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JonBenét and Hollywood’s true crime obsession


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(CNN) — Armchair detectives are busy these days.

On radio, TV and streaming services, producers are telling and retelling dozens of true-crime stories.

Many are based on long familiar cases and most remain “officially” unsolved.

The FX hit series “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and the documentary “O.J.: Made in America” reignited interest more than 20 years later in that famous murder case.

Variety recently reported that Johnny Depp is in talks to star in the film “Labyrinth,” a story about the Los Angeles police detective who investigated the deaths of rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. a.k.a. Biggie Smalls.

This month, Netflix will debut an “Amanda Knox” documentary which offers up Knox’s own telling of what happened after she was accused in the 2007 murder of her roommate in Italy.

Nearly two decades after the six-year-old pageant contestant was found dead in her Boulder, Colorado home, JonBenét Ramsey is the subject of several new TV projects.

On Monday, “The “Dr. Phil” show will premiere a three part interview series with Burke Ramsey, JonBenet’s brother.

“The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey,” a two-part, four-hour miniseries set to debut September 18 on CBS, will reexamine the case. The show’s executive producer, Tom Forman, told CNN the renewed attention to Ramsey’s death is not surprising.

“It is the quintessential murder mystery,” Forman said. “Small town, wealthy family, and more twists and turns than you have ever seen in one murder case.”

Forman said he and his colleagues were mindful of not treating Ramsey’s death as a source of entertainment for the audience, even as they recognize the continued interest in the cold case.

“I understand why people are endlessly fascinated by it,” said Forman, whose project has brought together a team of crime solving experts. “You can look through the clues and evidence and try and solve it yourself because the police clearly could not.”

Jacque Lynn Foltyn is cultural critic and professor of sociology at National University in La Jolla, California. She told CNN there’s cultural fascination with death evidenced in the popularity of fictitious programs like “Game of Thrones,” as well as reality based crime programing.

Add celebrity to a case and it’s often a true-crime story the public can’t resist, Foltyn said.

“Alone, crime and celebrity are inherently interesting and lend themselves to sensationalism and prurient interest,” she said. “Add forensics… kaboom. There’s a ratcheting up of interest, a feast for those fascinated with popular culture in the infotainment era and who may view celebrity deaths not only as news stories, but sources of entertainment.”

Forman said the team behind “The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey” was keenly aware that grabbing the public’s interest could “jump start the conversation” about her murder, and possibly lead to a breakthrough in the case.

Adnan Syed, the subject of the podcast “Serial,” was granted a new trial following a media explosion over the success of the podcast. Likewise, “Making a Murderer'” subject Brendan Dassey had his murder conviction overturned amid outcry from fans of the Netflix documentary.

“[The team is] looking at ‘Serial,’ they’re looking at ‘Making a Murderer,’ they’re looking at ‘Jinx and what happened after the broadcasts,” Forman said. “The conversation, the public outcry, the interest prompted district attorneys and police to reopen cases that were either closed or very, very cold. The hope is that happens here.”