LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For more than two decades, “Law & Order” has served up “ripped from the headlines” neatly packaged weekly crime dramas.
Now the television police and legal franchise is making its first foray into the burgeoning true crime genre with an eight-part series on the 1989 murders by California’s Menendez brothers of their wealthy parents.
“Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” starting on NBCO> on Tuesday, marks the marriage of two of television’s most popular genres.
“This is unique for me, after 27 years of ‘Law & Order’,” said Dick Wolf, creator of the franchise. “This is on a different level. This is one of the crimes of the century.”
Lyle and Erik Menendez were sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the 1989 shotgun murders of their parents in the den of their Beverly Hills mansion. Jose Menendez, a Hollywood executive, was shot in the back of the head and Kitty Menendez was shot 15 times. At the time of the murder Lyle was 21 and Erik was 18.
At a televised trial, the brothers claimed they had been molested by both parents for years.
True crime stories are booming on television with slow-burn documentaries about little known tales like “Making a Murderer,” “The Jinx” and “The Keepers” that tap into frustration over the perceived shortcomings of the U.S. justice system
David Schmid, editor of 2015 book “Violence in American Popular Culture,” says few crimes rise to the iconic status that makes them a long term feature of popular culture.
Like the Charles Manson cult killings of 1969 and the O.J Simpson double murder trial of 1995 - dramatized in an Emmy- winning series on FX in 2016 - the Menendez case seems to tap into the zeitgeist of a period in U.S. culture.
“It’s a case that many people have identified as exemplifying the ‘me’ decade of the 1980s and it is distinguished by a complete lack or remorse on the part of the perpetrators, ”said Schmid, a professor of English at the University at Buffalo.
The Menendez crime also exposes a family whose lifestyle was “apparently the epitome of the American dream but in reality was something very different,” Schmid said.
Wolf says that unlike his fictional “Law & Order” shows, “The Menendez Murders” has an agenda and will explore the molestation allegations that he believes should have been considered mitigating circumstances at trial.
“They probably should have been out in 8-10 years because they should have been convicted of first degree manslaughter,” Wolf said.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Diane Craft