While it’s still a bit too early to clearly forecast what shows will ultimately be dubbed “the best of 2016,” a likely candidate for best new show of the year so far is FX’s Ryan Murphy-produced anthology drama The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Acclaimed by critics and widely adored by audiences, the hit series proved there is a large audience ready and willing to relive the 1990s in the form of one of the most covered, dissected, and sensationalized criminal cases in the history of television trial coverage. With that success obviously in mind, it’s no wonder that prolific producer Dick Wolf is preparing to once again throw his hat into the TV crime arena.
Wolf — executive producer of the currently airing NBC series Chicago P.D., Chicago Fire, and Chicago Med — is set to once again team up with the peacock network to create Law & Order: True Crime, an American Crime Story-style limited anthology series in which each season chronicles a different famous historical case.
The first 8-episode season will cover the infamous trial(s) of Lyle and Erik Menendez, two brothers accused of brutally murdering their parents in 1989. They were first tried for the slayings in 1993, and constant coverage of the proceedings by the then-upstart cable network Court TV led to a level of public scrutiny arguably never before applied to a criminal case. Each brother was initially tried separately, but after both juries ended up deadlocked, the duo were retried together in 1996, and ultimately received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The nationwide fervor over the Menendez case ultimately served as sort of a template for the insanity to come two years later, when the accused murderer was suddenly a legendary professional athlete.
In a way, the Law & Order franchise expanding into the realm of true crime is a natural progression, as the original Law & Order series became well known for its “ripped from the headlines” episodes in which thinly veiled stand-in characters acted out slightly modified versions of real-life events. With this new anthology, Wolf is finally dropping the pretense and directly dramatizing true cases, without the cloak of fictionalization.
Of course, setting Law & Order: True Crime in the “real” world likely means that no fan favorite characters from Wolf’s previous L&O projects will cross over. Then again, the Menendez trial took place in California, so it wouldn’t really make sense for members of New York City law enforcement to take part anyway. Still, it’s hard to deny that watching Elliot Stabler try and beat a confession out of Lyle and Erik Menendez would be entertaining TV.
Law & Order: True Crime is in development and has no current premiere date.