Olga Szmidt: The Audience as a Jury

Shaping Reality and Evocating the Truth in Documentary TV Series


The aim of the presentation is to analyze the link between the staging of audience in some new documentary TV series and the role of jury which they depict. Last year was marked by premieres of two TV series - »The Jinx: Life and Deaths of Robert Durst« and »Making a Murderer«. Both tell the stories of two famous trials, but not from a position of a distanced observer. On the contrary, they tend to intermingle the portrayed trials with the real ones, thus actively interfering with the development of events. I am going to argue that although these TV series depict true trials with real juries, their actual point of reference is their audience. Through appealing to a wider public, they seem to pose the audience in the implicit role of an imaginary jury of the trials. Taking this observation as the starting point, I am going to inquire about how documentary TV series shape reality and evoke the truth. The crucial strategy of these TV series is to lead the very audience to pass a sentence on the characters instead of the real trial. They raise questions about television ethics as well as about the role of the audience. Yet the key point of analysis must focus on the way in which both TV series shape an alternative and seemingly authentic reality. Does the audience have the power of the real jury or a competence to decide what is ultimately true and what is not?