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‘Homicide’ Producers Talk Los Angeles Season, Phil Spector, Franchise Hopes

‘Homicide’ Producers Talk Los Angeles Season, Phil Spector, Franchise Hopes

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It might seem like a no-brainer that Law & Order impresario Dick Wolf should extend his murder–centric franchise into the documentary space — or that Netflix, with its many true crime features and miniseries, attempt the same thing in episodic format — but neither really came to fruition until the March premiere of Homicide: New York. Naturally, the long wait carried a fair amount of pressure with it.

“Everyone understood the potential pitfalls of stepping into the true crime space and the tropes that come with it,” says Dan Cutforth, Homicide executive producer and one half of Alfred Street Industries. “We’ve all seen that done… not well. So, it was really important that it be executed on a very high level with this series.”

Homicide: New York dropped five episodes on March 21 and quickly shot to the top of Netflix’s domestic Top 10 chart, even enjoying a run atop David Benioff and DB Wiess’ pricey 3-Body Problem. And while future episodes are still up in the air, a sister series set in Los Angeles is already on deck. “People always think we’re the culinary, fashion and lifestyle producers, but we really do like to push the boundaries,” says fellow executive producer Jane Lipsitz, referring to some of the other crown jewels in their stable like Project Runway and Is It Cake?. “But we’ve been working with Dick Wolf for some time — and he really wanted to do something in this space. It’s been a while in the making.”

With follow-up Homicide: Los Angeles set for a July 16 bow, Cutforth and Lipsitz opened up about segueing to the West Coast with an episode devoted to Phil Spector and what the future of Homicide might look like.

I’m guessing you took it as a good omen when Homicide: New York lingered on the top of Netflix’s Top 10 after 3-Body Problem premiered?

LIPSITZ Yes, we were very proud of that. Not going to lie. But Netflix had done a bunch of the really successful true crime docs as special events. So, we had a specific conversation with Brandon Riegg and Adam Del Deo about doing something that could exist more episodically — self-contained but also with an arc.

CUTFORTH There’s also the desire to potentially create a true crime franchise. Hopefully that’s what we’re seeing here — because, obviously Dick Wolf is the master of the crime franchise  We feel like this really does have the potential to be a huge franchise for them.

Is it safe to assume there’s already talk of more?

LIPSITZ Originally, when we did case development, we researched a bunch of other cities. The hope is to expand — whether it’s to continue in New York and Los Angeles or to move into other cities. We feel like there’s a ton of potential in both of those options. 

What other cities did you look at?

CUTFORTH Las Vegas was one that had some interesting stories. 

LIPSITZ Yeah, Las Vegas, Miami. Yeah, Miami, Dallas, Austin, Houston…

CUTFORTH When you dive into those stories in every case, it really does create the picture of the city. The cops in Austin have a different energy than you see in Houston. Vegas has a personality I think we’re all very familiar with — but each police department is a microcosm of its city in an interesting way.

Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth

Courtesy of Alexander Drecun/Alfred Street Industries

There’s obviously lot to mine in both New York and Los Angeles, but there’s a whole country between the cities. What else led to you choosing those markets? 

LIPSITZ We were coming at if from two different directions. It needs to be about the cases and the cities, but it’s really about those detectives as storytellers. The Dick Wolf brand is very police-centric. We really wanted to find those voices in the criminal justice system, both the detectives and the DAs who not only had the ability to tell a really clear and compelling story but emotional arcs and interpersonal relationships. That was almost more important than the actual cases. We started with those people and then found the cases that they had worked on that were the most compelling for TV.

CUTFORTH We also looked for cases that had elements that we could tell that maybe hadn’t been told before or in unique ways.

Given how police-centric the Dick Wolf brand is — and the increased scrutiny of police-centric storytelling — how did you avoid the trappings of copaganda? How much discussion was there about vetting the law enforcement and former law enforcement you spoke with?

LIPSITZ We definitely vetted every single officer, every single person who was going to speak on this show. We are aware of the elephant in the room — that there is no perfection in the criminal justice system. But it was very important to us and Netflix and Dick that every person who had a voice in this did not have any black marks. It was really important that the people telling these stories were in it for all the right reasons, had good relationships with each other. The victims were also another big piece of this. We were never going to do something about a family who did not want to participate or felt they didn’t want this talked about.

CUTFORTH Audiences are very sophisticated, and I think that they know authenticity when they see it. These people tell their stories in a way that makes it clear that they have a sense of duty. I hope it’s apparent that that’s not something that we’re burnishing through our skills as documentarians. 

Homicide Los Angeles opens with an incredibly high-profile case — Phil Spector’s 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson. What made you start with something that’s arguably much more known than the cases you explored on New York? 

LIPSITZ in the New York version, it was about that kind of balance between uptown and downtown — an almost symbiotic relationship between the detectives, the district attorneys and even the perpetrators. They all sort of lived in the same world. When you get to Los Angeles, the world of smoke and mirrors, it feels like there’s this other echelon that exists — one that separates the Sheriff’s Department from this weirdly glossy world where the perpetrators lived. We wanted to capture Los Angeles completely differently than New York because they are two totally diametrically opposed cities. Starting with Phil Spector really cemented that.

CUTFORTH I also found it illuminating that juries have such a hard time with celebrity cases — having to separate the truth from the image. 

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LIPSITZ I was surprised to learn that the DA’s office had not won a celebrity case in 40 years before [Spector’s] conviction. I also did not realize until we were in it that he had evaded prosecution and jail for so many years. The stakes for the DAs were so high in this series.

It’s not funny, because he was a killer, but I had also forgotten the sort of cartoonish spectacle of how he dressed and behaved during the trial.

LIPSITZ Seeing how he came to court every day with those different wigs… I had forgotten that.

CUTFORTH It’s a kind of surrealist misdirection at work. Really strange.

LIPSITZ Very disconnected from reality.

Before I let you go, let’s go off topic for a minute. You’ve filmed Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and many others. If you could turn the cameras on any public figure right now, who would it be? 

CUTFORTH I’m terrible at this. (Laughs)

LIPSITZ Olivia Rodrigo. I’d be a real hero in my home.

CUTFORTH It would be amazing to have a crew embedded with Drake and a crew embedded with Kendrick Lamar. Wouldn’t that be fascinating? To be able to document their reactions and how they’ve plotted that whole storyline. That’s two good options if we can make them happen.

LIPSITZ Yeah, let’s put that one out into the universe.

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