Hot Snakes Media Predicts a Future Where True Crime TV Leans Into the Weird

Neither Eric nor Shannon Evangelista have had the career paths you would expect from a major player in nonfiction TV.

The former spent 14 years as a broadcast news reporter and newspaper journalist; the latter started her career as a federal criminal defense attorney, working in District Attorney offices from Manhattan to Orange County. But it’s precisely this background that helps the Hot Snakes Media co-owners stand out from the pack, particularly with true crime projects like Investigation Discovery’s buzzy “The Curious Case of Natalia Grace.”

“I was turned down for showrunning jobs at Discovery Channel a year before we started ‘Breaking Amish’ and ‘Amish Mafia,’ which were our first two shows and were record-breaking ratings successes for Discovery,” Eric Evangelista told TheWrap.

Since that pair of 2012 breakouts, Hot Snakes Media has been a production company behind other hit shows like Netflix’s “Deaf U,” VH1’s “My True Crime Story” and TLC’s “Return to Amish.” During its first season, “Amish Mafia” broke viewership records for Discovery, bringing in 3.7 million viewers for its premiere.

Creating Hot Snakes Media was a labor of love that’s paid off for the husband-wife creative team. Though Eric started the company on his own in 2010, he said it wasn’t until Shannon came on that Hot Snakes Media “really took off.” She first stepped in to work on legal for Eric’s first show, “Operation Osmin,” which premiered in 2011.

“Like 10 seconds later, I jumped to the other side of the camera,” Shannon told TheWrap. After being part of close to 40 trials, Shannon was growing tired of the intense rules that accompanied examining and cross-examining witnesses. Compared to that strict experience, producing was “refreshing.”

Now aligned in their passions, the Evangelistas took care to support one another while putting the skills they learned in their past careers to good use. That meant a whole lot of pounding the pavement, reviewing police reports and legal briefings and endless research.

“There was one document that was over 600 pages,” Shannon said, recalling a source for “The Curious Case of Natalia Grace.”

“We take a way more investigative approach to our stuff. It doesn’t matter if it’s a documentary or a reality television series, we really spend time with the people who are on our shows,” Shannon said. “We’re very personally involved. No matter how big our company gets, there are still shows that I choose to showrun.”

In this week’s Office With a View, the Hot Snakes Media owners break down how the world of nonfiction TV has evolved over the past 14 years and how they found their place within it.

Walk me through your approach to true crime and nonfiction TV. Why is it so important to engage in the on-the-ground work?
Shannon Evangelista: It’s important to corroborate everything everybody says. Ken [Maxwell, a former member of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force] really helps with that … I like to begin with police reports, any sort of court documents. I also love in-person interviews. Usually, our rule is that the person had to have firsthand experience or firsthand knowledge, which is similar to a court witness.

We love to go out and say, “You were there. Tell us in your words, how do you feel about what happened? What happened? What did you see?” There’s this old saying, when I was an attorney, that if you have seven different witnesses of an event, you’re going to get seven different accounts. We let that be, and it’s always a fun journey.

Eric Evangelista: Most of the people who work on our shows aren’t reality television people. I think that’s what separates us from a lot of other true crime shows. When Shannon runs a true crime show, it’s a real investigation. You are witnessing a real true crime investigation with real investigators.

Hot Snakes Media has worked with Discovery since 2012. How has that work changed since Discovery was rolled into Max following the Warner Bros. Discovery merger?
E.E.: We have more viewers … I like doing shows there because they have good partners. It’s a big deal for us, as producers, to have people who give us notes and executives who work with us at a network. Discovery at TLC and ID and regular Discovery, they have really good executives there that really help us with having success, more so than at other places. We have a lot of freedom there, and we have had a lot of help.

As you’ve been in the space for a while, have you noticed there is an increased interest in true crime and unscripted?
E.E.: There’s an increase in interest in non-murder — like, weird stories.

S.E.: It’s the end of the day and you want something suspenseful, but you don’t necessarily want to look at a crime scene, right? That’s our niche right now. We love that. We do the stuff that has bodies, as well. Trust me, I’ve looked at more autopsy reports than anyone ever should in life, but let’s say you want something fun, quirky and weird. We’ve been doing a lot of those because I feel like there’s a growing appetite for people who don’t really want to be weighed down with the sadness of a murder.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
S.E.: I had a boss when I was at the Orange County D.A.’s office. I know this is a quote, and I don’t know who he was quoting, but he said something like, “It’s not the size of the dog in a fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” My dad used to say that all the time, too.

I have to remind myself of that sometimes, having been in these very heavily male environments — especially when I was a D.A. I have a naturally bubbly personality, and I don’t know how to be any other way. I don’t want to be someone I’m not and be like, “I’m stern, and take me seriously.” I’m myself. So I would remind myself that … [Eric and I], we both will fight for what’s important. We will fight for the people who have the courage to speak to us. We will fight for the artistic integrity of any of our shows. We will fight to tell the story in the most organic way, as it really happened

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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