If the podcast and articles weren’t enough, “Dirty John,” the popular true-crime yarn from the Los Angeles Times, can soon be consumed as a scripted series on Bravo. And the show’s producers are hoping to sweep viewers off their feet, much like the titular John did.
For the uninitiated (and, hey, you can easily fix that), “Dirty John” was a six-part investigative project, consisting of articles and a podcast, by reporter Christopher Goffard. The tale of manipulation and deception revolves around a handsome con man, John Meehan, and his romance with a woman named Debra Newell.
Taking a break from the show’s first day of filming on the Universal Studios lot, showrunner Alexandra Cunningham was joined by executive producers Richard Suckle and Jeffrey Reiner, and stars Connie Britton (Debra) and Eric Bana (John) to discuss the series for the closing panel for the Television Critics Assn. press tour. (Goffard, a producer on the series, was not in attendance.)
A premiere date has yet to be announced, but here’s what we know so far:
— It will go deeper: With eight one-hour episodes, Cunningham says the framework of the Bravo series is the same as the podcast. But "within those parameters, we’re going deeper on the things maybe the podcast just touched on," she said.
Cunningham said she had access to Goffard’s reporting: “Any road I wanted to go down there was probably 500 pages of stuff to read related to that. It's within that that we're going to play around."
Executive producer Jeffrey Reiner added that while the podcast came from the reporter’s point of view, the scripted series will “delve into a lot of different” perspectives.
“It’s all about, ‘Who is John?' ” he said. “We go back in time [and include] things that were not necessarily in the podcast.”
— Britton met the real Debra Newell: Britton said speaking to Newell proved to be valuable.
“We actually spent a good deal of time together, and I really like her a lot, so it’s been such a great experience for me, and new experience for me, to sit down and really get to ask her questions.” Britton said. “And also, it’s helping to give so much insight into the story in a way that maybe we weren’t able to experience in the podcast.”
Asked if she could understand Debra’s rationale in going back to John, who was often conniving and manipulative, Britton said: "I do get it, now that I've been able to talk to her about it… I know what her confines are as a woman in the culture, and as a religious woman in the culture. I get it. I see why she did."
— You won’t be hearing about a certain AMC show: Apocalyptic drama “The Walking Dead” proved to be an integral reference in the “Dirty John” podcast and companion articles. Debra’s daughter Terra was an avid watcher, and the series would come to serve as a primer on survival mode. (No spoilers, we promise.) But given that Bravo is a competitor of AMC, which airs the zombie drama, you won’t hear it mentioned.
"We will have zombies in the show," Cunningham says. "We just wont be name-checking ‘The Walking Dead.’ I would never leave out the zombie part because it is integral to what happens."
— Bravo-lebrities won’t be making any appearances: Sure, a duplicitous boyfriend sounds straight out of recent seasons of “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” but just because “Dirty John” has backdrops in Newport Beach and Irvine, don’t expect any cameos from “Real Housewives” stars.
“We are trying to adhere to the spine of what actually happened,” Cunningham said
— The show will take a page from John “Dirty John” Meehan: The show will aim to charm the viewer, much in the way John did with Debra.
"The podcast is a fantastic work of investigative journalism,” Cunningham said. “What we’re trying to do is cast the spell that John cast over Debra. We're trying to sweep the audience off their feet the way John swept Debra off her feet."
— The L.A. Times project will span only the length of the first season: For those who don’t know, the show was picked up for a two-season, straight-to-series order. As an anthology drama, the first season will be a close-ended story that will chronicle the John-Debra tale. The second season is still being discussed.