5 Classic True Crime Anthology Shows

The public's interest in crime is far from new
The public's interest in crime is far from new

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

True crime is going through a serious moment right now. It seems like everyone and their grandma is looking forward to the next big serial killer documentary, recommending “the best” crime podcast, or binge-watching the latest Netflix docu-series. It’s not taboo to be into reading about murder anymore—not that that ever stopped us from doing it anyway. If you were into true crime before it was a bonafide pop culture sensation, you remember looking forward to certain shows. Maybe being a little ashamed of your obsession, but not enough to miss an episode.

Most of us can look back and pinpoint the case that first sparked our true crime interest. Or maybe it was one of these classic TV shows that covered mysteries, cold cases, and even the people that committed horrible crimes. If you’ve already binged your way through all the current true crime options you can find, here are a few classic shows that got the genre started.

Unsolved Mysteries
Unsolved Mysteries started in 1987 as a series of specials before being upgraded to a full-fledged series in 1988. Robert Stack hosted the show on NBC for nine seasons before it was cancelled in 1999 and then came to host another 2 seasons on Lifetime until his death in 2003. The show featured re-enactments of unsolved crimes, missing persons cases, conspiracy theories, and unexplained paranormal phenomenon. Some of the notable cases the show covered included the Unabomber, D.B. Cooper, Son of Sam, Tara Calico, and Edgar Cayce.

Since all the cases were unsolved or unexplained, viewers were always encouraged to phone or write in with tips that might help investigators solve the case. The show also provided updates on solved cases and suspects who were brought to justice. As one of the first shows that acknowledged how important the public is to solving cold cases, Unsolved Mysteries didn’t shy away from talking about horrific crimes. With an Amazon Prime subscription, you can still watch all the episodes online.

America’s Most Wanted
From 1988 to 2011, America’s Most Wanted informed the public of criminals that were on the loose in order to make sure people were vigilant about their own safety—and help investigators catch fugitives. John Walsh, whose six-year-old son Adam was kidnapped and murdered in 1981, was tapped as host because of his advocacy for missing children, and everything he did to help pass new legislature to protect missing children and create the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

The show featured reenactments of dangerous fugitives portrayed by actors, and on-camera interviews of investigators and other people close to the case, as well as voice-over narration done by Walsh. 1-800-CRIME-TV was the hotline number viewers could call in with information regarding cases they saw featured. Over 1000 people have been captured thanks to exposure from America’s Most Wanted including David James Roberts who was the first fugitive profiled on the show to be caught. Although America’s Most Wanted has been cancelled, you can still watch The Hunt with John Walsh on CNN’s sister station HLN.

The First 48
A&E’s The First 48, a documentary series that focuses on the first two days of a murder investigation, has been around since 2004. The show films in various city across the U.S. showing how detectives use forensic evidence, witness interviews, and other investigative tactics to identify and catch suspects. Many of the cases are solved within 48 hours, which is the goal, because according to the show’s title sequence, the chance of solving a crime is cut in half if there are no leads within the first 48 hours of a crime being committed. In its sixth season, The First 48 was the highest rated non-fiction justice series on TV.

Although there has been some controversy over the show’s use of on-air witness interviews and the unprecedented access to local police departments, the show—and the crime genre in general—is still a huge part of A&E’s programming strategy. Spinoffs After the First 48 and The First 48: Missing Persons have gone on to use the same format to bring awareness to ongoing cases.

Snapped
Snapped has been airing on the Oxygen network since 2004 and has gone through 22 seasons. That’s a lot considering the episodes almost always feature narratives of women who have committed or been accused of committing murder and attempted murder against a spouse or partner. With voice-over narration by Sharon Martin and interviews with people who have first-hand knowledge of the case such as detectives, lawyers, journalists, and loved ones of both the victim and the accused, the story is brought to life.

Snapped is Oxygen’s longest running series and the network’s “Snapped Sundays” marathons helped guide Oxygen’s switch to a largely true crime direction. Hundreds of cases have been covered including Carol Carr who shot and killed her two adult sons who had Huntington’s Disease, sparking a debate over assisted suicide. She plead guilty and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. Her surviving son, who also has Huntington’s Disease, maintains that his mother acted out of love, not malice.

Forensic Files
Airing on TLC under the original name Medical Detectives from 1996 until 2011, Forensic Files was a documentary-style series about how forensic science is used to solve violent crimes, mysterious accidents, and outbreaks of illnesses. The show premiered around the same time the O.J. Simpson murder trial and its attention on forensics and DNA testing became a nationwide sensation. As one of the first popular forensic science shows, Forensic Files showed the public how science could be used to provide unquestionable proof of someone’s guilt—or innocence.

The format of each episode was a “whodunit” style with the mystery laid out in the beginning with experts like pathologists, medical examiners, police officers, lawyers and family and friends of the victim and suspect providing their perspective. The CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise was inspired by Forensic Files, essentially becoming a fictionalized version of the same concept. Investigation Discovery currently airs re-runs of the show under the title Cause of Death.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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