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The Man Behind Netflix’s Jeffrey Dahmer Docuseries Is a True Crime Hit Factory

Joe Berlinger helped redefine crime documentaries as a vehicle for social justice. Now, he’s found wild commercial success as Netflix’s serial killer house band.
Berlinger near his home in the Hudson Valley. 

Berlinger near his home in the Hudson Valley. 

Photographer: Mamadi Doumbouya for Bloomberg Businessweek

It comes as a surprise that Serial’s Sarah Koenig and her husband have just watched the first two episodes of Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Netflix’s controversial, extended biopic of the infamous serial killer and cannibal. She kept her hands over her eyes for most of Episode 1, she says, but wanted to stick around long enough to see what creator Ryan Murphy, the superproducer behind American Horror Story, brought to the material. Murphy’s insight into the investigators’ underlying racism and homophobia was intriguing, she says, but not intriguing enough to justify sitting through eight more hours of carnage.

When Koenig started work on her iconic podcast about a murder conviction based on shaky evidence, she’d never heard the term “true crime.” By the time she’d finished publishing the first season of Serial, she’d heard about enough. In trying to figure out whether Adnan Syed had really killed Hae Min Lee, his high school classmate, 15 years earlier, Koenig and her team had focused on police procedure and Syed’s account. They’d mostly steered away from the more lurid, sensational details of Lee’s murder: the autopsy report, the crime scene photos, the horror. But that wasn’t what the thousands of fans who cast themselves as armchair detectives wanted.