Screen: NBC

Should You Pick Dateline's Robert Durst Special Out Of A Lineup?

The newsmagazine grabs a ratings coattail with a special report. Is it worth watching?

Worthwhile Show Attempted

Dateline, "Robert Durst: Inside The Long, Strange Trip"

Topic

NBC's newsmag elbows itself a spot on the suddenly-very-crowded Durst-coverage bandwagon.

How Far I Expected To Get

Initially, it depended on how much time Dateline spent bringing case newbies (read: "HBO non-subscribers") up to speed on the outlines of Durst's alleged crimes: the disappearance of his first wife, Kathie; the murder of Susan Berman, for which he's currently in custody and awaiting extradition from Louisiana to California; the role of The Jinx and its producers in bringing that arrest about; and the murder and dismemberment of Morris Black, which isn't technically germane to what's going on now but the grisliness of which is what sells programming execs on doing an extra hour.

It also depended on which correspondent NBC assigned to host the special. Keith Morrison guarantees my eyeballs for the duration, but adding his deliciously hammy "yee-EEEE-eeees"es to a story this baroque is probably overkill; the show smartly opted for the capably unintrusive Dennis Murphy instead.

I very slightly prefer Dateline to 48 Hours because of the former's expert packaging of familiar or predictable material. All these TV crime mags have a metric tonne of filler, overwrought focus-pulling, and faintly ridiculous B-roll of the case detectives industriously typing (here, Mike Struk) or sternly driving (my man Cody Cazales and his mustache carpooling around Galveston) (and when the Lifetime movie is cast, can we please have Sam Elliott playing Cody?).

Photo: Chris Haston / NBC

Photo: Chris Haston / NBC

Dateline's editing and pacing of the same old Ken Burns photo-scan segments is as pro as it gets, and if I were watching this in, say, May, as a follow-up on Durst's inevitable extradition, I'd have zero concerns about getting bored. Writing this on March 20, though, at the end of a week saturated with Jinx analysis and clip 'n' save timelines, I wasn't confident the show could keep my interest, particularly when a good portion of the opening section would necessarily devote itself to an overview of three cases, only partly interconnected, spanning decades, that The Jinx had spent six hours and many years of research to lay out.

When It Won Me Over

28:00

What Did It

"Inside The Long, Strange Trip" isn't a must-see, particularly the first quarter of the show. The new interviewees don't add a whole lot, and the ones we've seen before feel kind of self-serving (and Struk just can't get out of his own way; it feels like he's maybe trying to revise the impression of disengagement he left in The Jinx, but then he's wearing this garbage-time pink buttondown too open at the neck, like, necktie and genuinely giving a shit, hoss: try 'em both!).

But various talking heads describe the way Berman was found -- lying on her back, on her bed, put there to make her comfortable; the fact that the killer notified police of her "cadaver" so she wouldn't suffer too long a decomposition process -- and of course this makes no intellectual sense, but at the same time it's a well-known aspect of profiling a crime scene. It's one of the reasons FBI profiling poobah John Douglas didn't think the Ramseys killed JonBenet: she was left carelessly, not tucked into the blanket or tidied up. It indicates that the killer knew and cared for his/her victim.

And pretty much everyone knows this thanks to scripted procedurals like Criminal Minds -- but it's not something The Jinx really got into, and it means Dateline took a couple of minutes to say something new, or at least try to, about the Durst saga instead of repackaging the same snippets we've seen ad nauseam all week.

Worth Taking A Run At It?

If you watched The Jinx, this isn't essential -- but if you missed The Jinx (or you miss it in the sense of wishing there were more episodes), this is a straightforward and not too coattailsy take on the case.

Discussion

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