The dead speak in ABC's Final Witness, a new summer series that adds another viewing option for fans enamored with TV's ever-expanding universe of true-crime offerings.
The show, premiering Wednesday on WJXX-ABC 25 (10 p.m. ET/PT), showcases provocative murder cases through the imagined voices and words of the victims. It serves up re-enactments of events surrounding real cases while weaving in commentary from law enforcement and family and friends of the victims.
"We're excited about this project," says ABC News executive James Goldston. It's "a distinctive entry into what can sometimes be a crowded market. It's a fascinating hybrid of genres."
Wednesday's opener looks at the East Texas murder of Penny Caffey and her two young sons in 2008. The story is told through the imagined voice of Caffey, who recounts the events leading up to the night of the murder. Caffey's husband, Terry, who survived the attack, tells his own story. The show ends with the killers' conviction.
Goldston says ABC's interest was based more on the show's "idea and approach" rather than the fact that it fits into a popular genre, but the fact is that true-crime TV is a lucrative business.
The cable network Investigation Discovery (ID) runs true-crime series around the clock. Its summer programing includes series that premiered this month, including Blood, Lies & Alibis (Monday, 9 ET/PT), which follows investigators as they work to crack murder cases, and Evil, I (Friday, 10 ET/PT), which explores homicides through the killer's voice.
"True crime is an incredibly fertile area for us to have mined," says ID's president, Henry Schleiff. "Not only are we the single home for the genre 24/7, but, even more important, it's all real. People may be a little jaded with fictional crime shows, but the idea that we can remind people of a set of facts that are so extraordinary, so compelling, so chilling is a very unique selling proposition."
Returning ID shows this month include Season 6 of On the Case With Paula Zahn (Sunday, 10 ET/PT), which focuses on headline-dominating cases as well as original stories, and Season 3 of Nightmare Next Door (Sunday, 9 ET/PT), which spotlights killer neighbors. Additional shows due later this summer include Season 3 of the popular Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?, Dates From Hell and Evil Twins.
Women ages 25 to 54 are the network's core audience, Schleiff says. "In 3½ years, this network has come out of nowhere to be within the top 10 of all networks for women 25 to 54."
Overall, the channel averaged about 700,000 viewers in prime time for the first three months of 2012, an increase of 20% from the year before, and its day-long audience grew 40%.
The grand dame of all true-crime shows is CBS' 48 Hours Mystery (Tuesday and Saturday, 10 ET/PT), which has averaged nearly 6 million viewers this season. After the network's 60 Minutes, it's the most-watched newsmagazine in prime time.
"The law and justice beat is incredibly rewarding and rich, and we have a unique take," says senior executive producer Susan Zirinsky, referring to the show's purely journalistic approach. "The journalism of law and justice is one that gives you a rich tableau of humanity, and if you went into a Hollywood pitch meeting, you couldn't do better than these stories."