Though hardly a new trend, TV shows based on real events have been a reliable source of attention and accolades for TV networks and streaming services recently, and as that trend continues, a similar trend has popped up in its wake: people getting made that fictionalized TV shows are not emotionless, fact-driven documentaries. A couple of years ago, Netflix had to explain that it would not be adding a disclaimer to The Crown to make it explicitly clear that it is a scripted drama series and not a long run of hidden-camera shots featuring the real royals.
Then, just a few weeks ago, HBO had to explain that Winning Time: The Rise Of The Lakers Dynasty is a TV show based on the real story of the Lakers and not a documentary about them after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West criticized the way the show had depicted them and certain things that happened to them.
Now, in a rare one of these that actually might justify the people involved getting a little annoyed, Vanity Fair says that the people behind the original award-winning The Staircase documentary, including French director Jean-Xavier De Lestrade, feel “betrayed” by the HBO Max adaptation. It’s not just that the dramatized version is different from the documentary version, though, it’s that de Lestrade and original editor Sophie Brunet had spent time with Antonio Campos (who made the dramatized stair case) and had initially approved of HBO Max’s plans.
But one of the twists of the HBO Max version is that the documentary filmmakers are part of the story, and it suggests that they may have been part of the story this whole time—which is to say that their work to document the story of Michael Peterson and his family may have ended up swaying perceptions of the case from a legal perspective… or at least that’s what may have happened in the fictionalized version of the story. That’s the prickly bit: This is a dramatization of a famous murder case and the documentary that was made about it, it’s not a new documentary about the murder and the documentary, so any point that the HBO Max series is making is technically a point being made about the characters based on the filmmakers who made the documentary and not the real filmmakers or the real family.
It’s complicated… and so maybe de Lestrade has a point. the Vanity Fair story says that the filmmakers have reached out to Campos to ask for edits or a disclaimer, but neither Campos or HBO Max have responded.