Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
Oscar-nominated feature filmmaker Werner Herzog (whose projects have included the acclaimed documentaries Grizzly Man and Into The Abyss) has a new series of films coming to cable’s Investigation Discovery under the title On Death Row. Premiering later this year, the limited series has Herzog interviewing death row inmates in Florida and Texas to “look into the dark recesses of the human soul,” as Herzog told Deadline in an exclusive interview prior to a TCA session this afternoon. Interestingly, the series evolved from what began as a single film with Into The Abyss. On Death Row is a spare, bleak story literally devoid of bells and whistles — just Herzog’s disembodied narration with unadorned images from Herzog’s one-on-one interviews with four death row killers. And while some will find it odd that a filmmaker of Herzog’s renown could seamlessly move between film and nonfiction TV, he and producer Erik Nelson have been doing so for several years. “It’s sort of a puzzling question that I hear all the time,” he says. “People ask, ‘How can I make both feature films and documentaries? Isn’t that some sort of contradiction?’ But that makes nobody nervous if, say, I’m a writer, if I am Shakespeare writing stage plays and also poetry. That doesn’t make anyone nervous.”
“There’s a common theme in Werner’s work,” Investigation Discovery president/GM Henry Schleiff told Deadline this afternoon, “and that is he’s quintessentially a storyteller. That could be a story about carving buffalo (images) on a cave, carrying a boat across a mountain, exploring what it is to have a passion for bears, or ultimately traveling into the abyss. It’s all about story. What’s rare across the board in entertainment, and often is missing, is a great storyteller. No one is a better storyteller than Werner. And what it’s about is his absolute simplicity. There’s no bells, no car chases, no special effects, just one man talking to another. And that’s unbelievably compelling in Werner’s hands.” Herzog himself said it’s all about starting with the right people — in this case, monsters whose crimes appear utterly senseless. “I’m good at casting,” Herzog says. “I was looking in this case for personalities who stuck out as well as their type of crime.” Herzog doesn’t believe there is any longer much difference in what medium he chooses, and certainly no stigma to operating in TV. “But complete freedom doesn’t exist in any medium,” he says.