25th Anniversary of ‘Dateline’ Kicks Off With a Bang

NBC program was doing true crime way before it was trendy
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A new season of Dateline debuts Sept. 23, marking 25 seasons for the news mag. Friday’s episode, the first of 15 two-hour specials this season, features an interview with a man convicted of strangling a woman in Texas.

True crime is a huge trend in TV, be it the many, many JonBenét Ramsey specials on CBS and on cable, and the recent successes of Making a Murderer on Netflix and The Jinx on HBO. (The People v. O.J. Simpson, FX’s scripted account of that most infamous crime, racked up all sorts of Emmys Sept. 18, while the podcast “Serial” got the recent trend going with a gripping tick-tock about a Baltimore man locked up for murder.)

The trend is not going away any time soon. Netflix is bringing back Making a Murderer, while Dick Wolf is behind anthology series Law & Order: True Crime, the first season about the murderous Menendez brothers.

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Dateline will often craft a new episode around the crimes made famous by the popular TV series -- stories that Dateline typically covered years before. In fact, Dateline reported on Steven Avery, the dubiously convicted man at the center of Making a Murderer, over a decade ago. “At first we were amused by it, because we’ve been in this business for so long,” said executive producer Elizabeth Cole of the true-crime trend.

Senior exec producer David Corvo says a good true-crime story, well reported and well told, never goes out of style. “People have been telling stories like this for 4,000 years,” he says. “They get at the heart of what makes us human beings.”

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Corvo shares a colleague’s axiom about what keeps Dateline fresh: It’s not about the murder, it’s about the marriage. In other words, what were the details leading up to the horrific crime?

“People know us not just for true crime,” adds correspondent Josh Mankiewicz. “But for true life.”

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Lester Holt is host of Dateline. He’s also moderating the first presidential debate Sept. 26 on Long Island.

Here’s what Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison gets up to in the season premiere. “When a beautiful woman is strangled to death in her large upscale Austin, Texas home, police look at the men in the victim's life, while also considering that a stranger may have killed her. Careful detective work, along with the help of many women who also encountered the mystery man, solves the case.”

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