Shining a Light on the City’s Darkest Corners

L.A. Noir examines the intersection of Hollywood, criminal justice, politics and the media.

Crime may be eternal and exist everywhere, but in Los Angeles it tends to be spectacular, and never more so than when it involves Hollywood.

Thus, L.A. Noir, TheWrap’s new column that will look at how and where the entertainment industry, politics and our city’s criminal justice system collide.

While “noir” is sometimes regarded as a cyclical fashion in film and literature, there is — in this town that Orson Welles dubbed “a bright and guilty place” — a vibrant culture of corruption that never goes out of style.

Crime, celebrity obsession and speed-of-thought communications technology have combined to make Los Angeles the city of the permanent trial. It isn’t enough that crime happens — the public’s and the media’s thirst for spectacle demands that at any given moment there be some court proceeding involving the bad behavior of celebrities or Industry figures.

Indeed, media coverage of crime and trials has replaced the once-common silences of the news cycle with a scandalous white noise. At any given moment, someone whose name we recognize or who is connected to a movie or TV show we’ve seen, has to be on the witness stand, has to be chased to his or her car by reporters.

This is the way news has changed and the way we’ve changed as audiences. This transformation has had profound effects on the organizations that gather news and on the personalities who report it. Nine times out of 10 you will find the chipper TV reporters who have just delivered a 90-second recap of a celebrity trial on Temple Street hanging their heads on a bench inside the courthouse lamenting the state of broadcast news.

Which is why L.A. Noir will include coverage of the rapidly changing media, as well as the political forces whose actions often shape – or are shaped by – the media, the courts and the Industry.

A word about myself.

I come to TheWrap after covering pop culture and politics for 25 years on the staff of the L.A. Weekly. I began writing as a theater critic, but before long took to sitting in on murder trials for the Wonderland and Cotton Club cases. I also watched court proceedings involving the mass of Angelenos who were herded before bored judges and processed like applicants at a DMV office.

Yet high-profile or no-profile, I discovered later from covering the trials of Robert Blake, Phil Spector and Anthony Pellicano that L.A.’s courts provide us with our bread and circuses.

Like the greatest dramas, trials are about people in trouble — two sides in conflict, with one of those sides telling a lie while the other tries to expose a secret. Join us as we dig deeply into the dark corners of Los Angeles and Hollywood, those narrow margins where the sunshine never reaches.

— Steven Mikulan