STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This next story comes from the intersection of media and crime. The radio documentary "Serial" investigated a years-old murder, questioning the conviction of a man in prison. The HBO documentary "The Jinx" examined years-old murders, directing suspicion at a man who, up to this week, was walking free. "The Jinx" included what can sound like a confession, which led to the arrest of its main character, Robert Durst, described in an Associated Press story as wealthy eccentric Robert Durst. Naturally, NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans has watched every minute of "The Jinx." Hi, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: I got to mention, true-crime TV's been around for a long time. But who got a murder suspect to wear a microphone for hours and hours and hours, even in the bathroom?
DEGGANS: I know. It's amazing. Andrew Jarecki is the director of documentaries like "Capturing The Friedmans" and "Catfish." And in 2010, Jarecki actually made a theatrical film called "All Good Things" about Robert Durst, the eldest son, and this family that controlled a powerful real estate dynasty in New York. His wife went missing in 1982.
Now, the real Durst heard about the film and called Jarecki and eventually agreed to speak with him at length about his missing wife and allegations that he'd killed his best friend in 2000 and the death and dismemberment of a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, in 2001. And those conversations became the backbone of this docu-series that HBO calls "The Jinx."
INSKEEP: This came from a Robert Durst phone call? Does he get a producer credit on this one?
DEGGANS: (Laughter) I don't know. He'll get a producer credit to go with his - the handcuffs they put on them, I guess.
INSKEEP: And we should remember this is a man who is under arrest right now. He's in New Orleans. The question is how quickly he will be moved to Los Angeles for trial. Now, does his statement on a microphone as he's alone in a bathroom amount to a confession here, Eric Deggans?
DEGGANS: Well, that's an argument I'm sure is going to fill court dockets for some time to come. In the finale of the show on Sunday, Jarecki is shown confronting Durst with handwriting evidence that seems to link him to an anonymous note that tipped police to the shooting death of his best friend. After that revelation, Durst goes into a bathroom with his wireless microphone still transmitting, and he starts talking to himself and eventually he says, what the hell did I do? And also says, killed them all of course.
Now, Durst's attorneys are already suggesting in the press that these were the mutterings of an old man under pressure. And I could see someone arguing he was speaking to himself sarcastically; he wasn't really being serious. But if that statement is admitted in court, then it would be up to a jury to decide if he was speaking seriously. And given his current public image, that decision might not go Durst's way.
INSKEEP: I suppose there's also the question of the chain of custody. This was a confession, if that's what it was, made to documentary filmmakers perhaps some time ago. You said this has been a five-year project. How long did HBO wait before they told police?
DEGGANS: Well, this was under the control of the filmmakers who made the film, not HBO. And they interviewed Durst in 2010 and 2012, and he made the admission after their 2012 interview. But Jarecki has said that they didn't discover this bathroom admission until two years later when some assistants were going through all of their material. So to make things even more complicated, The New York Times reported that the filmmakers began speaking to law enforcement in October 2012, but at that time, of course, they didn't know that he had said this in the bathroom.
INSKEEP: So one other thing, Eric Deggans - are there film producers and TV producers out there scrabbling to find their own wealthy, eccentric billionaires to investigate for various murders and documentaries?
DEGGANS: I have no doubt. HBO tells me that early episodes of "The Jinx" have drawn about 3 million viewers per episode across all their platforms, so it's drawing a growing audience. It feels like a new kind of programming that is really getting a lot of attention. We're seeing a ton of media coverage this week. So I wouldn't be surprised if we see more of these kind of shows, even though these kind of cases are very specific, and they don't exactly grow on trees.
INSKEEP: Eric, thanks.
DEGGANS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Deggans.
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