There might be no more peculiar journalistic niche than the one occupied by Chris Hansen, who became the face of ambush true crime with his “To Catch a Predator” specials on NBC. Hansen has since engaged in a Kickstarter campaign for something called “Hansen vs. Predator” (tough choice, that), but lands in a venue perfectly suited to his ghoulish style as host/correspondent of Investigation Discovery’s “Killer Instinct With Chris Hansen.” Looking very much like the crime-obsessed network newsmagazines, the show features Hansen revisiting grizzly tales, replicated via dramatic recreations. It’s not journalism, exactly, but for ID, it’s likely a viable simulation.
The network, of course, has produced multiple versions of this program, with only the specific stories and talent changing. Still, in Hansen, ID has found a personality with whom like-minded audiences should be well acquainted, and who brings with him a network-news background, even if his shtick has been as much showbiz as investigative journalism.
Hansen does put in the leg work (as opposed to those ID hosts who simply tape wraparounds), going to the scenes of the crime to interview victims and local residents. The premiere also makes effective use of surveillance footage to augment the creepy and overused reenactments, a device that effectively blurs the line between old-fashioned TV movie and reality TV.
The first hour focuses on a Cleveland serial killer who abducted, raped and murdered women. Hansen interviews, among others, Vanessa Gay, a survivor of the attacks, as well as neighbors who noticed a foul smell coming from the house of the killer, Anthony Sowell.
It is, by any measure, gruesome stuff, and Hansen is very much in his element uttering lines like, “I thought nothing could shock me,” before proceeding with the details of what happened.
Hansen left NBC News two years ago, at the time saying he would pursue projects that would be announced in the coming months. It took a bit longer than advertised, perhaps, but by hooking up with ID on “Killer Instinct,” it certainly looks, for better or worse, like he’s found himself a home.