‘Truth Be Told’ follows a decades-old murder that results in a teenaged boy getting sentenced to life in prison, only for a journalist and podcaster to realize 19 years later that he might be innocent. Poppy Parnell then embarks on a convoluted investigation that opens up a pandora’s box of secrets with far-reaching effects. As the investigative journalist digs into the lives of the victim’s family, which also seems to hold the killer, she finds their alibis as well as her own personal life unraveling.
The show follows the very real, palpable effects that true crime podcasts have been known to have on the course of justice and people’s lives. The remarkable case of Chuck Buhrman’s murder sounds like it could very well be based on a real-life cold case, which is eventually solved by a dogged journalist and her revealing podcast. Is ‘Truth Be Told’ be based on a true story? Let’s find out.
Is Truth Be Told a True Story?
No, ‘Truth Be Told’ is not based on a true story. The show is based on a novel titled ‘Are You Sleeping’ (subsequently renamed to match the show’s title) by Kathleen Barber. The author was reportedly influenced by Sarah Koenig’s hit true-crime podcast ‘Serial‘ in the writing of her debut novel, which features a podcast that follows the story’s central crime and the prisoner wrongly convicted of it. In the Apple TV+ show, the role of the podcast, its host Poppy Parnell, and the prisoner Warren Cave, take center stage.
The show’s creator Nichelle Tramble Spellman reportedly read the manuscript of Barber’s novel before it was published and realized she wanted to turn it into a show about a crime through the perspective of a podcaster and the far-reaching effects this form of investigative narrative possesses. However, the show departs from its sourcebook in many aspects, most notably as the podcaster is merely a supporting character in the novel, which is told majorly from Josie Buhrman’s perspective. The novel focuses more on the devastating effects the release of the podcast has on the lives of Josie and her twin sister Lanie.
The series also diverges wildly from its sourcebook in its conclusion, making it an engaging mystery even for those that have read the novel. Spellman, however, keeps the focus on the far-reaching effects of the podcast by depicting not just the Buhrman family but also everyone associated with it being significantly affected. The showrunner specifically set her story in a world where podcasts are still on the fringes so as to explore the emerging phenomenon of investigative true-crime podcasts and their influence on journalism and journalistic integrity.
Apart from ‘Serial,’ the investigative podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig, which reportedly influenced Barber, many similar podcasts have been created, and some have had significantly far-reaching effects. The likes of ‘Up and Vanished,’ hosted by director and documentary filmmaker Payne Lindsey, digs into missing persons’ cases that have gone cold. It not only relooks at the old evidence but also attempts to discover and share new information about the cases.
Interviews with witnesses and details of on-site investigations are also generally part of such podcasts. Most notably, such podcasts not only inform but at times also help with the solving of cases, as was reportedly the case with season 1 of ‘Up and Vanished.’ Other investigative podcasts like the Australian ‘The Teacher’s Pet’ actually picked up the unsolved 1982 case of the disappearance of Lynette Dawson and went on a short hiatus when all available leads had been covered.
The show’s host, investigative journalist Hedley Thomas, returned with more episodes following further investigation of the case by the authorities, and Christopher Michael Dawson, the victim’s husband, was eventually arrested. The podcast reportedly helped renew interest in the cold case, and like others, has been attributed with playing a role in helping solve the case.
Therefore, despite not being based on a true story, ‘Truth Be Told’ draws strong influence from the remarkable cases that have been dug up and explored through podcasts. Though parts of it are dramatized, the portrayal of a podcast playing a significant role in solving a cold case is definitely not a fictional idea and has been seen in reality on multiple occasions.
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