A&E Executives Visit Eastern, Speak on Crime TV

The panel (back left) and audience watch an unaired scene of an A&E show.

Written by Raven Dillon

Eastern Connecticut State University hosted several Arts and Entertainment Network (A&E) executives on Nov. 7 who discussed the representation of crime on television. Held in the J. Eugene Library, the panel included Laura Fleury, senior vice president of programming, Sean Gottlieb, vice president of development and programming, and Peter Tarshis, executive producer of A&E and Lifetime Movies Network.

Several sociology and criminology classes attended and asked questions regarding police procedures, documentary film crew work, and the differences between scripted and unscripted crime shows. Moderated by Eastern faculty and professors, the panel treated students to exclusive, unaired clips from A&E’s upcoming shows, including the new season of “The First 48,” a show produced by Tarshis that focuses on the first 48 hours after a crime has been committed.

Students also inquired about the difficulties of filming shows such as “Live PD,” which gives a transparent look at law enforcement on duty. Gottlieb, the producer of “Live PD,” talked in detail about the humanizing aspect of showing police interactions and how the documentary crew or bodycams often captured things that the officers missed.

The written and unwritten rules regarding “true crime” – meaning unscripted television about crimes which actually occurred – were discussed at length. “Unresolved cases are corrosive to viewership,” Tarshis explained. “So right away, you need to focus on cases that resolve nicely, that end with the bad guy going to jail.”

Tarshis went on to explain that this gives an extremely black and white perspective of crime on linear network television, with little room for morally gray areas. Other mediums, like streaming services such as Netflix, allow producers to stretch story arcs over several episodes so they can delay viewer gratification.

One student asked about the families of the victims, which prompted a discussion regarding scripted television. Fleury, producer of the Emmy-nominated show “Beyond Scared Straight,” talked about how carefully they have to tread in order to make a stimulating, yet non-exploitative narrative.

“Our first priority is to not re-victimize the family of the victim. We have to be very careful with not only the victims themselves, but the victims’ families, as well as creating a satisfying story for people who don’t care about these rules.”

The event was sponsored by the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology and Social Work.