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'The Sons of Sam' director on the boom in popularity of true crime documentaries

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Joshua Zeman - Sons of Sam Director, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the boom in popularity of True Crime.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Let's talk about the business of horror. Netflix is out with a new hit series. I'm sure you have heard of it, "The Sons of Sam, A Descent Into Darkness." It's one of the most popular shows on the streaming giant right now.

So let's talk about it with the director. We want to bring in Joshua Zeman. And Josh, great to have you here at Yahoo Finance. Certainly this is a show that we have talked about as a team a number of times before. I've heard a number of friends talk about it. So congratulations on this new docuseries.

Let's just, though, start with the business of horror and the business of crime stories because it certainly, time and time again, is a hit with the audience. Why do you think it resonates? Or why do you think so many people are attracted to this?

JOSHUA ZEMAN: I think it's kind of fun game in some respects, going back to a lot of these old crimes. And now that we have the internet, we can go down these rabbit holes. And everybody can come in and kind of do their own research.

I think also, before, we never used to question these investigations. But now that we're in a different age of police transparency, and maybe some of the other shows have shown us how difficult police investigations are, we tend to look at them with a more critical eye.

ADAM SHAPIRO: I've seen the first episode. Fell in love with it because not only does that original footage that you got from the newscasts of the late '70s, that era-- I mean, it's the grainy, gritty, dirty New York. There's that one scene where that poor man is walking through an area. And the hookers are like accosting him. And then the accents of everyone.

You had even a young, slim Geraldo Rivera stand up. I mean, where do you find all of that material for a documentary like this?

JOSHUA ZEMAN: That's a great question. We had gone in and said, oh, we're doing the Son of Sam. But we don't want to show the same old, same old footage. And we really had to go down in the basements of Channel 2, Channel 4, Channel 7, and then 5 and 11.

And unfortunately, a lot of these places who have these incredible archives, because the film footage hasn't been transferred to video, they're starting to throw a lot of it out. So we managed to go in there and get some of this just unbelievable footage. I mean, for me, I love that kind of stuff. And it feels like a movie. It feels like a narrative movie.

SEANA SMITH: Josh, what's it been like working with Netflix?

JOSHUA ZEMAN: Great. I've worked for a lot of the different places. But suddenly, when you have 40 million viewers-- and as a creator, you can put something out there and get that response back on Twitter, it's unbelievable.

Of course, Netflix, it comes with a much higher level of working, a higher level of making sure that everything is on the up-and-up because they're going to get criticized because they're so big. But it just makes me a better journalist.

ADAM SHAPIRO: It's amazing too. We learn by watching it. I mean, the police broke into the man who was arrested's car before they had the warrant because they saw the gun, all of those kinds of issues. But I am curious, which is it that attracts us? Is it the historical element? For some of us, we were alive during that period. Is it because it's a serial killer? Is it because it's a crime story?

JOSHUA ZEMAN: I tend not to really like the serial killer stuff. I'm not a big blood and gore person. I like what crimes teach us about society. And the Son of Sam taught us about this unbelievable time in New York City. And it also tells us about big city politics.

So for me, that's what I'm into. And that's what I like so much about it.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So I just do have to ask you though, because there's a lot of fascination with serial killers. There's this one serial killer out of Indiana, Larry Eyler, who no one ever pays attention to, yet this guy killed more than 24 people, had an accomplice who was arrested, tried, found not guilty. But they never really cleared it. How do people like that-- why does, like, a Son of Sam get all the attention, but then someone who killed 24-plus people, no one talks about?

JOSHUA ZEMAN: Because I don't really think it's about that. It's not about the number. It's not about the body count. For me, what was so interesting is that the whole world bought this idea with Son of Sam. They said, why do you do it? And he said, oh, a demon dog had commanded me to kill. I just said, eh, I don't know if I buy that story. There's got to be something more.

So to me, it's not about the body count. There has to be something more. I mean, look, I did a show about the Long Island Serial Killer, killed 10 sex workers. Why was that show interesting? Well, to me, because it was about how sex work was changing and how the internet was being used in sex work and how people thought that would make it all the more safer. But it actually made it far more dangerous.

SEANA SMITH: Joshua Zeman, great to have you, director of "The Sons of Sam, A Descent Into Darkness." Congratulations. And of course you at home, you can catch it on Netflix.