Pop quiz: In which Colorado city did Joe Kenda spend more than 20 years as a homicide detective? If you knew the answer was Colorado Springs, you must be an ID Addict. In 2008, Discovery Communications launched Investigation Discovery, the 24/7 true crime network that has had fans (Lady Gaga among them) glued to their television sets ever since.
We did a little investigating of our own and uncovered 20 things you might not have known about Investigation Discovery.
1. IT BEGAN AS AN ANCIENT HISTORY NETWORK.
Investigation Discovery began its life in 1996 as Discovery Civilization, a network dedicated to showcasing content related to ancient history. In 2002, The New York Times purchased a 50 percent stake in the network with an eye toward shifting its focus to current events; in 2003, it relaunched as Times Discovery. But that idea didn’t last long. In 2006, The New York Times sold its stake in the network, which is when Discovery Communications saw an opportunity to turn it into a 24/7 true crime network—and Investigation Discovery, as we know it today, was born.
On January 26, 2008, Newsday reported that, “Tomorrow, the Discovery Times digital channel morphs into Investigation Discovery. (ID, get it?) Premiere night features Deadly Women (tomorrow at 8 p.m.), about female killers, and a related episode of 48 Hours: Hard Evidence (tomorrow at 9 p.m., all on ID).” (Both programs are still staples of the channel’s lineup.)
2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE SUCCESS OF LAW & ORDER AND CSI.
In a 2015 interview with The New York Times, ID group president Henry S. Schleiff said that part of the inspiration for creating a crime-all-the-time network was the long-running popularity of crime television franchises like Law & Order, CSI, and NCIS. Schleiff believed the network would be successful if they could brand it as “a place where viewers can consistently know that regardless of the hours, regardless of the day, that they will always be able to flip to this network and know that they are going to get a story of the mystery, crime, suspense genre.”
3. THERE WAS AN ECONOMIC BENEFIT TO CREATING A CRIME CHANNEL, TOO.
While there was data that told Schleiff and his fellow executives that there was a thirst for an all-crime network, the fact that it would be cost-effective didn’t hurt in swaying the powers that be. According to The New York Times, by filling a network with “ripped from the headlines” stories featuring reenactment actors (read: no stars), the cost to produce one hour of content for Investigation Discovery would be about $300,000—“roughly a tenth of the cost of an average scripted network drama.”
4. IT WAS WILDLY SUCCESSFUL FROM THE GET-GO.
While ID’s first two aforementioned iterations didn’t quite grab viewer interest, Investigation Discovery was a hit from the very beginning. “When Court TV became truTV in 2008, Discovery filled cable’s crime-story void with the renamed Investigation Discovery,” wrote The Washington Post in 2013. “In place of current affairs, suddenly, was Deadly Affairs.”
5. WOMEN LOVE IT.
Investigation Discovery continually ranks among the top five cable networks for female viewers, and is particularly popular among the coveted 24- to 54-year-old audience.
When asked “Why are women obsessed with true crime television?” by Crains New York in 2016, Schleiff responded that, “Women love exercising their great puzzle-solving skills and intuition, which is really what most of our true crime stories are about. It’s an investigation, it’s a mystery, and women love that. The other thing that we hear in focus groups is that women say, ‘I want to use my free time in a useful way.’ Women feel that they can learn from watching ID. I don’t know if they are learning how to kill their husbands or not.”
6. MANY OF THE PERPETRATORS ARE FEMALE, TOO.
In addition to being the primary audience, the network produces several series that focus on female perpetrators with titles like Deadly Women, Wives With Knives, and How (Not) To Kill Your Husband. “I think when we think of women, we think of mothers, nurturers,” Detroit-based ID fan Kim Cumms told Jezebel. “So to see a woman who’s out there doing the killing simply because she wants to or because she had to, it’s like, ‘Wow, what pushes a woman to that point?’”
7. SERIES TITLES ARE THE RESULT OF GROUP BRAINSTORMS.
Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry? Wives With Knives. Young, Hot & Crooked. I Married a Mobster. Investigation Discovery executives know that a great title can make or break a series, so they take the task of naming their shows seriously … well, sort of.
“We do have title brainstorms,” senior executive producer Pamela Deutsch told The Washington Post. “They are sort of fun to sit through.” When coming up with the title for what would eventually become Prison Wives, some people in the room were pushing for Penal Attraction. But according to Deutsch, “You know when you’ve crossed the line.”
“We have a completely dysfunctional group over here,” Schleiff told Crains New York. “I’m very proud of that. Our process is sitting at a table at a staff meeting; everyone yells out what might work. There’s no organization to it.”
8. THERE ARE SOME CRIMES THAT ARE OFF-LIMITS.
Though the network deals in death and crime, there are some topics that ID executives do their best to stay away from—number one being crimes that involve children. “It’s just too sad, and the audience will just push back,” Schleiff told the Washingtonian. Revenge crimes are also not ideal. “[Schleiff] calls it sad upon sad,” vice president of development Winona Meringolo said.
9. ONE REENACTMENT SCENE WAS A LITTLE TOO REAL.
Peter Muggleworth, who has done some reenactment acting for the network, was filming a scene for Nightmare Next Door, in which he played a kidnapper/murderer, when things got a little too real.
“When we were shooting the scene where I march the neighbor out by the highway and execute him, we had to shoot along a real highway, as the guardrail was essential to the accuracy of the scene,” Muggleworth told The Washington Post. The scene was also being filmed during rush hour, which led several motorists to believe that what they were seeing was real.
