Is Lifetime Becoming The Natalee Holloway Network?

Tracy Pollan in "Natalee Holloway" (Lifetime)

Tracy Pollan in "Natalee Holloway" (Lifetime)

A movie where the titular character is dead would not seem to lend itself to a sequel. That’s not stopping Lifetime from taking a second shot at the story of murdered teenager Natalee Holloway with, “Justice for Natalee Holloway.”  In what may come to be the “Weekend at Bernie’s 2” of true crime films, Deadline is reporting that the channel has not only greenlit a second film about the case, but has ordered a reality series starring Natalee’s mother, Beth Holloway, entitled “Vanished With Beth Holloway,” in which she will interview the families of missing people. Is this sleazy exploitation on the part of both network and Beth Holloway, or a legitimate exploration of a crime that has captivated the nation?

The original Holloway film, “Natalee Holloway” debuted in April 2009 on Lifetime’s sister station, the Lifetime Movie Network. It was the highest rated movie in the network’s history, with 3.2 million people tuning in to watch a dramatization of the story that Nancy Grace raged about for months.  Coverage of Natalee’s disappearance filled countless hours of cable news airtime. The case has numerous sensationalistic aspects: it happened in the exotic vacation destination of Aruba. There were several red herrings. The suspected killer, Joran Van Der Sloot, turned out to be wealthy, handsome and so evil that he seemed invented by the writers of “Criminal Minds.”

Lifetime realized that true crime stories featuring attractive young white women were ratings gold. In 2009 Lifetime executive Tanya Lopez told The New York Daily News, “Women like things that are authentic and that they can learn from. We don’t just do a ‘ripped from the headlines’ movie. We tell the story behind the story, from a female point of view.” While numerous true crime movies including “Amish Grace” and “The Green River Killer” still debut on LMN, the highest profile crimes get movies on the mothership Lifetime network.  Last month, 5.3 million people tuned in to watch “The Craigslist Killer,” about the medical student who murdered a masseuse he hired on the website.  Its director, Steven T. Kay, was hired to direct the new Holloway movie. This week’s “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy” did not so as well. It may have been less appealing because the attractive young white woman’s victim status was questionable.

Natalee Holloway’s name may be the hook for the new film, but she will barely be a character in it. The focus will be on Van Der Sloot’s attempts to extort money from Beth Holloway in exchange for information about Natalee and his subsequent arrest in Peru for the murder of a woman named Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramírez, who, at least in the U.S., has been deemed less newsworthy than Natalee.  Barring any new developments in the case, there will be no actual justice for Natalee Holloway in “Justice for Natalee Holloway,” since Van Der Sloot has yet to be charged with her death.

Perhaps that’s why Lifetime is focusing on its other stock character, the crusading mother. The docudrama’s Beth Holloway, played by Tracy Pollan, heroically works with the FBI to get Van Der Sloot indicted for extortion and wire fraud. The real Beth becomes Lifetime’s John Walsh, helping bring attention to other families whose loved ones were the victims of what the network has deemed, “unspeakable crimes.” Some may cynically view Beth Holloway as a Kate Gosselin-style opportunist, profiting from her daughter’s disappearance.  To others, she will be someone whose experience makes her a powerful advocate for crime victims.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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