AppleTV is making its first foray into crime dramas with its multi-perspective mini-series, Truth Be Told. The drama follows journalist Poppy Parnell (Octavia Spencer) as she revisits a murder she reported on after 20 years of questioning whether she came to the right conclusions. Naturally, because it's 2019, she returns to the case in the form of a podcast that becomes quite the conversation starter. With everyone's love for true crime in full swing these days, we have to ask, is Truth Be Told based on a true story or is it simply channeling one of our favourite ways to learn about true crimes?
Well, let's start with the basics: The story goes that 20 years ago, Parnell reported on the murder of Chuck Buhrman (Nic Bishop). The father of two twin girls, his death rocked their small midwestern town. Through her reporting, Parnell had a hand in implicating the man, a teenager at the time, who was eventually convicted of the crime, Warren Cave (Aaron Paul). Though she was convinced her reporting was accurate at the time, doubt crept into her conviction in the years that followed. Now, Parnell's podcast brings everything to the forefront of public intrigue and discussion; however, not everyone — namely Buhrman's daughters — who experienced the crime firsthand wants to be the topic of widespread debate again.
It sounds like it could be real, but Truth Be Told is based on Kathleen Barber's 2017 novel Are You Sleeping? The novel is a work of fiction, but it explores some very real, and often overlooked, outcomes of when a crime becomes the centre of ubiquitous conversation such as the effects tragedy has in the years that follow and the long term implications of it.
“I felt like the one thing that we did a little bit different was to lean way more into the effect of this on these people. So what does this podcast coming up do to all of the people it’s touching: How do they interact with their coworkers, how do they live their lives day to day something that they put to bed 20 years ago?” the Truth Be Told's creator, Nichelle Tramble Spellman, told Variety.
But Barber's popular novel isn't the only inspiration Spellman used for the mini-series. Her own love of true crime and podcasts lead her to research by watching and listening to the growing number of streaming series and podcasts revisiting crimes we would have otherwise never heard about. Some of her biggest inspirations were 48 Hours, 20/20, Making a Murderer, and Snapped. All of these investigative series informed her voice and the way crimes are revisited by the media as well as the influence this spotlight has on the lives of the victims and the accused.
With seemingly endless sources of inspiration, Spellman took an opportunity to deviate from Are You Sleeping? in a number of ways. And these aren't small changes. Viewers who have read the book or who might look to the book for clues will find that why Warren was accused and whodunnit have changed considerably on the show.
The only way to find out who did it is to delve into the series and follow Spencer's Parnell as she discovers whether she may have helped put away an innocent man.