7 Investigation Discovery Personalities on Why People Love True Crime

Investigation Discovery
Investigation Discovery

Investigation Discovery held its second annual IDCon last weekend in New York City. More than 300 true crime enthusiasts and ID Addicts (as they proudly call themselves) gathered in the Altman Building to take polygraph tests, snap photos in a “Notorious Headlines” photo booth, and, of course, see panels featuring their favorite Investigation Discovery personalities. All proceeds from the event’s ticket sales went to the Silver Shield Foundation, which provides educational support to the children of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.

True crime has always been popular, but these days, you can’t turn on the TV or your favorite streaming service without finding some ripped-from-the-headlines offering. We decided to ask the hosts of Investigation Discovery’s most popular shows why people—and women especially—love true crime.

1. JOE KENDA // HOMICIDE HUNTER

Lieutenant Joe Kenda solved 92 percent of the homicide cases he worked on during his career in law enforcement in Colorado Springs, Colorado—many of which he’s covered on his Investigation Discovery show, which will air its seventh season this year. True crime resonates, he says, for a number of reasons. “Complex feelings and issues don’t have simple answers or motivations, they don’t,” Kenda tells Mental Floss. “I think people are tired of fiction, tired of made up stories. It attracts them to truth, to something that’s happened to real people.”

He also believes that people love mysteries and good storytelling. “For thousands of years, people have gathered around the fire and said, ‘Tell me a story,’” he says. “If you tell it well, they’ll ask you tell another one. If you can tell a story about real people involved in real things, that draws their interest more than something some Hollywood scriptwriter made up that always has the same components and the same ending. And then: Who buys mystery novels? Women do, for the most part. They always have. So now you have motion picture mysteries as opposed to printed mysteries. That’s part of it, too.”

2. TAMRON HALL // DEADLINE: CRIME

During a panel discussion about why people involved in crimes—whether they’re families of the victims or the perpetrators—choose to speak for ID shows, Tamron Hall took a moment to talk about why ID viewers tune in to true crime shows. “It reminds us of humanity and the tragedies that can happen, and the journey for these people,” she said. “I think all of you guys watch our shows and say, ‘But for the grace of God, this could happen to me.’ A lot of these [shows have] themes of, wrong place, wrong time. Wrong choice … It really is something that could happen to someone you know, and the way the way the network handles it, is just that way. This could happen to anyone we know, and possibly us at some point in time.”

3. GARRY MCFADDEN // I AM HOMICIDE

For McFadden—whose show, I Am Homicide, returns for its second season on June 6—the public’s love for true crime all boils down to mystery. “People love mystery, they love intrigue, they love excitement,” he says. “When you’ve got that all together, and you can watch it every day, you want it. When you’re talking about ID, you’re talking about something that people say, ‘I’m going to figure this out,’ or ‘I’m going to see how this ends.’ The best movies are about mystery.”

4. CHRIS HANSEN // KILLER INSTINCT

Chris Hansen has had a long career in crime journalism (who can forget To Catch a Predator?), and it’s something he was drawn to early in his life, thanks to a very famous—and still unsolved—case. “When I was about 14, Jimmy Hoffa was kidnapped from a restaurant that’s about a mile and a half from the house where I grew up,” he tells Mental Floss. “It was on the news and in the papers. I’d ride my bike up there and see the yellow tape, the FBI agents and local police, and the TV news correspondents, and I kind of got bitten by the bug.”

Hansen believes people love true crime because it takes them places they wouldn’t normally go. “We go to places so the viewers don’t have to,” he says. “They see things they wouldn’t normally see, and they hear things they wouldn’t normally hear. And I think there’s a fascination with that. And at the end of the day, it’s good storytelling, too. Voyeuristic isn’t the right term, but it does allow people to escape and to see this other side of life that’s fascinating, and I think it’s also this fascination with becoming an armchair detective. To walk through [cases] with detectives, sometimes retired, you get that hindsight and that experience and that knowledge that people are interested in hearing.”

