This is posted on Monday, January 30, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Actor Hill Harper is a crime and scandal buff separate from his long-time role on "CSI: NY." So when HLN offered him to host a new show focused on criminal cases, he jumped on it.
Called "How It Really Happened with Hill Harper," the show debuted Friday with a two-hour look at the Menendez brothers murder case from 27 years ago. The show uses stock footage and archival interviews from HLN and CNN's coffers, along with fresh interviews with players from cases ranging from JFK Jr.'s plane crash death to Prince's death last year.
"I couldn't be more proud of this project," said Harper in a recent interview. "I've always been interested in telling stories. They've covered all these stories the past three decades."
He said the goal was to take new angles and dig up unseen footage for various stories. And often times, new forensic technology, new witnesses or new perspectives provided fresh ways to view a dusty case.
"Some are cold cases gone cold," he said. "Some are very high profile cases." Indeed, he said since it was season one, HLN picked some low-hanging fruit like alternative angles about O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey, two scandal cases other networks have already studied in granular detail the past year.
Harper noted that the Menendez brothers are still trying to get out of prison for killing their parents and that they have new appeals to do so. "These cases," Harper said, "keep coming back."
Harper, a Harvard Law School graduate, could have ended up handling a big-name case or two if he had taken a different route in his career. But he chose theater instead.
The episode that hit closest to home, he said, was about Prince. "He was a friend of mine," Harper said. "We spent time together. I would go to his home for jam sessions and dinner parties. I've had so many memorable moments with him"
One time, he was at a party that had gone on until 6 in the morning. "We were about to leave when Stevie Wonder came in," Harper said. "Stevie and Prince jammed in front of 12 of us from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. That was once in a lifetime. Two legends! Two geniuses!"
His death, Harper said, "was really a tragedy." He notes that for entertainers and athletes, "we forget the toll the work takes on their bodies. Prince was in a lot of hip pain. He jumped off pianos in high heels. It's not something a body is supposed to do repeatedly."
Harper learned a lot about John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane crash while narrating that episode. "He went to Brown University and graduated before me," Harper said. "I didn't know him. But I saw the connection. I didn't realize he was in a cast and was attempting to fly with that physical limitation."
Ultimately, he said all the crime shows on HLN (and other networks that imbibe this stuff) "is escapism. It allows you to be an armchair detective. This type of show allows you to think about the evidence in a different way and come up with your own opinion."
Harper, in the meantime, is shooting the sixth season of Showtime's "Homeland," playing chief of staff for a president between the election and inauguration. " 'Homeland' prides itself on being extremely timely and political," he said. "Obviously, it's a fun role. The writing is so good. It's really good."
"How it Really Happened With Hill Harper," 9 p.m. Fridays on HLN