Three seasons in, it appears that American Crime Story has chosen to define "crime" as a media circus surrounding a criminal or civil prosecution in the 1990s. Which, by the way: excellent. The '90s were a huge decade for media circuses, and the stories that they've chosen so far — the O.J. Simpson trial, the Andrew Cunanan murders, the impeachment of Bill Clinton — were some of the biggest. With Impeachment closing its last chapter this week, though, it's time to speculate where the series could go from here.
It should be noted that there has been talk of a fourth season focused on Studio 54, and how its proprietors, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, were sent to jail for tax fraud in 1980. That would move the series out of the 1990s, but it'd certainly be juicy and would allow for some pretty amazing casting possibilities. We should also note that while all notorious crime stories have been covered in other works to some degree, some have been done so recently and/or in formats too similar to ACS to consider repeating. (We're looking at you, NBC's subpar Menendez brothers miniseries.)
With that in mind, here are five notorious crimes that seem ripe for the picking as American Crime Story considers future seasons:
On April 30, 1993, Monica Seles was stabbed in the back during a changeover by a crazed spectator at a tennis tournament in Hamburg, Germany. Seles was the #1 player in the world at the time, and her attacker explicitly said that his motive for the attack was to help Seles' top rival, Steffi Graf, return to #1. Seles wouldn't return to tennis for over two years. While sports stories haven't been Ryan Murphy's focus as a producer, the world of women's tennis, with its big personalities and bigger rivalries would seem to have what it takes to be a compelling sandbox for him.
Major Players: Seles and Graf would be irresistible casting for any twentysomething actress, and both women would be fascinating characters to explore. Seles came to the U.S. at a young age from her native Yugoslavia, while Graf ended up embroiled in a scandal of her own when her father got sent to prison for tax evasion.
The son of legendary actor Marlon Brando, Christian's life was littered with sordid, tragic, and scandalous events. He was kidnapped as a child by his mother, taken to live with a biker gang, and was only found after his father paid private investigators to rescue him. In 1990, he shot and killed his sister's boyfriend after a short argument, and was subsequently convicted for the murder in a trial that garnered a ton of media attention, most especially when Marlon Brando took the stand himself to plead for a lenient sentence for his son.
Major Players: Well, for one thing, Robert Shapiro was one of Christian Brando's lawyers, so I hope John Travolta is ready to suit up again. But obviously, casting Marlon Brando would be the blockbuster here, and Murphy would probably have his pick of about a dozen actors who'd be salivating for the role (too bad he can't go with Burt Reynolds). But it wouldn't end there. The late-in-the-season twist comes when Christian Brando was later implicated in the Robert Blake murder trial after it was revealed that he'd threatened Bonnie Lee Bakeley..
Before O.J. and the Menendez brothers, there was William Kennedy Smith, who was accused of raping a woman in Palm Beach, Florida, and whose trial was among the first to be televised. Spurring interest was the fact that Smith was a member of the Kennedy political dynasty and had been out with his uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy the night of the alleged rape. While the Kennedys have been documented ad nauseam in American culture, this particular chapter in their history has not, even though it was a major scandal and a pivotal moment for crime coverage in media and the sexual assault discourse (the TV coverage famously obscured Smith's accuser's face with a big blue circle in order to preserve her anonymity).
Major Players: Giving Ryan Murphy free reign to cast the Kennedys feels like giving someone an unregistered weapon. Additionally, Smith's attorney was Miami attorney Roy Black, notorious for representing countless celebrity defendants, and who would later marry future Real Housewife of Miami Lea Black.
This story truly has it all, including angles for the media, politics (including President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, if Murphy hasn't burned himself out on them after Impeachment). In 2000, five-year-old Elian Gonzalez was recovered in an inner tube off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, his mother and her boyfriend having died trying to escape to Florida from Cuba. The international tug of war that followed between the Cuban and U.S. governments, the Cuban-American community in Florida, and a rabid news media with agendas on both sides of the political aisle dominated the news cycle for weeks.
Major Players: A major geopolitical story like this would give Murphy the chance to cast Bill and Hillary again, sure, but he'd also get to cast Fidel Castro. Another major player, aside from Gonzalez and his family, would be Attorney General Janet Reno, who became such a flashpoint of U.S. government overreach that she'd end up getting parodied by Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live.
This one would take the show out of the '90s, but if they're looking at Studio 54, it would seem that's not such a hard and fast requirement. Like the Kennedys, the Manson family hasn't lacked portrayals in popular culture, most recently in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where Dakota Fanning had a scene in which she portrayed family member Squeaky Fromme.,Fromme was not present for the Tate-LaBianca murders, but she still attained her own place in infamy in 1975, when, with Manson behind bars, she attempted to assassinate then-President Gerald Ford.
Major Players: Telling Fromme's story opens things up to cast other members of the Manson family, which Murphy did briefly during American Horror Story: Cult (Fromme herself wasn't included). He could also steer into the whole Assassins vibe and twin Fromme's story with Sarah Jane Moore, who also tried to assassinate Ford in 1975. The prospect of an American Crime Story season swirling around the media sensation of two female attempted assassins feels right up this show's alley.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.