5. TONY HARRIS // SCENE OF THE CRIME

“I don’t know that I have a great answer,” Tony Harris, who hosts Scene of the Crime and Hate in America, tells Mental Floss when asked about why people love true crime shows so much. “One of the easy things to say is that people love train wrecks. That’s an easy thing, and I think that’s simplistic.” More likely, he says, is that viewers prefer to watch true crime over something like the news cycle because most of the stories have a definitive end, where the killer is found and justice is done: “In most of the shows, we button it up.” But it also boils down to very good storytelling. “The producers on our shows do a really good job of getting you over the commercials so you’re still in the story when we rejoin,” he says. “And that’s just master storytelling. Some of my cases were adjudicated, some weren’t. But I think that’s the other thing—these teams really know how to tell stories.”

6. ROD DEMERY // MURDER CHOSE ME

Rod Demery is the new kid on the block on Investigation Discovery—the first season of his show, Murder Chose Me, aired this year, and it’s just been renewed for a second season—but he’s a seasoned detective who solved 99 percent of his homicide cases. And he has plenty of thoughts about why people love true crime. “It’s like a roller coaster,” he tells Mental Floss. “I think one of the other things is fantasy. I’m certainly not a psychologist or anything close to that, but I think everybody that watches this kind of stuff, they identify with a different person in there. When I watch it, I watch the police officer: ‘If I was that guy, I’d do this.’ Everybody can relate to a different part of it. Real life is always better than fiction.”

7. CANDICE DELONG // DEADLY WOMEN

DeLong—a retired FBI profiler who was famously part of the team that caught the Unabomber—just wrapped the 11th season of Deadly Women. She believes that the reason true crime, and ID in particular, resonates with women is because “the vast majority of victims of interpersonal violence are women and children,” she says. “And I think that’s why ID’s such a hit. I’d like to think that people watch these shows and go, ‘Oh, if I ever see that, I’m going to run.’ And I think that’s why so many women watch ID.”

In fact, every investigator Mental Floss spoke with said they hoped that watching true crime shows on Investigation Discovery would lead potential victims to think more critically about certain situations and to recognize warning signs—which is a good enough thing to tell people if they think your obsession with true crime shows is unsettling.

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Josh Trank Wouldn't Mind Erasing Fantastic Four From Film History

Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It’s not every day that you hear a director talking about wanting to completely erase one of their projects from film history. But when the topic of the 2015 box office bomb Fantastic Four comes up, director Josh Trank isn't mincing words. The director tweeted that he would “gladly” donate to a GoFundMe page to have his failed adaptation erased from the cinematic history books.

It's no secret that Fantastic Four is a sore subject for Trank. The production was plagued with rumors that there was a bit of friction on set, particularly between the director and star Miles Teller. Even once the film had wrapped, reports about the troubled production plagued Trank, and eventually led to him parting ways with Disney, for whom he was supposedly developing a standalone Boba Fett movie. (It didn't help that Fantastic Four tanked at the box office and even won a Razzie for Worst Picture).

The topic of starting a GoFundMe page for the film started after Trank responded to fans rallying for a page to get the rat at the end of Martin Scorsese's The Departed digitally erased. When asked if he would support a page to get rid of Fantastic Four, Trank seemed to oblige (though he has since deleted the tweet).


It’s no secret the previous Fantastic Four movies have had little success, but now that Disney and Fox are joining forces, the series could be entering into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe now these superheroes will finally get the movie they deserve.

Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The theater owners and exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in February 1989 had a lot to look forward to. In an attempt to stir their interest in upcoming studio releases, major distributors were showing off stars and footage: Paramount led with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Columbia had Ghostbusters II. But it was Warner Bros. that caused the biggest stir.

In addition to Lethal Weapon 2, the studio had Tim Burton’s Batman, a straight-faced adaptation of the comic, and Michael Keaton—who slipped into a screening of some early footage—was no longer being derided as a poor casting choice. Then, in the midst of all this star power, the studio brought out a 35-year-old actor-writer-director with a shock of orange hair and an Australian accent.

The man had never appeared in a feature film before, much less starred in one, but Warner was gambling that his forthcoming comedy about a Tasmanian Albert Einstein who invents rock music and runs into Thomas Edison would be a hit. It had already become the sixth highest-grossing film in Australia's history, besting both E.T. and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

The man’s real name was Greg Pead, but Warner Bros. introduced him as Yahoo Serious, Hollywood’s next big comedy attraction.

