True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here interview with host and advocate Hilarie Burton Morgan

Hilarie Burton Morgan- It Couldn't Happen Here _ Season 1 - Photo Credit: SundanceTV
Hilarie Burton Morgan- It Couldn't Happen Here _ Season 1 - Photo Credit: SundanceTV /

We chatted with advocate and actress Hilarie Burton Morgan about her new docuseries True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here and what she hopes it will achieve. The six-part docuseries premiered last week on SundanceTV. Burton Morgan visits various small towns across the country to inspect criminal cases that rocked these rural communities.

For the premiere, Burton Morgan traveled to Adel, Georgia, where a string of brutal murders occurred. But DNA testing could prove that the wrong man is in jail. In tonight’s episode, the actress visits Sauquoit, New York, a small hamlet where a local chiropractor is poisoned by someone she knows in a case that divides an entire town.

Ahead of the second episode debut, 1428 Elm participated in a conference call with Burton Morgan to discuss the show and why she is so passionate about it, shedding light on how the justice system fails these towns that don’t always have the best resources.

Chatting with Hilarie Burton about True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here

1428 Elm: You’re having a lot of great success with the Drama Queens podcast, but I’m curious if you’ve considered doing a podcast companion to this show? Especially since some of the cases are still in progress, like the case from Adel, Georgia and I thought it would be cool to get more updates as they’re reviewed by courts again. 

Hilarie Burton Morgan: I’m so happy you asked that. The absolute hardest thing about putting this show together was cutting it down to 45 minutes. There is such an abundance of information for each case. Each case should be its own series. It really should.

The work of our team in editing together something concise but clear for our viewing audience was a major task, and they’ve done an extraordinary job with that. That said, we are exploring the podcast world because we really have so much information we want the public to have so they can get involved.

We got the note a number of times; whether they’re family members or former law enforcement, they were like, “we’ve done other true crime shows before, and you guys are the first people to really sit and listen to us, and just talk.” I hope that’s what’s different about this show.

I don’t want it to be interviews. I want it to be conversations the way we would have in our coffee shop in town, the way we would have standing on the sidelines at a soccer game. I want the conversations to be earnest and empathetic. I don’t like true crime for the sake of voyeurism.

It kind of freaks me out that people are like, “oh my god, that’s my favorite murder, ever!” Like guys, that’s the worst day of somebody else’s life! If we can build out on these stories and share all of the information we were fortunate enough to gather, I think that would be a great use of our time and resources.

True Crime Story: It Couldn't Happen Here
Hilarie Burton Morgan with Joyce Argo and Rebecca Lane- True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here Season 1 – Photo Credit: SundanceTV /

1428 Elm: Shifting gears a little, talking about small towns, I’ve always found it interesting that in fiction and media, we’re a little obsessed with the small town where nothing ever happens. The show’s name, True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here, is obviously a play on that.

If you pick up any Stephen King novel, Stranger Things, even One Tree Hill kind of dabbled in that—why do you think we’re so fascinated by the darkness in small towns, behind the white picket fence and that trope, in general? 

Hilarie Burton Morgan: To me, as a reader, the southern gothic literary movement was one of our finest creations as America. We output some great literature. What was great about that genre is that previously, the gothic movement was all about monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula and fantastical things that are scary but weren’t real.

And then Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, all of these great writers came out and started telling stories where the villain is your next-door neighbor. The bad guy is the pastor. The bad guy is your husband or your wife. That’s chilling, and unfortunately, reality backs it up, which makes it even scarier.

My husband [Jeffrey Dean Morgan] works on The Walking Dead, which is a huge universe, that has a really wonderful, strong fanbase. Essentially, that show boils down to a number of small communities where people are constantly seeking justice. That’s really at the heart of this story. There is no anonymity in a small town.

True Crime Story: It Couldn't Happen Here
Hilarie Burton Morgan with Joyce Argo and Rebecca Lane- It Couldn’t Happen Here Season 1 – Photo Credit: SundanceTV /

We hear about crimes in the city, you know I get alert on my phones from Manhattan, and it’s like, “this happened up here, or this happened over here,” and I don’t know those people, I have never met them, I don’t know the lawyers involved.

However, the catalyst for this show was the Nikki Addimando case in the Hudson Valley, about a survivor of domestic violence who shot her partner. I didn’t like some of the things I was reading in the newspaper about her case.

When I looked up the judge involved in the case, I saw a Facebook profile of him taking pictures with all of my friends. He had gone to all of the same hospital benefits and charity fundraiser events. That proximity is frightening, and it makes it so much harder to speak out when you see something is wrong.

I think that’s why we’re all collectively drawn to it because it happens, everybody’s got a story about it happening, and the players are all people that we know. And that makes it way more frightening.

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New episodes of True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here air Thursday nights at 10/9c on SundanceTV.