How Dateline Reports on True Crime

What’s it like to work on NBC News’ “Dateline,” the most-watched newsmagazine and true-crime franchise of the 2021-2022 broadcast season? Hear from producer Michael Nardi and associate producer Monay Robinson on what it takes to put together a “Dateline” story.  

Who works on a “Dateline” story? 

Michael Nardi: Normally “Dateline” is a two-hour show, sometimes one hour. The size of the team can vary, depending on how quickly you need to turn it around. But it always starts with the producer. The producer is ultimately in charge of the story. From that kernel of a story all the way through to air, everything filters through them. Usually, the producer is assigned or asks for an associate producer to help early in the process. 

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Monay Robinson: I organize all the media, any photos or video. Sometimes I talk to the characters, do pre-interviews, or go out in the field and am a liaison between the crew and our characters to make sure everything runs smoothly.  

Nardi: In addition to the producer and associate producer is the senior producer. That person oversees and advises you, especially early on, about what those first steps should be. That triumvirate is the core of every “Dateline” story.  

How do you put the story together?  

Nardi: When you first get a story, you need to learn and understand as much as possible. That means: What happened? Who are the people involved? Who are people that you might talk to?   

The stories we’re telling are about the absolute worst moments of someone’s life. These people have lost everything, in some cases, and we’re asking them to share that story with us and our viewers. One thing I tell every person I’m talking to about a possible interview is that I can’t imagine what they’ve gone through. We have to understand and navigate that.

We have 12 acts, and we have commercial breaks. You need to find ways at the end of each act to set up the next act so the viewer will want to want to come back.

Is there an alternate suspect? Are there other ways we can pursue the investigation that are not just laser-focused on this person? If the audience members can see themselves in the characters, or if they find the characters compelling and they want to hear what they are saying and understand what they’re going through, they will stick with us the whole way.