Why Women Love Crime TV
Crime TV is a guilty pleasure for women the world over. Nobody knows that better than Sharon Martin, producer of Oxygen's Snapped. Sharon has a unique perspective: Snapped exclusively features female killers, which, according to Sharon, brings out the killer in all the ladies who watch. We asked her about murder and social media, Serial, The Jinx, and why women gravitate toward Snapped -- and crime TV in general.
Can you talk about your background, and what initially got you interested in crime investigation television?
I started as a local TV news reporter and part of my beat was covering crimes and trials. So in a way, it’s where I started my career. Over the years, I moved from local news to cable news to documentary television. But the common thread is always telling the stories of what happened to people. That’s what always interested me about news and what keeps me coming back to Snapped every season.
In your experience, what is it about crime TV that attracts people, and keeps them hooked?
Crime is the ultimate drama. It’s high stakes: life and death. And the themes are universal: sin, jealousy, justice. When it’s an actual case, those stakes are magnified, because it’s not fiction. It’s a reminder of the human capacity for evil, for cruelty. Most people want to see the bad guy get what he/she deserves. They also want to know how an ordinary life goes off the rails and takes that turn in to darkness and crime.
How about young women, specifically?
With Snapped, we’re focused on the cases involving women. And that makes it easier for young women to relate. The episodes are ultimately about a relationship that goes bad and that’s a theme every woman can understand. Nearly everyone has had a moment, where they turned to a friend and said, “I could just kill him.” Most people don’t mean it. But what pushes it beyond talk to murder? These woman are examples of what not to do, what choices not to make and we see a lot of social media feedback along the lines of “watching these women makes me feel more normal/better about my own life” or even “I need to stop and take a breath before I end up on Snapped.”
Regarding the above question, do you think there is any relevance to the fact that the murderers in Snapped are women?
The women we profile are from similar walks of life and close in age to our viewers. For example, Jodi Arias was a woman in her twenties and the kind of woman that most of us have met at least once. What makes someone who seems familiar, do something so heinous? And it makes you think about the women you know: are they one bad choice, one bad day away from doing something similar?
Statistically, women who kill are much more rare than men who kill, so there’s a desire to understand their motivations. And there is an assumption that women kill for much more emotional and personal reasons.
Do you have any favorite crime shows – besides Snapped?
Since I work on Snapped all day, I don’t watch a lot of crime shows in my down time. When I do watch crime, it’s usually fictional crime drama, like BBC’s Sherlock (who doesn’t love Benedict Cumberbatch?) or Broadchurch or Law & Order: SVU. Though I do sometimes watch in-depth explorations of true crimes, like The Staircase and West of Jackson and The Jinx.
A lot of attention is being turned onto the true crime producer and not just the criminals these days -- with all the controversy and interest surrounding Serial and The Jinx. What has it been like for you to watch all of this unfold in mainstream media?
It’s fascinating to follow, since I obviously have a professional interest, but both of those shows were as much about a producer’s interaction with a case and its central figure as they were about the story of the crime. They were both really well done, but it’s a little different from what we do on Snapped. They spent months, even years focused on a single case. We’re profiling a new case in each hour-long episode and we’ve done nearly 300 shows now. I feel like our responsibility is to present a balanced version of the case each week. We aren’t advocating for anyone, just presenting the story so our viewers can make their own judgments. And over the years, we’ve learned that very few cases are simple. People are complicated, their lives are messy and when someone commits a crime there is rarely a smoking gun.
Do you think crime TV is here to stay? Given all the added attention, what do you think is in the future of crime television?
Crime is part of the human experience and telling those stories is as old as time. The story of Cain and Abel is a crime story, a murder. Someone gave me an old book about the historical tales of women who killed, from ancient Greece up through the 1800’s. They were the pre-cursors to the women of Snapped. In a perfect world, there would be no crime stories to tell, but as long as people kill, someone will tell the story and someone will listen. When we started Snapped more than 10 years ago, there weren’t any other shows focused on women who commit crimes. Now there are quite a few.
Has the nature of your investigation methods, and the nature of crime itself changed since the advent of social media?
We started to see social media appearing several seasons ago, especially in cases with teenagers and MySpace. And that’s only increased in recent years. Just this month, the Snapped: Social Media episode aired—featuring three cases of crimes that were a direct result of disputes that started via social media. It’s such a big part of modern life that it’s inevitable that it becomes part of the police investigation. It’s a huge piece of finding out more about the victims and accused in these cases for the police and for documentary teams. And for us, it becomes another avenue to find and reach out to people involved in the cases.
Sneak Peek 'Snapped: She Made Me Do It' premiering September 9 at 10/9c!