As the milestone 500th episode of “Snapped” approaches on Oxygen, the creators behind the beloved true crime show shared secrets about how it gets made.
On the surface, it can feel like the true crime genre exploded in recent years, but in reality true crime has always had a strong following among its most loyal fans. The same can be said of Oxygen’s longest-running original series, “Snapped.” First premiering in the summer of 2004, the show — focused predominantly on women who kill — has aired nearly 30 seasons and countless exclusive interviews, and is closing in on its landmark 500th episode.
In fact, producers have captured approximately 15 thousand hours of footage over the years, “Snapped” Executive Producer Todd Moss told Oxygen in a virtual interview.
“If you woke up tomorrow and did nothing for 24 hours a day, seven days a week […] but watch raw footage of ‘Snapped,’ it would take you just under two years to watch it all,” Moss said.
Snapping Into Place: Creating The Pop Culture Phenomenon
Every episode is produced out of Knoxville, Tennessee by the television production company Jupiter Entertainment. Deborah Allen is an executive producer of the show, but started off on the team helping to select stories and aid with other aspects of production.
“It’s quite an operation we have going for our different recreations,” Allen said.
To help keep the show authentic and grounded in reality, they often cast off-duty detectives as actors for crime scene recreations, according to Allen.
“They make sure we’re accurate in the way that we portray investigations,” Allen said.
For other actors on scene, they often cast based off body type to best portray descriptions of people tied to a case. The scenes are shot with no audio and often with the same sets. For example, each hospital sequence or detective bullpen seen on screen are most likely the same sets in different episodes… just reimagined to fit the current storyline.
“For each episode, we’ll change out the different props to make it look a little bit different,” Allen said.
That difficult task is seamlessly executed by the show’s props and wardrobe master Asya Mounger.
“I help make reality real,”
She oversees dressing the sets, recreating blood spatter, and making props from scratch that evade her in stores or online.
The most commonly used props on a “Snapped” set tend to be guns or fake blood, according to Mounger. On the other hand, obscure props that she acquired are caskets for funeral scenes and an EMT gurney. Her secret weapon for getting period pieces like jewelry or clothes needed for the show are estate sales.
“I bring sort of all the little nuances that you probably wouldn’t think of,” Mounger said of designing bedrooms to fit specific decades, likes the ‘90s.
Before the show got its title, producers decided they wanted to focus on female killers.
“We kept thinking the signature of the show needs to be when a seemingly relatable, normal person does something so out of character [..] that moment when they flip or snap,” Stephen Land, CEO and founder of Jupiter Entertainment and an executive producer of “Snapped,” explained. “And when we said ‘Snapped,’ it just, you could hear it in the room.”
The show has pierced through pop culture, with a reference in Cardi B’s verse in “Rodeo” and “Saturday Night Live” alum Bill Hader gushing about the show on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
“All of a sudden we started getting shout-outs from different celebrities,” Allen said. “We were being written up in a lot of publications as a guilty pleasure.”
The first six seasons of the show began as half-hour blocks on Oxygen. It was run by a small, core team during the early years.
“We were almost the dirty little secret on Oxygen because we were the only crime show,” Allen said. “Oxygen started running ‘Snapped’ marathons and that was just a game changer.”
Snapped by the Numbers
The “dirty little secret” soon caught on, and by 2017 Oxygen network rebranded solely to focus on true crime shows.
“Snapped” itself evolved over the years as well, stretching to an hour format with the average episode run-time coming in at 44 minutes without commercials. Now you can now catch dozens of new episodes each year on Oxygen platforms, download the podcast “Snapped: Women Who Murder,” and watch a digital version of the show “Snapped on Snapchat.”
The word count of a script ranges from six to eight thousand, according to Moss. Each episode can have anywhere from a dozen to 15 people working to produce it from executive producers to field producers and editors. The production company has more than 40 edit bays where episodes can be compiled and stitched together. A large focus for the team also comes down to story selection and rigorous research.
“For every episode that airs, we probably sift through 25 that don’t,”
The crews also visit locations to capture B-roll footage and interviews. Allen noted they tend to spend about five days in each state where a crime took place. The show has almost made it to all 50 states for production, with a few exceptions like Hawaii, according to Moss.
Despite women making up just roughly 11 percent of all murders, Moss noted sadly there is no shortage of stories to tell.
“I don’t think it’s hard because every case is like a snowflake,” Moss said. “No two are alike. I mean, yes, sometimes the motive may be the same. It may be jealousy. It may be over a battle over custody. It may be a reaction to a domestic abuse situation. It may be for insurance, but the method is always unique. The individual is always unique. They have their own backstories, their own sort of humanity.”
When it comes to breaking down what occupation the killers have, the producers try to keep track.
“A nurse is definitely the number one profession of the ‘Snapped’ women who kill, medical professionals,” Allen said. “There are a lot of nurses out there with a know-how to commit murder and they think they’ll get away with it. They always get caught.”
The 500th episode of “Snapped” takes a closer look at the murder of Randy Sheridan in a small Kansas town. He was shot while jogging near his house. The episode unravels his closest relationships with exclusive interviews.
“We still get fantastic access,” Moss said. “We still have the most compelling characters with the craziest stories and that’s never going to change. I mean that’s just what’s baked into the concept of the show from episode one to episode 500.”
Who Narrates Snapped?
You cannot talk about “Snapped” without touching on the narrators who have breathed life into the scripts for the past 28 seasons.
The first narrator of the series was Laura San Giacomo. As producers were searching for another voice for the third season, Sharon Martin, who worked as a producer for the series at the time, often provided what are called “scratch tracks” for production. It is a rough draft of the narration that helps editors and writers get to work before final narration comes in. The producers decided to submit Sharon’s tape for consideration and she landed the gig.
“She’s like a cult figure all on her own,”
Martin narrated for 20 seasons. Actress Jody Flader now narrates the show from a home studio.
“A lot of professional voice actors do these days, especially with COVID,” Allen explained. “She records and we have a phone patch where we will be listening in and helping direct with pronunciation.”
The Psychology of “Snapped”
Although many fans at home think of themselves as armchair detectives, there is only one person who has earned the true title of being a “Snapped Expert.” Helen Smith is a forensic psychologist and consultant who has been featured numerous times on the show, offering up her analysis on cases.
“I think people are fascinated by the idea that somebody just went over the edge because all of us had feelings of, ‘I’m really angry today or I’m frustrated,’” Smith said. “I think that viewers are fascinated by somebody who has the mindset or the thought to kill, but actually carries it out and so I think they identify in that way and at the same time, I think they also feel like, ‘OK, I’m not like that.’”
Common motivations for women who have been featured on “Snapped” include personal gain tied to insurance policies, a partner leaving them for someone else, or someone fighting back against an abuser, according to Smith.
“‘Snapped’ has allowed the viewer to see that women have a range of emotions,” Smith said.
There are two types of violence to look out for when examining a case, Smith said. First is predatory violence, which involves a lot of planning and premeditation on the part of the perpetrator. The second type is effective violence, where a person becomes so emotionally angry they kill in that moment.
“I think that’s one of the things that fascinated viewers at that time was that it was sort of a show that people hadn’t really seen that was starring women who were actually the perpetrators of murder instead of being the victims,” Smith said.
The 500th episode of “Snapped” airs November 22 at 6pm ET/PT on Oxygen.