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Netflix's 'Murderer' making a splash

"Do you think Steven Avery did it?"

Spoiler alert: This piece contains details from the Netflix documentary series "Making a Murderer."

"Do you think Steven Avery did it?"

That was director and producer Judd Apatow on Sunday, filling a moment of dead air in a press session for his coming Netflix show, "Love," with a joking reference to the streaming service's latest sensation, "Making a Murderer."

"He's in the green room right now," he added.

Avery, who was convicted in 2007 of the murder of Teresa Halbach, was, of course, nowhere near the Television Critics Association winter meetings, though his name did come up there.

He's serving a life sentence in a maximum-security prison in Wisconsin, where he hasn't been permitted to see the 10-episode Netflix documentary series that has brought his case international attention and inspired demands for his release and allegations from, among others, channel HLN's Nancy Grace that filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos omitted facts that point to Avery's guilt.

The pair, who met with reporters Sunday to talk about the series that took them a decade to make, aren't backing down.

"We're documentary filmmakers. We're not prosecutors. We're not defense attorneys. We did not set out to convict or exonerate anyone," Ricciardi said when asked about alleged omissions, including what are said to be portions of the confession of Avery's then-16-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was also convicted in Halbach's death.

"We set out to examine the criminal justice system and how it's functioning today," Ricciardi said, adding that they took their "cues from the prosecution, what they thought was the most compelling evidence. That's what we included."

They still talk with Avery by phone, she said, and record those conversations for possible inclusion in any future episodes.

After Sunday's discussion with reporters, Ricciardi talked about viewers' reactions to the series.

She said that, though she and Demos were "thrilled" people were watching and were engaged, "one of the things we hope people will take away is, you know, an understanding of how complex these issues are and how there are no easy answers. And, in fact, with respect to certain issues, there might not be any answers."

Answers or not, "Making a Murderer" had made a believer of actress Juliette Lewis, who, after a recent session for "Secrets and Lies," the ABC series in which she plays a homicide detective, said she believed Avery had been framed for Halbach's murder, citing the $36 million suit he'd filed against local officials after being imprisoned 18 years for a rape he didn't commit.

"I watched the whole thing. I never understood the term 'binge-watching' until that," Lewis said. "It was just riveting and heartbreaking."

Producer Ryan Murphy ("American Horror Story"), whose next big project, "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story," comes Feb. 2 to FX, found time for Avery's story, too.

"I tore through those episodes over the Christmas break. I was fascinated by that show," he said.

"When I was watching that show, I wanted to talk with more than one juror. I wanted to see inside the courtroom more, the jury room, rather. So on our show, particularly, one of the episodes . . . that I'm most proud of is Episode 8," which is told from the point of view of the jury, Murphy said.

That's a nice pivot by Murphy toward his own true-crime story, but who can blame him?

Given the heavily anecdotal success of "Making a Murderer" - Netflix doesn't report ratings - SundanceTV last week made its Peabody Award-winning true-crime series, "The Staircase," available online.

Investigation Discovery announced it would partner with NBC News' Peacock Productions on a "Front Page" special to run this month in what ID president Henry Schleiff called "an attempt to provide critical, crucial evidence and testimonies that may answer many of the questions surrounding Steven Avery."

The Discovery Channel wouldn't mind, either, if fans of "Making a Murderer" were to further their true-crime interest with "Killing Fields" (10 p.m. Tuesdays), a documentary series from "Homicide: Life on the Street" producers Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana that's following a cold-case murder investigation in Louisiana.

Jeffrey Toobin, the CNN legal analyst on whose book, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, FX's 10-episode series is based, said that in talking with reporters about the O.J. case recently, "'Making a Murderer' has come up over and over again. And I think one thing that O.J. did was educate the public about the legal system in a way that whetted their appetite for more.

"I don't think you could have a production as sophisticated as 'Making a Murderer,' and as long as 'Making a Murderer,' if you didn't have an audience out there that understood how the criminal justice system worked - at least in a broad sense," he said. "And I think O.J. really contributed to that."

Toobin, who hadn't yet finished "Making a Murderer," didn't express an opinion on Avery's guilt or innocence. (He has written and continues to assert that Simpson killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, even as others associated with the FX series avoided taking a public position.)

"I just watched the episode where the 16-year-old so-called confesses. And, you know, I've written about, and talked about, the phenomenon of false confessions," Toobin said, "and I don't know if I have ever seen one in real time the way you see it in this."


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