Cold Justice is in a class of its own among true crime shows. The series has lasted on two networks for six seasons and more than 80 episodes, and more importantly, has led to multiple arrests and convictions in cases that were presumed lost. But how exactly does it all come together?
Crime-TV.com spoke to Scott Patch and Ashley Graybow Stelle, who executive produce the series for Magical Elves, to discuss the inner workings of Cold Justice and the keys to the show’s longevity before a new Cold Justice season 6 episode airs tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen.
Crime-TV.com: In our interview with Kelly Siegler, she said she didn’t expect that Cold Justice would still be on the air. What does it mean to both of you that the show has lasted six seasons?
Scott Patch: I’ve been with the show since the beginning, from the first episode of season one—although they shot it before I came on board—and it’s been great. After the first season, when we felt like we had finally figured out what the show was and how to make it as great as it could be, I remember just praying for another season. We’ve been so lucky and grateful that we’ve had so many seasons, and have been able to help so many families and police departments. I don’t think any of us would have imagined that it would have been this successful.
Ashley Graybow Stelle: I’ve been on the show since 2017, but I was a fan before I ever started working here. I remember seeing an advertisement for the show and being so excited, and it’s been an honor to work on it. It’s amazing because there are so many victims that deserve justice, so every episode we continue to be able to work on, and everything that we get to continue to do, is pretty amazing. We hope that we can keep going forever.
Crime-TV.com: Ashley, you have the show’s most difficult job in working with Kelly to evaluate which cases Cold Justice is able to take on. Can you explain what those conversations are like? What are the considerations you have?
AGS: It’s so challenging, because we want to be able to work on every case we hear about. We want to be able to share resources with absolutely every agency we talk to and every victim that we come across. So it really is “Where can we really help the most?” I think that is how Kelly approaches it, and that’s definitely how I approach it. It’s a really thoughtful and painstaking process because like I said, every single victim deserves justice, but it really all boils down to “Okay, in which cases can we best utilize our resources and really help move it across the finish line?”
Crime-TV.com: Then once you’re on a case, homicide investigations are not known for their speed, and Scott has to condense that down into a 42-minute episode. How do you make edits while still presenting a full picture of the investigation?
SP: The coolest part about the show is that it’s a real, active investigation and the cameras are there filming the whole time they’re investigating. A typical case for us lasts between seven and 10 days, where Kelly’s in town working with local law, and for the most part, any time they’re awake, the cameras are rolling. They’re rolling on important conversations, the non-important ones, and every drive to and from witnesses and suspects.
I think we get about 100 to 150 hours of footage per episode, not counting all the archival interviews that were done before we got there from when the case was investigated in the past. We cut it down to around 40 minutes, so about 90 percent of it ends up on the cutting room floor. But our goal is to ensure all the really interesting and wonderful stuff makes it onto the show. I think it does.
These are cold cases that are anywhere between a couple of years old and several decades old. There’s so much detail and so many roads to go down. One of the interesting but fun challenges on the post [production] side, where I am with all the editors and the story producers, is figuring out how to best tell the story so that it’s very clear and everybody understands where law enforcement and Kelly are coming from as they investigate the case.
Crime-TV.com: Kelly is truly the engine that drives Cold Justice, both on screen and as an executive producer herself. Can you talk about how much she brings to the series?
AGS: Kelly is definitely one of the smartest, if not the smartest, people I’ve ever met. She is such an incredibly hard worker and she remembers absolutely everything, so you have to be at the top of your game constantly when working for her, especially because what we’re working on is so important. It is really an honor to work for her and she is so passionate. I think she wakes up every single morning and the first thing she thinks about are the victims and the people that she hasn’t gotten justice for yet. And that passion and dedication really helps drive us, our department and really, the show. We have to live up to Kelly. And it’s really quite cool to do.
