How ‘Quiet on Set’ Helped Redefine Investigation Discovery Programming: ‘It Has Been a Fundamental Shift’

Jason Sarlanis knows that for some people, the Investigation Discovery network has stood for one thing: murder mysteries, frequently gruesome in nature and usually told in self-contained hourlong episodes. But with the success of docuseries “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,” that perception is quickly changing.

“It has been a fundamental shift for us,” says Sarlanis, who is president of TNT, TBS, TruTV and HLN in addition to ID. “It has brought a spotlight back to all the other things that are outside of the lane of what people expect an ID show to be.”

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Those include recent limited series like “The Curious Case of Natalia Grace” and “Jared From Subway: Catching a Monster,” as well as partnerships with producers Octavia Spencer (whose output for the network includes docuseries “Lost Women of Highway 20” and “Feds”) and Michael Bay.

ID just made waves with the Kevin Spacey two-part documentary “Spacey Unmasked,” which included new allegations about the disgraced actor. And later this month, ID has the four-part event “Fallen Idols,” about the controversies and accusations swirling around Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter and his late brother, Aaron Carter.

“When I joined the network, we looked at the name: Investigation Discovery,” Sarlanis says. “We realized that gave us the license to tell all kinds of investigatory shows, and really open the aperture beyond a myopic thinking of what a basic cable true-crime show could be.”

The payoff came with “Quiet on Set,” which became a phenomenon for ID and Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max streaming platform. According to ID, the series generated the highest weekly minutes for any title on Max, reaching 1.25 billion minutes the week of March 17. ID reports that it is so far this year the top-rated cable network without news or sports among women 25-54. The series, which chronicled instances of misconduct behind the scenes on popular Nickelodeon children’s shows in the 2000s, and what child stars faced on those series, had an immediate impact on public discourse. (Producer Dan Schneider has since filed a defamation lawsuit against the producers of the docuseries.)

“I knew ‘Quiet on Set’ would hit a nerve,” he says. “I think the stories of what child stars have gone through seem to resonate in every generation. And I also knew it would resonate because we were truly the first of a corporate media brand to tell that story. It feels like when those phenomenons can help shed light on things and potentially do some good in the world. It was speaking to a new generation of Millennial parents and giving them some of the language and tools to understand what grooming is, for their kids now. That’s a powerful thing that not all television shows get to do.”

Sarlanis said it has also become a good calling card for ID. “It’s shown filmmakers that when you’re in business with ID, we can do that elusive thing of making a project work on multiple platforms at once, in this very complicated age of linear and streaming,” he says. “In addition to that, the type of story we told is not the thing that you would imagine coming from the ID of years ago. That has allowed us to attract more kinds of stories that the filmmaker community might not have thought to come to us with.”

The evolution hasn’t been without its bumps. For example, some of the subjects interviewed for “Quiet on Set” have expressed disappointment that the doc appeared on ID, which they felt gave it less stature than if it had been a Max original. Sarlanis takes that ding in stride.

“We have tremendous empathy for all the people that were willing to sit down with us on all of our different shows,” he says. “I’m just happy that we were able to give them such a big platform to tell their story — even if it wasn’t the platform they thought going into it. I still am really proud of the product, and I hope they are as well… ‘Quiet on Set’ truly was a phenomenon. And it feels like when you can help shed light on things, that can potentially do some good in the world.”

Sarlanis also notes that the competition in the true crime space has dramatically increased now that the genre is such a major part of the streaming world’s diet.

“Everyone wants their ‘Quiet on Set.’ So that’s intimidating to say the least,” he says. “At last count, I think there were 17 other buyers aggressively going after true crime documentary. So, yes, that’s daunting. But at the same time, none of them have the breadth of crime and investigation that we have.”

That includes some of ID’s favorites are going strong as well: Returning this month are “Crimes Gone Viral,” “Homicide Hunter: American Detective” and “In Pursuit With John Walsh,” as well as “Signs of a Psychopath,” “American Monster” and “Late Night Lockup” in June.

Sarlanis also points to “On the Case with Paula Zahn,” which has been a part of ID for 13 years. “That’s something that has been a part of the network’s DNA from the beginning, is doing better than it’s done in years,” he says.

Sarlanis calls ID’s mix of crime and investigation series the channel’s greatest strength: “Whether it is these massive documentary events, these interesting looks in the psychology of crime or the more action-based shows that we do, we’re constantly reimagining what a true crime show is. The sheer tonnage that we have to do is part of what helps us be competitive. Also, because we’ve got so many opportunities, we’re investing in those next generations of filmmakers. So by the nature of the shows we do, new filmmakers are coming to us first. They might have cut their teeth on a season of ‘On Case with Paula Zahn,’ and then they go on to be the next great documentarian, who’s home is with us. That’s a great competitive edge.”

Sarlanis says he’s particularly proud of “Fallen Idols,” which premieres on Monday, May 27, at 9 p.m. ET on ID (and streaming on Max). “I think that the series will speak for itself, but it does a very compelling job of not just talking about what these incredible survivors are willing to bravely tell from their perspective, but also analyze the family dynamics of a family that has captured America’s attention for two decades,” he says. “There’s a lot in there that I think will be eye opening. And moving for an audience that has loved the Carter family for very long.”

Here is a first look at “Fallen Idols”:

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