“A fleet of police cars come flying down the road and peeled into the field where we were shooting,” Muggleworth explained. “Apparently, they had received many phone calls from motorists who thought they had just witnessed a murder. Meanwhile, I’m standing in the field over the ‘dead’ body holding a prop .357 Magnum. I immediately threw the gun away and put my hands up.”
When the situation eventually got sorted out, a few of the officers agreed to become a part of the scene. “We got some good shots of them from their knees down walking around the corpse,” Muggleworth said.
10. LOOKING LIKE THE REAL PERSON IS THE MAIN CRITERIA FOR BEING A REENACTMENT ACTOR.
While some ID series require a bit of acting experience on the part of its participants, the most important requirement for reenactment actors (many of whom do not have to deliver any lines) is to look like the real person involved in the case.
“The way they cast these things is by posting a photograph of a real-life criminal or historical figure and putting out a call for actors that resemble him or her,” an anonymous (and veteran) reenactment actor told Hopes & Fears. “That’s literally the only parameter. A lot of times you have people applying to these things because they see it as a stepping stone to more serious gigs or greater visibility. I can't count the number of times I’ve been sitting around a table in the holding area of casting with a bunch of people who have MFAs from Yale or Tisch worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and are still doing this crap.”
11. THE PRODUCTIONS AREN’T USUALLY VERY LAVISH.
If you think that being a reenactment actor comes with craft services and lots of pampering, think again. The Washington Post reported that, “Cast members usually do their own makeup, bring their own wardrobe, and even compile their own research on the real-life people they portray.”
12. MURDERERS AND VICTIMS MAKE THE MOST MONEY.
If you’re considering a career in reenactment acting, you’ll want to aim for playing either a murderer or a victim. Mike Hoover, a sixty-something retiree from Virginia Beach, has appeared on a few different series and told the New York Post that he has been paid from $75 to $450 a day for the work.
“Depending on who you are playing, you may be there just for an hour,” Hoover said. “I worked my way up from being a family member to a witness to the victim. My next accomplishment will be the murderer—the murderer and the victim get paid the most.”
13. FOR SOME VIEWERS, IT’S CATHARTIC.
While the idea of watching violent acts play out on television may not be the preferred genre of entertainment for all audiences, some ID fans believe that the network can be a cathartic experience.
“I think most women in their lives have been in a bad relationship that either felt off or went really bad, and watching these stories sort of lets you play that out,” Rebecca Lavoie, a true crime writer who has appeared as an expert on several ID shows, told the Washingtonian in 2015.
In the same article, ID fan and sexual abuse survivor Jennifer Norris said that, “These shows help me see that I am not the only one that was crushed by the crimes of these people. They validate the way that I feel.”
14. IT’S THERAPEUTIC FOR SOME OF THE NETWORK’S STARS AS WELL.
That catharsis that viewers get goes the other way, too. “[Making this ID show is] therapeutic to me,” Homicide Hunter star, and retired detective, Joe Kenda told Jezebel. “There are many moments that you would like to forget, but you cannot forget … You can’t unsee certain things. I’ve said more to that camera than I’ve ever said to a person. There have been occasions when my wife will be watching the show. I’ll see her looking at me in front of the TV, I’ll say ‘What are you looking at?’ She’ll say, ‘I never knew you did that.’ What do you talk about when you come home, How was your day? Not in my business.”
15. JOE KENDA IS THE NETWORK’S UNDISPUTED STAR.
Though the network features dozens of original series, its highest-rated show is Homicide Hunter: Joe Kenda. The series, which showcases the celebrated career of the former lieutenant who spent more than 20 years working with the Colorado Springs Police Department, attracts an average of 1.6 million viewers.
16. WHEN VIEWERS TUNE IN, THEY STAY TUNED IN.
Based on Nielsen data, the Los Angeles Times reported that when the average ID viewer tunes in, he or she stays tuned in for an average of 54 continuous minutes—“the most of any broadcast or cable network in the women 25-to-54 age group.”
17. THERE ARE SOME VERY FAMOUS ID ADDICTS.
There are several A-list names among ID’s most devoted viewers. Lady Gaga, Serena Williams, and Nicki Minaj are just a few of the network’s famous fans.
18. FANS CAN GATHER AT IDCON.
In 2016, Investigation Discovery hosted its first-ever true crime fan convention, known as IDCON, in New York City. “This is the kind of thing our fans would quote-unquote almost kill to attend,” Schleiff told USA Today. He was right: Tickets to the inaugural event (which Mental Floss attended) sold out in less than 24 hours, and more than 7000 ID Addicts put their names on the event’s waiting list.
The event brings audiences together with some of their favorite ID personalities and hosts a range of panels and conversations on crime-related topics. In 2017, they hosted a second IDCON. While no dates have yet been announced for 2018, stay tuned!
19. KENDA BELIEVES ID'S POPULARITY IS BASED IN STRONG STORYTELLING.
While Kenda admits that, “The twists and turns, the unknown factor, gives people an opportunity to be an armchair detective in some way,” he believes that the network’s popularity can be attributed to something much more basic. “[T]here’s another fascination as well, and it’s been true for 6000 years. People have gathered around the fire and looked at someone and said, ‘Tell me a story.’ If you can tell a story in an interesting way, you have people’s attention. If it’s a subject that fascinates, you have their undivided attention.”
20. THE NETWORK HAS GONE GLOBAL.
Based on ID’s popularity in America, the network began expanding into global markets just a year after its launch. “Crime is universal,” Discovery Communications president/CEO David M. Zaslav told The New York Times. “The stories are set in an American town, but it could be anywhere.” As a result, ID programming has rolled out into hundreds of international markets, including England, Ireland, France, Denmark, Mexico, Croatia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Greece, India, and South Africa.