 

To understand Warner’s appetite for an unproven commodity like Yahoo Serious, it helps to recall the peculiar preoccupation American popular culture had with Australians in the 1980s. Energizer had created a hit ad campaign with Mark “Jacko” Jackson, a pro football player who aggressively promoted their batteries in a series of ads; meanwhile, Paul Hogan parlayed his fish-out-of-water comedy, Crocodile Dundee, into the second highest-grossing film of 1986. (Serious would later bristle at comparisons to Hogan, whom he referred to as a “marketing guy” who sold cigarettes on Australian television.)

Born in Cardiff, Australia on July 27, 1953, Serious grew up in rural bush country and mounted car tires at a garage in order to pay his way through the National Art School. When he was expelled for illustrating the school's facade with satirical jokes that the faculty didn’t find particularly funny, Serious moved on to direct Coaltown, a documentary about the coal mining industry, and pursued painting.

Serious would later recall that the desire for a larger audience led him away from art and into feature filmmaking. ''It hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” Serious told The New York Times in 1989. “I remember having a cup of coffee and I went, 'Well, look, there is a giant canvas in every little town everywhere around the world. And on this giant canvas there are 24 frames of image on that screen every second and it's the most wonderful living art form.'” It was around this same time, in 1980, that Serious changed his name.

To get a feel for the language of film, Serious sat through repeated viewings of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove; he aspired to have the kind of total autonomy over his movies that directors like Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin enjoyed.

In 1983, Serious was traveling along the Amazon River when he spotted someone wearing a T-shirt depicting Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. The image is now pervasive, appearing on posters and other merchandise, but it seemed unique to the performer, who was struck by the idea that Einstein was once young and never took himself too seriously. And the concept for Young Einstein was born.

 

Serious's idea, which transplanted Einstein to Tasmania and imagined encounters with Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, and the atomic bomb, took years to assemble. He borrowed camera equipment and sold his car to help finance the film; he shot an eight-minute trailer that convinced investors he was capable of making a feature. His mother even cooked meals for the crew on set.

In order to maintain creative control, Serious gave up profit participation in Young Einstein, which he starred in, co-produced, co-wrote, and directed. When the film was released in Australia in 1988, it made an impressive $1.6 million at the box office and drew the attention of Warner Bros., which likely had visions of a Crocodile Dundee-esque hit. American press had a field day with Serious, who appeared on the cover of TIME and was given airtime on MTV.

Critics and audiences weren’t quite as enamored. The Orlando Sentinel suggested that "Tedious Oddball" would be a more appropriate name for the film's creator. In his one-star review, Roger Ebert wrote that, "Young Einstein is a one-joke movie, and I didn't laugh much the first time." In the U.S., Young Einstein grossed just over $11 million, a fairly weak showing for a summer comedy. It was bested in its opening weekend by both Ron Howard’s Parenthood and the Sylvester Stallone action-grunter Lock Up.

 

Although American distributors quickly cooled on Serious, Australia's enthusiasm for the filmmaker didn’t dampen. When Serious released 1993’s Reckless Kelly, a fictionalized account of outlaw Ned Kelly, it made $5.4 million in Australia—three times as much as Young Einstein. Serious took a seven-year sabbatical, then returned with 2000’s Mr. Accident, a slapstick comedy about an injury-prone man who tries to thwart a scheme to inject nicotine into eggs. Meeting a tepid critical and financial reception, it would be his third and (likely) final film.

At roughly the same time Mr. Accident was released, Serious took issue with upstart search engine Yahoo!, alleging the site was piggybacking on his popularity. He filed a lawsuit, which was quickly dropped when he failed to prove the URL had damaged him in any way.

Yahoo Serious attends an event
Paul McConnell, Getty Images

The amused headlines stemming from that incident were the last examples of Serious capturing attention in America. Having completed just three films, no other projects have come to fruition; Serious launched a website detailing some of his background and to air some of his Yahoo!-related grievances.

Now 65, Serious currently serves as founding director of the Kokoda Track Foundation, an Australian aid organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of Papua New Guineans. The board’s website lists him as Yahoo Serious, which is the name he claims that all of his family and friends have called him since he changed it in 1980.

“You can choose every aspect of your life,” Serious once said. “Why not your name?”

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