This was posted by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
"Crime pays" is a hoary cliche. But it's certainly true when it comes to television programming. It's why "Law & Order" lasted 20 seasons. It's why Atlanta-based HLN still airs 20-year-old episodes of "Forensic Files." It's now what NBC's "Dateline" and ABC's "20/20" newsmagazines focus on week in, week out.
And it's also why Investigation Discovery (known as ID) has become one of the most successful cable networks of recent vintage. In prime time this fall, ID has been the No. 1 basic cable network among women 25 to 54, beating rivals such as OWN, TNT, Lifetime and VH1.
Crazy Legs Productions, an Atlanta boutique TV production company near Piedmont Hospital, has helped ID's rise with three crime shows that use moody, often creepy, re-enactments shot in metro Atlanta: "Swamp Murders," "Your Worst Nightmare" and "Dead Silent."
The company, founded in 2004, preceded the arrival of sweetened 2008 tax credits that brought a flood of TV shows and films into Georgia. This state is now the third busiest behind only New York and California in terms of production.
But while many actors and crew members have relocated to Atlanta, most producers and writers have remained in New York and Los Angeles.
What few production companies in Atlanta are largely home grown like those run by media mogul Tyler Perry and his former right-hand man Roger Bobb. Crazy Legs is another. It actually started long before the tax credits.
CEO Tom Cappello cut his teeth at Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting from 1995 to 2003, mostly in production before going on his own with long-time producer Allison Troxell.
In 2003, they produced History Channel: "Deep Sea Detectives" featuring stories behind shipwrecks using forensic science and archeology, which lasted five seasons. With that success, they decided to create Crazy Legs, named after Cappello's wacky Italian grandfather Tomoso, who would dance with abandon at weddings and special occasions while shouting "I've got crazy legs!"
"We want to attack social issues," Cappello said. "We're trying to make entertaining shows that inform or elicit an emotion."
Over the next dozen years, they have produced 15 different shows including Showtime's football reality show "A Season With," DIY's design make-over show "Mega Dens" and Oxygen's "The Prancing Elites Project" about an all-black male competitive dance team in Alabama.
"We don't do projects just to crank them out, Cappello said. "We do projects we care about. Every show counts. From the president down to the PA [production assistant], we're going to be personally invested in the project. I know everything going on with every show."
Tim Baney, an executive producer at ID, said he loves the way Crazy Legs approach their shows. "They are very cinematic," he said. "There are a lot of companies in New York and Los Angeles that rotate the same people through various shows. You don't get that with Crazy legs. Each show feels fresh and different. You can't even put your finger on how it's different. It just is."
Baney said crime provides a perfect vehicle for compelling storytelling. "It works all over the world even in places that don't have a lot of crime. It's old-fashioned whodunit murder mysteries that also happen to be true stories. It's a combination of emotion and puzzle solving."
Capello and Troxell pitched ID at a conference and sold "Swamp Murders" in 2012.
"Swamps are a dark, nasty, sweaty buggy place where people dump their problems and they go away except they don't," Baney said. "The atmospherics are great. Crickets are chirping. Frogs are croaking. Bodies are dumped and float to the surface. The tag line is 'The truth will surface.' "
They then offered up "Your Worst Nightmare," which is one of ID's scariest shows. "It's closer to a mini-horror movie," Baney said. "The title treatment reminds you of Hitchcock."
ID's most recent pick up from Crazy Legs was a variant of "Your Worst Nightmare" called "Dead Silent," which debuted in October. The concept is crimes that happen where "you're isolated and nobody can hear you scream."
Crazy Legs is a relatively small production company with 20 full-time employees and hundreds of freelancers. "Everyone gets to contribute even though we have some big network shows," said Jamie Miningham, director of production, a Southern native who moved from Los Angeles a year ago. "We're not so large that you don't feel you didn't have your hand in it."
She enjoys the Crazy Legs shoots, which feel far more relaxed than many TV and movie sets. "You have people hungry for the work excited to be there, which is refreshing," Miningham said.
Baney said he can just pick up the phone and get a hold of Cappello quickly. "Tom is a mellow dude. People there just approach things differently. There's not a lot of show-biz BS. They just get down to work."
While Crazy Legs has hired outsiders like Miningham, much of their full-time staff has been there for years. "Once you're here," Troxell said, "we don't let you go. It's rewarding seeing talent grow."
Danny Eckler, a steadicam operator for "Your Worst Nightmare" who has worked for Crazy Legs for two years, likes the nurturing atmosphere: "It's a place for people to learn filmmaking and TV production. It's a training ground. This is a perfect show to get my chops."
And while Crazy Legs certainly takes advantage of the tax credits, Cappello said the company is committed to Atlanta even if the credits disappear.
Crazy Legs is in expansion mode. It recently purchased space in Chosewood Park south of Turner Field for a new 20,000-square foot headquarters in what had been a century-old school that has been empty for about two decades. "It's in a neighborhood that's being revitalized," Cappello said. "We are able to renovate an historic school house. It fits our roots."
There is a lot of work to be done to convert the space. They hope to move in by 2018.
Georgia Tanner, director, helps design a scene with extras Mike Sibley (center) and Jeffrey Allen Sneed (right) CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ firstname.lastname@example.org
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