Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Brennen, Bonnie S.

Second Advisor

Nettleton, Pamela H.

Third Advisor

Turner, Lynn H.

Abstract

Steven Avery was released from prison on September 11, 2003, after serving 18 years for a sexual assault he did not commit. Avery was back behind bars in merely two years for a different crime, the murder of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach (Demos & Ricciardi, 2015). This multifaceted story is the focus of the Netflix true-crime series Making a Murderer, a serialization that became “a word-of-mouth true-crime phenomenon” (Itzkoff, 2016) upon its release on December 18, 2015. In this thesis, I aimed to reveal the meanings audience members derived from Making a Murderer and to connect these meanings to the new media environment. Situated in the field of cultural studies and working from an audience studies perspective, I conducted ten interviews with Making a Murderer viewers. Through a thematic analysis of participants’ responses, I identified one primary theme and a sub-theme. The primary theme, titled “important television,” describes participants’ belief that Making a Murderer was exceptionally meaningful and raised awareness of inequities in the criminal justice process. Its sub-theme, titled “biased television,” explains respondents’ concern with and understanding of an apparent bias in the series. Upon further analysis, I noted a disjunction between the message the film makers attempted to send and the message that was received, which resulted in a more localized understanding of the issues highlighted in the series. Furthermore, I identified the impact of new media on audience perception of Making a Murderer.

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