Set to debut in 2016, the investigative series follows a group of detectives who work crimes in so-called “killing fields” – seemingly idyllic places where bodies get dumped and crimes covered up (Baltimore’s Leakin Park may be best known these days, having been featured in the public-radio podcast Serial and, further back, in HBO’s The Wire). Using the latest advancements in technology, the detectives reveal the history of the places that have become popular dumping grounds owing to geography and outside elements that help cover up crimes. Investigations will be followed in real time through each episode, as unmarked graves are unearthed and probed.
The series launches a campaign by Rich Ross, who joined Discovery channel as president in January, to return true crime programming to the lineup. “In reintroducing the genre of true crime to our lineup, what can be better than to entice these two master storytellers” to join the team producing Killing Fields, Ross asked, rhetorically.
The idea was born when Ross decided to hand acclaimed creators of fiction based on fact, a project that, to quote that old Dragnet line, is “Just the facts, ma’am.”
“I would love some of the great storytellers who have told these stories from a fictional point of view to see if truth is really stranger than fiction,” Ross told Deadline. “It’s really proving that point.”
“We’re in world now where we have to innovate our storytelling to get attention, without losing authenticity of the characters telling the stories,” he continued. Killing Fields is a series about police investigating but also “the thinking behind it: Why do these people do what they do and their heroic, and yet very challenged, lives.”
And, the investigations play out in real time. The series will look at not only the places where all these bodies get dumped, but the police force that’s faced with a fairly overwhelming experience — every time you go to a place there’s a new case.
Fontana says he was intrigued by the opportunity to explore non-scripted programming and work with Discovery to shed light on these real-life stories using the latest technology. “I’ve always been fascinated with the criminal underworld and the grittier side of society,” he said but we already knew that, Fontana being best known for writing and producing such groundbreaking TV series as St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life On The Street, Oz and The Philanthropist.
Levinson, meanwhile, said he was drawn to the “excitement of the unexpected” the project afforded. “You can never predict what people will say and the direction these stories can take,” he said, adding, “It’s a different process, so it allows us the freedom to uncover interesting material as it unfolds.” Levinson is best known for directing such acclaimed feature films Diner, Wag The Dog, Good Morning, Vietnam, Bugsy, and Rain Man, for which he won Best Director and Best Picture Oscars. In TV, Levinson also worked on Oz and Homicide: Life On The Streets.
Fontana and Levinson will team with Sirens Media, the company producing Killing Fields, which is known for its work in the crime space in non-scripted television. “We are so excited to work with Tom and Barry, who have created some of the most memorable characters in film and television,” Sirens co-president Rebecca Toth Diefenbach said. She’s series executive producer for Sirens, a Leftfield Entertainment company, as are Valerie Haselton and Lucilla D’Agostino. For Discovery Channel, Denise Contis and Joseph Schneier are executive producers.