When it premiered in 2016, Ryan Murphy’s anthology TV series American Crime Story immediately had me hooked with its incredible casting and fresh look at the notorious trial of O. J. Simpson. The second season, featuring “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” also had me—and millions of viewers—on the edge of our seats. Now that we’re halfway through Versace, we’re dying (no pun intended) for a new season and another crime to obsess over. While the subjects of seasons three and four have already been announced (Hurricane Katrina and the Clinton Administration, respectively), we couldn’t resist scanning our bookshelves for ideas for season five and beyond. Maybe we’ll see them soon on the small screen!
Evelyn Nesbit and the Trial of the Century
In 1907, millionaire Harry K. Thaw was tried for the murder of Stanford White, a famous architect. The reason? White was having an affair with Thaw’s wife, a former chorus girl named Evelyn Nesbit. The public went wild as a dramatic and twisty trial ensued, becoming the first major media celebrity spectacle. Period pieces are tough, but I would love to see Ryan Murphy’s take on the crime that basically started the media’s obsession with murder.
The Titanic Inquiry
Everyone knows the story of the Titanic, but few know about the subsequent dual inquiries that took place in New York and London to determine whether anything—or anyone—was to blame. During that time, J. Bruce Ismay, the director of the White Star Line who reduced the number of lifeboats onboard and then saved his own life as the ship sank, saw his reputation destroyed by the press. While the trial itself was fairly standard, covering this moment in history would be a fascinating look at the court of public opinion and our human impulse to find a villain in tragedy.
For 50 years, the American Mafia outwitted and outran the FBI and other police agencies, wreaking havoc on America’s social fabric and economy while emerging as the nation’s most formidable crime empire. Lucky Luciano and John Gotti, among others, became household names as they terrified, fascinated, and dominated the culture. Theirs is truly an American story of ambition, ruthlessness, and oddly enough, romance that would make for an amazing season of American Crime Story.
The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
After he shot and killed Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis on April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray was the subject of a two-month, worldwide manhunt—the largest ever—that crossed two continents while the United States erupted into chaos, violence, and grief. We know how the story begins and ends, but everything in between is a riveting collection of missteps and total mayhem. Murphy is especially skilled in bringing depth, complexity, and dare I say, humanity, to the perpetrators of these horrific crimes, and I would love to see his treatment of Ray.
In each American Crime Story season, Murphy selects a subject that focuses not only on a specific person but also on a national moment or feeling that makes the crime uniquely American. Dan White’s murdering of his colleagues, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, was motivated not only by politics but by fear, desperation, and homophobia. It shocked the nation, but led to an increased awareness about these issues and has had a lasting impact on the LGBTQ+ fight for equality in the United States, which could be quite powerful to watch unfold.
In 1981, actress Natalie Wood disappeared from the yacht she was sailing on with her husband Robert Wagner and friend Christopher Walken. Her body was recovered a day later. Though her death was initially ruled an accidental drowning, rumors, changes and corrections to the story, and questions kept the story alive decades after the fact. It remains one of Hollywood’s enduring mysteries. I’d love to see Murphy’s approach to these screen legends and his theories about what happened that night.