NEW YORK – After the format worked for HBO and Netflix, “Dateline NBC” is trying its own version of a multi-part true crime drama this month.
The newsmagazine premieres “The Widower," about a Las Vegas man who had four of his six wives die under mysterious circumstances, on Feb. 18. The story unfurls over three nights and five hours.
It's one of three steps the network is taking to try and expand the appeal of the newsmagazine's crime franchise. This month, the Peacock streaming service will debut its own “Dateline NBC” channel, and a second podcast narrated by correspondent Keith Morrison will premiere.
“We're trying to go where the viewers are going,” said David Corvo, the show's senior executive producer, “and you have to do that. We're not all watching one event at the same time like we did when we grew up.”
“The Widower" is actually 12 years in the making. “Dateline NBC” producer Dan Slepian was embedding with Las Vegas police in 2008 when Thomas Randolph was arrested for murder. He kept following, and filming, the case until there was a recent resolution, said Liz Cole, the show's executive producer.
HBO's “The Jinx” and Netflix's “Making of a Murderer” and several podcasts have illustrated the appeal of immersive crime stories that go beyond the one- or two-hour format of network newsmagazines.
The risk, however, comes in following a trend and making a story longer than the material merits.
Slepian, who calls Randolph the “Joe Exotic of true crime” and hypes the “The Widower” as “'Tiger King' meets ‘Jinx’ meets ‘In Cold Blood,’" vouches for its ability to hold the audience's attention.
“The story itself almost demands all of the time we are giving it because of all of the twists and turns,” he said.
“Dateline” has interesting inside looks at how the police and prosecutors reacted as the story unfolds, and they would likely not make it if the show was tightly edited into one episode, he said.
Not everything “Dateline NBC” does is true crime; the show has done hours on the Capitol riot, COVID-19 vaccine development and the George Floyd case in the past year.
But crime stories are the central focus. They lend themselves to delayed viewing in a way most news programs don't, and the Peacock channel will need material.
“You don't really attract an audience like you did in the old days,” Corvo said. “You accumulate it. ‘Dateline’ is in every place a consumer can find it.”
It's why the network has in recent years sold episodes of the show in the syndication market, he said. Its first podcast, “The Thing About Pam,” has been downloaded more than 14 million times since its September 2019 debut.
The second podcast, which becomes available on Feb. 16, investigates Lori Vallow, an Idaho woman charged in connection with the disappearance of her children.
The crime stories used to be relatively easy to find. But now, with the genre so popular, securing interviews to tell the more dramatic stories is very competitive and “Dateline NBC” has a unit assigned to that task, Corvo said.
The show also announced that Natalie Morales is joining the staff as a correspondent.