On my first day at work at Jupiter Entertainment in Knoxville, Tenn., my boss told me to “think of a place you’d like to go and find a murder.”
I logged on to Lexis-Nexis and typed in: “Montana” and “murder.” Up popped the sad and salacious tale of Ted Ernst, a wheelchair-bound athlete of Olympic caliber who also happened to be a murderous sociopath. In 1998, he and his brother Jesse went on a burglary spree around Bigfork, Mont., which ended in the tragic killing of a local businessman.
I showed up at the airport in Kalispell in the summer of 2000 a few days early to scout locations for the 10-day production of the Ernst story for the A&E Network show City Confidential. At the airport was my ex-girlfriend, Katie Gaines, who had left me a couple years earlier to pursue her career as a midwife in the wilds of northwest Montana. That night I told Katie that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her and for the last two years we’ve somehow managed to keep our plan alive despite long periods spent apart. We had hoped to resettle here, near my hometown, but the pull back to Montana has proven too great.
I announced my resignation as editor of The Independent this April. A month later, a City Confidential crew showed up in Durham to recount the sad and salacious tale of Barbara Stager. In 1988, Stager murdered her husband Russell at their home in north Durham.
Why does A&E want to re-tell this story? Because murder sells on cable TV. In fact, City Confidential has become one of the network’s most valuable shows. Other cable networks have taken notice and Jupiter Entertainment, the creator of City Confidential, has pitched spin-off shows to Lifetime Television for Women and Court TV.
When I was offered the job at The Independent last fall, I had a choice between returning to newspapers or producing a show for Court TV called Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice. The program mimics the City Confidential format. It’s a sort of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with commentary from Vanity Fair‘s Dominick Dunne and blood splattered everywhere–maybe even Durham.
The tabloid TV machine is just getting revved up, but I know it’s headed this way in search of details about the death of Kathleen Peterson. If you want to jump out of the way, you can do what I did, and find sanctuary in The Independent. It’s a non-tabloid tabloid, and I’m really going to miss it.