pakistani American actor Nanjiani is best known for playing a software engineer in the HBO series “Silicon Valley”, a superhero in the Marvel film “Eternals” and the romantic comedy “The Big Sick”, which he co-wrote with his wife.

“If it wasn’t based on a true story, I wouldn’t have been cast,” Nanjiani said of his role in “Welcome to Chippendales”. “These parts don’t get in my way.”

He portrays Somen “Steve” Banerjee, an Indian immigrant who founded Chippendales after saving money working at a gas station. But even after becoming a successful business owner, Banerjee finds more obstacles in her way.

“Obviously, Steve and I are very different people, but we had the same experience of coming to America with a version of America in our heads and, you know, hitting the wall of real America,” said Nanjiani, who Also an executive producer on the series.


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