In an entertainment era where true crime very much reigns supreme, Hilarie Burton Morgan's SundanceTV series True Crime Story: It Couldn't Happen Here stands out as the most important entry of a severely over-saturated genre. The reason for this is that Burton and her team are traveling to small towns on missions of "advocacy," to put a spotlight on cases that are shrouded in uncertainty. In many instances, men and women are sitting behind bars, convicted of heinous crimes, while evidence that potentially proves their innocence goes mostly ignored.
Recently, PopCulture.com had a chance to catch up with Burton to discuss the show, and she revealed that even her husband, The Walking Dead star Jeffrey Dean Morgan, joined her for a few of the show's new episodes. "My husband Jeffrey's my producing partner in everything. We do everything together. And so he came on two of the shoots this year," Burton revealed, then sharing that Morgan is enthralled and moved by the show the same way as viewers. "He's always the first person I show the cuts to. He's screaming at the television or he cries or he gets really emotionally invested in these stories. But this year he's like, 'Well, I want to come and be there behind the scenes.'"
There are still so many people whose stories have yet to be heard. We're going to change that.— SundanceTV (@SundanceTV) September 2, 2022
New episodes of It Couldn't Happen Here, part of #TrueCrimeStory, premiere Thursdays at 10pm on SundanceTV or watch early on @AMCPlus. pic.twitter.com/SSKrEDma4Y
She continued, "And so he's very emotionally invested in a number of these cases this year. So yeah, that's what our whole goal is now. You get this silly platform that you can either sell clothes or do dumb stuff, or you can go out there and make a change. So that's what we're hoping."
While one would imagine that it would be emotionally taxing visiting with the families of murder victims and the families of those potentially wrongfully convicted, Burton says that "there's no decompression afterwards. What's kind of great about this show is that we do establish personal relationships with the families that are brave enough to interact with us." She continued, "These have been friendships that are going on two years now, people I would've never met otherwise and we're Facebook friends and they send me pictures of their kids and we keep up with one another and they keep me updated on how their cases are going. I value them so much. So the advocacy portion of our show is the most important thing to me."
Burton also recalled when she first fell captive to true crime, explaining, "My senior year beach week, I read a book about Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker." She also shared that she "was going to college to study this subject matter" before life took a "weird turn" and she ended up becoming an actress. "But this was always subject matter that was important to me," Burton continued. "And so, using the resources that I have to provide attention and awareness for these cases is... If you're going to be away from your kids doing jobs elsewhere, this is a worthy endeavor."
Additionally, Burton spoke about how the show's title, It Couldn't Happen Here, has two meanings, saying, "I think that's the most terrifying thing. That was our selling tagline last year, that in every episode there's two bad guys. There's the person who perpetrated the crime. And then there's the system."
She continued, "The system is a bad guy because it refuses to self-correct. Elected officials who know that they're up every few years for reelection are never going to recheck their own work. So even if there's DNA evidence, a prosecutor's not going to voluntarily go and check that. A judge who hears an appeal on a case that they previously saw, they're not going to admit that went sideways. 'I should really redo this.' Sheriffs who are certain that they found their man are never going to say, 'Oh whoops, I messed up,' because they know that when they go back out on the campaign trail, they'll have to answer for that. So it's better just to double down."
Burton added, "What that means is that these people who are wrongfully convicted end up spending at least 15, 20 years in jail because they have to out outlive the careers of the people who put them there. And when you're in maximum security and you're an innocent person, your chances of being hurt, killed. I mean, you're being put in the most dangerous place on the planet. You're just expected to just survive until the judicial system sorts itself out. It's a gross abuse of power."
Referencing one of the show's first episodes, from 2021, Burton shared how it ended up having a positive impact on the case that was featured. "So what's cool is that our fan base last year got really involved with Devoni Inman's case in Georgia. That attorney got phone calls, letters, petitions, all the things. It created movement. Devoni's at home now with his parents. He is free. That's enough for me. We could stop right there and we will have all done this cool thing together. But there are five more cases from last year and eight new cases this year that I really feel like our army of viewers can do a lot of good on."
If the show has to define a motive, Burton says "advocacy is the most important part of it" because "so much of true crime is predatory, or [just] television, where it's like, 'Ooh, that's so scary. Sucks for them.' Whereas our show really wants to say these are open-ended cases that still need involvement. And we know how powerful viewership can be. Let's all work together and make something productive happen. So we feel really lucky that our fan base is on board."
Going on to speak about the intimate nature of the cases, and how the show specifically seeks out cases and investigations in small towns, Burton shared, "It's not like these people are outside entities that come in and stir up trouble. These are the people that we go to the grocery store with. These are other parents we see in the school pick-up line. They're people we move around every single day in these small towns and we hand them this power because we elect them. And then we kind of just close our eyes to everything that goes on in the interim."
Finally, revealing locations for the new episodes, Burton shared, "So this year we are in Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, West Virginia, Texas, Ohio, Florida, and California. We're all over the United States. And every case is really different and complex. So it's been a big lift, but I'm excited that we finally are premiering so that we can get eyeballs on these cases and people activated." New episodes of True Crime Story: It Couldn't Happen are currently airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET, on SundanceTV. Fans can also visit the ICHHStories Social Media Linktree here to learn more about a number of the show's cases.