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Some shows focus on real crimes rather than fictional ones. This isn't the same as Ripped from the Headlines, where the show creates a fictional counterpart to a real crime, complete with new fictional people to be part of it. True Crime shows aim to dramatize an event (more-or-less) exactly, with names only changed if the victims or their families request it.

There are at least two distinct types of these shows:

Type 1: Calls for Aid: The show is organized to see if the public can provide any clues or information the police don't already have to find a criminal who perpetrated an unsolved crime. For example Aktenzeichen XY ... ungelöst, Crimewatch UK, and Americas Most Wanted.

Type 2: Retrospective: Solved crimes or cold cases from many years ago are profiled. This overlaps with a documentary. For example The First 48, Forensic Detectives.

Both types make use of Crime Reconstruction. Within both types, broadcast-network offerings tend to be made by the news division. They're what hourlong Prime Time news shows often decay into; true investigative journalism costs serious money and carries the risks of speaking truth to power while True Crime retrospectives are just about the cheapest thing you can put out and still call "news programming".

The term is also used for Nonfiction novels of varying quality, covering Real Life crimes. On one side you have novels written to cover the events as clearly and factually as possible, and then there are works thrown together for quick and easy public consumption, often advertising things like "10 pages of shocking photographs!" on the cover.

Examples of Type 1:
  • Aktenzeichen XY ... ungelöst (File Number XY... unsolved) is a German show aired on ZDF that mixes both flavours, but also practically started the whole True Crime genre. Has been on the run since 1967, and has a current case resolution rating of app. 40%. Through a mixture of photofits, mugshots, re-anactments, dramatizations, and the presentation of evidence, the anchorman informs the public to call the local poice directories of the respective cases. Occasionally also present cases from a few years back. Regularily awards members of the public and law enforcement with the XY-Award to honour exemplary cases of courage.
  • American Justice
  • Americas Most Wanted
  • Crimewatch UK
  • Missing Live is more or less the same thing, but it calls for help looking for missing people rather than criminals.

Examples of Type 2:

  • 48 Hours Mystery
  • City Confidential gives a travelogue introduction each week to a different U.S. city, its "in" crowd and its culture each week, and then documents a murder case that was particularly scandalizing to that city. The Soap Opera aspect is emphasized, and the Badass Baritone narration is mildly humorous.
  • Cold Case Files
  • Dateline NBC
  • Exhibit A
  • The First 48
  • Forensic Detectives
  • In Cold Blood
  • Investigation Discovery, a cable channel dedicated almost entirely to true crime programs, including several of the shows listed above as well as their own original series.
  • LA Noire uses real crimes from 1940s Los Angeles.
  • The New Detectives
  • Snapped is largely about wives who kill their husbands, though there have been cases shown where women kill their boyfriends' wives/SOs, daughters kill their parents and husbands kill their wives. In most cases, the accused play it up as a crime of passion (or that they were framed or set up by the cops who couldn't find a better suspect) even if the evidence clearly points to premeditation.
  • Wonderland is based on the Wonderland murders that occured in 1981.