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Should You Reopen The Cold Case Files Reboot?

A 'New' Show Fact Sheet for an emeritus of true-crime programming. Does the new version fit the Bill (Kurtis)?

What is this thing?

It's pretty much right there in the title -- the show will delve into some of the 120,000 unsolved cold cases in the U.S., with help from modern forensics and social media, to try to solve them at last -- but it's a reboot of one of the genre's seminal shows, from back in the day when A&E aired it, American Justice, and blocks of Law & Order reruns.

When is it on?

Mondays at 9 PM on A&E.

Why now?

Because the original got hung up in distribution-rights purgatory somewhere? …Even slightly above-average true-crime programming is going to get pride of primetime place here in 2017; if a show can add nostalgia for a proven pioneer to solid construction and a name narrator, it probably sells itself.

What's its pedigree?

Blumhouse Television is same production house that brought us The Jinx (and the upcoming limited-run series about Roger Ailes "shepherded" by acclaimed director Tom "Templeton" McCarthy) -- and, at least in the first episode, it shows; the re-enactments, while melodramatic and fillerish, look expensive and…considered, I guess is the word.

I don't know what I thought Bill Kurtis was up to -- I guess I assumed he'd pulled a Richard Dawson and withdrawn from the world? -- but he's gainfully employed as the announcer for NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," so Danny Glover steps in to narrate.


Back in the day when I worked in independent educational programming (yes, that's a thing, kind of; yes, I was an assistant) and Bill Kurtis was a guy you tried to get to host your shit for cheap, he had a reputation as a bombastic turd. I can't say for sure whether it was merited, but it seems he's come around to satirizing that repute on "WWDTM" -- and either way, you can't argue with the fact that his plummy voice and almost poetical phrasing set and maintained the standard for non-fiction newsmag narration. I like Danny Glover fine, but even without those ads for pseudobulbar affect awareness, which IMO have not exactly burnished his c.v., he's no Bill Kurtis. In fact, at least in the premiere, Glover is rather lispy…when he's in it, which is relatively little.

The chosen content is also a problem, in that the case selected is not in fact "cold," and hasn't been for nearly 15 years. Shauna Howe's 1992 kidnapping and murder took a while to solve, but did get knocked in 2002 thanks to a DNA hit on a pair of ne'er-do-well brothers who snatched another girl and got one of them caught in the process. CCF seems not to have considered that the same ubiquity of the internet, and civilian interest in unsolved crimes, that made the show a good bet to reboot will also mean that it's a snap for viewers to Google/dig into Reddit threads on whatever case is on offer, and once you've found the Wikipedia page on Howe's disappearance, it's tough to stay invested in the episode for the duration. It's just another true-crime roll of AV wallpaper.


It's an attractively made roll, and wallpaper does have its uses. It isn't The Jinx or The Staircase, CCF, but it isn't the tiresome budget garbage Oxygen rolls out at 2 PM on a Wednesday, either. Shauna Howe's mother's talking-head interviews sound a bit rehearsed; the narration is a bit purple ("and it will change Halloween…forever"); the B-roll of sad, tipped-over decorations as shorthand for emotional devastation is familiar. But familiar is not necessarily bad, and this is perfectly adequate genre programming to drowse in front of at the hotel between the ceremony and the reception.


Furthermore, it commanded enough respect from this gentleman that he braided his beard nice and tight for his interview segments.


You don't need to DVR the first run, certainly; Cold Case Files was always meant for the rainy-Saturday syndication block. But that's where it'll land in a few months' time, and when it does, you can do worse to kill an hour or two at the Mystic Sheraton.

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