SP: I have lots of conversations with her about what we’re including, what we’re not and why, what she thinks is important versus what’s compelling for viewers, or what might be too difficult for viewers to understand. And she’s wonderful. Over the course of the last few years, she understands now what I do and how it all works.
And we both, Ashley and I, can’t speak more highly of her. She is as she appears on the show. She is that genuine. She cares that much. She’s that passionate about the job and it really feels like she was made for this. She’s so talented, smart, and wonderful at what she does.
Crime-TV.com: I spoke to her about the logistics of lining up the investigators for cases. What are the logistics like on your end, as you’re working with different agencies and having to travel all over the United States?
AGS: It is definitely a puzzle so we’re constantly rearranging the pieces. These investigators sometimes have 20 unsolved cases that they’re working on, and either they’re going to court or something happens and pops up. For us the case always comes number one, and the agency really dictates how we move forward with that. So it really is just a constant shuffling of puzzle pieces, making it work and making sure that we are always working in the best interest of the case and of the agency.
SP: The crew will go out, and sometimes they do one case but sometimes they’ll do three back-to-back and they’ll have a day or two in between to reset. It’s so many details, and especially impressive for someone like Kelly, who can keep it all going on in her brain. But they are gone for a significant portion of the year. It’s a hard show to do, both in front and behind the camera. They do spend a lot of time away from home in these really small towns.
AGS: Magical Elves and Oxygen have been really great with their process of scheduling and making an efficient way of producing the show. It does take an immense amount of strategy and maneuvering to plan and produce a season of Cold Justice because it is a really unique show. I’ve been in television for quite some time and I’ve done a lot of different types of shows, and there is absolutely nothing like this. Everybody is incredibly flexible and understanding of the type of material that we’re working with, and we make it work.
Crime-TV.com: How much has working on Cold Justice affected both of you? It seems like the kind of show you can’t be a part of without an impact of some kind.
AGS: I’m much more aware of the laws that govern each state and how different each state is when it comes to their criminal justice system, whether it’s surveillance laws or dealing with juveniles. There’s just so many nuances that I’ve become much more aware of. And because Kelly is so on top of everything, it has really pushed me to dig in and get a better understanding of laws in particular.
SP: What I’ve come to realize, which was kind of a shock when I first started, was the lack of resources that a lot of these small towns have. Some of them have investigators, but they don’t have cold case squads, and they have new crimes coming in all the time. So to be able to have the time and the experience, as well as maybe the finances to get DNA through the system… I’ve realized how strapped a lot of these small town law enforcement officials are and how they really need help. I didn’t realize that before I worked on the show, which is just a wonderful thing that Kelly and the team bring to help try to solve their cases.
Crime-TV.com: Is there any one thing that you want Cold Justice fans to know as they’re watching new episodes?
AGS: I think that viewers see this, but that the biggest thing is that when you are watching the show with Kelly and our investigators, what you see is truly who they are. The passion that they have, the empathy, the true feeling and the grit—everything is real. When you’re seeing Kelly crying with the family, that is not manufactured. She really, truly feels that, and I think that bleeds into what our entire team does, too. It really is “what you see is what you get” with the people on the show, and it is an incredible place to work.
SP: Authenticity is not only in the emotion of the show, but also in how the investigations unfold. There’s no other show that does what we do. These are unsolved cases with a lot of question marks that are really challenging. Many of them are circumstantial evidence cases, which are particularly challenging.
For viewers, the thing I would scream from the mountaintops is just that it’s all real. You’re really in the room with investigators actively trying to solve an unsolved homicide. I think it’s fascinating, and as much as the people who watch the show know, that’s what I could tell people that don’t watch the show. It’s real, it’s unique, and it’s fascinating.
Brittany Frederick has worked 20 years as a professional journalist, reaching millions of readers worldwide with thousands of articles. Her one goal is to meet Jonathan Groff, but she’s sung with Adam Levine and gone 200 MPH with Mario Andretti. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @tvbrittanyf.