Showrunner Robin Veith wasn't necessarily looking to adapt another true crime story for the small screen.
She had already worked with her friend Nick Antosca on “The Act,” based on the real life of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and the murder of her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard.
But in 2019, Antosca flagged a story from 1980 that he thought Veith might be drawn to: the arrest and trial of Candace “Candy” Montgomery, a housewife accused of murdering her close friend, Betty Gore, in Wylie, Texas.
“I did some research, and I was just like: ‘Wow, this is like a madman ax murderer. I’m in,’” Veith said at a panel with other showrunners of true crime shows at SeriesFest in Denver last week.
“It was ... when #MeToo was sort of in full steam, and I just felt like a story of released feminine rage was feeling very identifiable ... and then we got into 2020, and with everybody locked into their houses, I was like, OK, this story is universal. Everybody can understand just being pent up.”
So she began researching for a new project, which ultimately became "Candy." The five-part drama, which rolled out Monday on Hulu and airs its final episode Friday, stars Melanie Lynskey as Betty Gore and Jessica Biel as Candy Montgomery.
The true crime genre has continued to draw in viewers. From podcasts to docuseries, people can't get enough of the "ripped from the headlines"-type stories. Shows like “The Dropout,” “Inventing Anna,” “The Girl From Plainville,” “Gaslit” and now “Candy” have launched this year alone.
With true crime storytelling, “there’s a low-brow aspect and a high-brow aspect,” Antosca said during the panel.
“And the low-brow is people like rubbernecking. There’s a kind of gossip and fascination element. But at the same time, it allows you to take a look and ask questions about human nature. You can bring people in that with that kind of base fascination, and then you get to explore questions like what was someone’s interior life like when they were experiencing this thing that was an easy tabloid headline. And that, to me, is a real opportunity.”
But Veith said that in such a crowded space, it's important to remember "there has to be a reason to tell the story, and not every story needs to be told.”
‘A tremendous responsibility’
While the true crime genre has surged in popularity over the last few years, some argue that there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed when it comes to dramatizing people’s actual lives.
Lifetime, for example, generated some backlash this month when it greenlit “The Gabby Petito Story,” a movie based on the 22-year-old woman of the same name whose disappearance and death became widely publicized last summer.
“That poor girl isn’t dead a year and this already…..Too soon…,” a person commented on a Facebook post with the announcement.
Veith and Antosca acknowledged that with projects involving the stories of real people, not everyone will be happy.
But that's not their responsibility as showrunners. Their goal is to tell stories without sensationalizing the truth.
It is a challenging experience, to say the least. When they were researching, Veith and Antosca, who was an executive producer on “Candy,” leaned heavily on journalists Jim Atkinson and John Bloom, who covered the case. They also spoke to the lead investigator on the scene and one of Montgomery’s attorneys.
Antosca said he's drawn to making shows based on "the stories where you're just like: How did that happen? How could that possibly have happened?"
"But it did happen, so I want to understand how it could have happened," he said. "And also, I want to understand what it felt like to live it as it was happening. And that's why stories like 'Candy,' like 'The Act,' they all [have] core complicated character relationships, and all take place over a long period of time. So you can live in the story and the world and kind of marinate in the psychology. Those are the stories that have stayed with me and made me want to tell them."
The worst you could do is to be exploitive, Veith said.
“These shows are based on real people. And there’s a tremendous responsibility that comes with that. It’s empowering, but it’s a large load to bear — to keep in mind these are real human beings and in some cases they’re still out there or their descendants are still out there.”