The Lifetime network is hitting a major milestone with their series of original movies “ripped from the headlines”: This year, the network celebrates its 400th “Ripped From the Headlines” feature with the one-two punch of “The Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother’s Hunt for Justice” and “Girl in the Basement.”
Deborah Norville, reporter and executive producer for “The Long Island Serial Killer,” said during the network’s CTAM Winter 2021 Press Tour that the stories they are telling are ones she covered as an anchor or reporter with “Inside Edition.” She was frustrated covering them on the air because of the lack of time available to delve into the cases. “We [were] just not able to get to the nuance,” she said. “Their lives have been upended in the most horrific…way. We don’t get the opportunity to tell the stories fully and completely [in news].” When she and Lifetime started conversing she was motivated by the “mom on a mission” plot. “Lifetime wanted to tell that kind of story,” she said.
Actress Kim Delaney said she, too, was struck by the motherhood angle within “The Long Island Serial Killer.” “This was the mom who would not stop at anything,” she said. “That’s probably what I brought to it.”
“Girl in the Basement” is a mixture of many different abduction/sexual assault/imprisonment stories, but mainly that of Elizabeth Fritzell. Director Elisabeth Rohm said Lifetime is committed to airing a documentary after the premiere about survivors who have gone through similar crimes. “‘Girl in the Basement’ is a call to action,” said Rohm, but there was a grander push to make it a movement, instead of just a movie. Rohm and star Judd Nelson are big history buffs and enjoyed going into the granular aspect of cases.
Nelson, who stars as the villain in “Girl in the Basement,” said villainy is not what an individual thinks about themselves. “I don’t think Manson thought he was a bad guy,” Nelson said. The story of “Girl in the Basement” ranges over 20 years, and for star Stefanie Scott it was a challenge. “How do you keep your mind together when that’s your reality?” Scott asked.
Norville said she can’t step away from being a journalist and believes facts are friends, so creative liberties were not to be taken lightly. “It would be liberating to take creative license with some of the facts of this story, but we can’t do that,” she said. “It’s disrespectful to the story itself.” Where the deviations happen are done with the understanding that nothing takes away from the reality of the situation. Norville said the audience is drawn to these stories because it taps into every mother’s horror — and in terms of a news angle there’s still an interest in stories about how people just go missing.
“The Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother’s Hunt for Justice” premieres on Feb. 20; “Girl in the Basement” premieres on Feb. 27.