Blumhouse is right to get in on the true crime trend, but they should probably choose a new direction for it.
Last year, Blumhouse Productions contributed to a 10-episode revival of the A&E true crime series Cold Case Files, each episode of which documents the investigation of unsolved murders. According to Deadline, the studio is now set to deepen their investment in the true crime genre with No One Saw A Thing, a TV series to be made for SundanceTV and the streaming service Sundance Now. The description of the program is as follows:
The six-episode series examines an unsolved and mysterious death in the American Heartland and the corrosive effects of vigilantism in small town America. The case garnered international attention in the early 1980s after a resident was shot dead in front of almost 60 townspeople. These witnesses deny having seen anything, to this very day.
This reads as deliberately vague, but true crime fans — or anyone who watches Buzzfeed Unsolved — can probably pick up on the fact that this case is almost certainly that of Ken McElroy. McElroy was known as the town bully of Skidmore, Missouri, until he was shot dead while sitting in his car in 1981. McElroy had been accused of crimes including burglary, child molestation, rape, assault, and arson. Though he was indicted 21 times in his life, he escaped conviction all but once, often through witness intimidation. One day, after Skidmore residents decided they’d had enough of him, he was shot and killed in front of a crowd of people, but all of these potential witnesses denied having seen anything, and no one has ever been charged for the crime.
This case is undeniably unique and is able to provoke debates about vigilantism. But it isn’t a cold case that anyone is clamoring to see solved. The general consensus among true crime fans and those familiar with the case is that 37 years after the crime, attempting to find the killer is a waste of resources. Blumhouse Productions and SundanceTV seem to disagree with that.
Jan Diedrichsen, a general manager of SundanceTV and Sundance Now, said the series will satisfy their fan base’s “appetite for a thought-provoking — and unsolved — true crime story.” This sentiment was echoed by Jeremy Gold, co-president of Blumhouse Television, who stated the aim of the show is “to get to the truth.”
The McElroy case may be thought-provoking, but in an era where other true crime movies and shows — such as The Jinx, which captured a potential confession from its subject, Robert Durst — have proven that documentaries can have a real impact on an unsolved case, No One Saw A Thing sounds like a waste of time and effort for both creators and audiences.
If the series accomplishes its goal of finding the truth, then the assailant, who, after all this time may not even be alive, will potentially be charged with a murder that his or her own fellow citizens decided 37 years ago they didn’t want to see solved. For audiences, uncovering the truth would likely be rather anticlimactic considering part of the lore and intrigue around the shooting is that no witnesses ever came forward.
If Blumhouse and Sundance are intent on creating a series in order to potentially solve a case, there are, unfortunately, a seemingly infinite number of other cold cases they could have chosen from. There are unsolved cases — such as a potentially active serial killer in Long Island or the disappearance of nine-year-old Asha Degree, which happened just over 18 years ago on February 14, 2000 — that could benefit from the exposure that a TV series would provide.
Sundance’s Diedrichsen also spoke about wanting to examine the impact of true crime “stories on popular culture.” This is a broad topic that could go well beyond the exploration of only one individual case. If this is what Sundance and Blumhouse seek to accomplish, they could have taken inspiration from the upcoming HBO documentary I Am Evidence, which is about the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States, or Finding Dawn, a film about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Both of these docs go beyond examining one particular case and turn their attention to questions about the impact of crime on society. They also both examine crimes that need proper resources in order to be solved.
Frustratingly, many of those involved with No One Saw A Thing are knowledgeable about creating good, thought-provoking, and worthwhile documentaries. Avi Belkin, an award-winning Israeli documentary filmmaker, is attached to direct, and Alexandra Shiva, who made the HBO documentary How to Dance in Ohio is set to executive-produce the series. But talent behind the camera can only go so far without a good case in front of it.
The choice of subject for No One Saw A Thing reveals a troubling disconnect between Sundance, Blumhouse, and their audience. Blumhouse Television’s co-president Marci Wiseman stated that fans will “have an opportunity to share their own conspiracy theories over social media.” However, in a recent episode of Buzzfeed Unsolved, the popular YouTube series that covers unsolved crimes, viewers responded to the McElroy case with questions about it, none of which involved theories about who killed McElroy or a desire to find out. Of course, these Buzzfeed Unsolved viewers do not represent all true crime fans and there could indeed be some who have conspiracy theories about the case, but they are not in the majority. The general consensus from the episode and in true crime circles is that whoever shot McElroy should remain anonymous.
If Blumhouse seeks to continue with its true crime venture, the studio would be wise to reexamine Cold Case Files. A number of the crimes featured on that show remain unsolved, and without coverage keeping them in the spotlight, they will likely remain that way.
It’s highly unlikely the production of No One Saw A Thing, which is set to air in 2019, will actually lead to an arrest. Chances are the most the series can accomplish is a debate about vigilantism, a debate that could even be worthwhile. But after 37 years have passed, and considering how many other cases deserve to be solved, Blumhouse and Sundance should probably let the citizens of Skidmore, Missouri, maintain their silence.