Is 'Shot in the Dark' Netflix’s Most Tasteless Show of 2017?

Netflix’s new eight-part documentary “Shot in the Dark” casts focus on three rival Los Angeles-based video journalists as they chase down the “story of the night,” all with the aim to sell their footage to the news outlets for the morning news. But as the city consumes itself through the night, does the slick production fail to address the morality of the journalists altogether in the hunt for a "Grand Theft Auto"-style brand of entertainment?

In the first episode, we are introduced to the three Los Angeles stringers, journalists who aim to get to newsworthy incidents as quickly as possible by reacting to police and emergency frequencies. The stringer who gets the best footage in to the TV channels first will be the one to cash in with the most “hits” on the local, and sometimes national, news. We quickly learn that there are serious dollars to be made on car crashes with multiple deaths, large fires, and gun fights. The producers of the show use this competition between the three stringers as the leading narrative across the series.

We have Howard Raishbrook and his two brothers who run RMG News, more down to earth than their rivals, but struggle to compete due to their lack of resources, and a long run of bad luck. The main reason for their struggles is the 25 person strong network of stringers Zak Holman has created at On Scene TV. The cocksure younger man of the three main protagonists uses his shady charm to establish relationships with cops in the hope of being offered favorable angles at crime scenes. Lastly, there is the lone ranger, Scott Lane of LOUDLABS News. Lane is the bristliest and most morally corrupt of the three, regularly arguing with police, walking all over crime scenes, and ignoring speed limits.

The production goes to great lengths to make us feel like we’re watching characters in a video game. Stringers are given team colors using car interior LED lights, they use slick GPS graphic transitions as the race to incidents hots up, and each scene is ended with a tally of “hits” or sales to newscasters for each stringer. I was continuously stunned at how trivial some incidents were made out to be. On particularly sensitive incidents, there would be a beat where the stringer would acknowledge the morally gray area of profiting off of such life damaging events for the victims, but before you know it they were hurtling down the 405 on the hunt for the next inferno.

[SPOILER: The one occasion where the larger implications of the industry come into focus is in the first episode, which is certainly most interesting. Raishbrook's brother Austin arrives on location of a broken down car on the freeway. It’s only a matter of time before it’s hit by speeding traffic, and Austin has thrown down his camera to pull out the driver from the burning wreckage. The hero of the hour, while visibly still shaken up, is joined by rival Holman who offers his congratulations through gritted teeth for capturing the collision on tape. In the following episodes we see Austin go through a version of post traumatic stress and ends up leaving his brother’s firm. It's a fascinating storyline that isn't explored enough in my opinion.]

Cinematically, the show looks excellent and is all tied together with gorgeous graphic content. All of the footage is shot at night under challenging lighting conditions, and the film crew can be applauded for being on point with their camera work. Yet, to belittle such tragic events reminded me of the sadistic nature of mauling down pedestrians on "Grand Theft Auto," and how these appeases the simple-minded masses. But these are real lives who don’t get to hit the power off button at the end of the night.

The story here shouldn't be the comic book-style competitiveness of the stringers, but the thin line they tread personally and professionally to support their families in the hope that others are destroyed in dramatic and newsworthy hit-and-runs, bus fires, and homicides... especially the ones that look great on camera.

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michael buehrle's picture

i don't think this is the most tasteless show of the year. there is so much crap on tv that this one doesn't even make my top 20 of bad shows. i think it gives a good look at the competitive nature of LA stringers. i do want to know how much 1 "hit" is worth. i don't think they ever said it. it's a dog eat dog world of video stringers. i would have liked to see more.

Zach Iddings's picture

I agree with this guy. I loved the show. Gritty and raw. Don't act like you don't look at car crashes when you drive by either, because you do. Hell, one of the Roishbrook brothers even saved a life. Yeah the Loudlabs guy is a dick and speeds, but why are you blaming Netflix for that? Its life. Some people are dicks, some people save lives. I didn't think of Grand Theft Auto once while watching the show, so I'm not real sure where that got pulled in from aside from how cool the production is on the graphics package.

I hope there's a season 2.

David Arthur's picture

"I hope there's a season 2."

Especially after how the last episode ended. It was begging for a season 2!

David Arthur's picture

I did not think it was tasteless. Dealing with these issues is a part of life for many people. Including journalists of all types. Clearly, you haven't done any photojournalist work. But these stories need to be told. I do feel that even the tragedies are beneficial to share with the public. I do agree that the story about Austin was skipped over too easily. And that the guy from onscene is obnoxiously confident and the guy from loud labs is equally obnoxious for being brash. But the most tasteless show of 2017? No way.

Peter Kertz's picture

I worked overnights in news for years when I started shooting 20 years ago. This is nothing new, and certainly not tasteless. What's tasteless is most of the stuff that happens between 12-4am.

Jan Strandstrom's picture

Same here, did news photography in the beginning of my career and they usually had 3 questions they asked 1. Is someone dead, 2. Can you see blood, 3. Any children involved. If I said no to all of them then there was no interest.

Patrick Callahan's picture

A UK music vlogger writing that LA stringers are tasteless - now that's funny!

Mike Kelley's picture

I worked in this industry for a couple years when I first got started in LA and was dead broke and needed money so I actually edited video for awhile in one of these operations. No, I don't think it's tasteless, it's not much more than reportage. What is really tasteless would be the paparazzi waiting on every streetcorner for whoever the most famous celeb of the week is to get a shot of their kids. These news stringers aren't really shoving their cameras in people's faces or trying to get a reaction - the paparazzi stuff is 10x worse

Allen Reid's picture

Tasteless? Welcome to TV news where "...if it bleeds, it leads." I've been shooting/editing news for 30 years and it's nothing new. There have been news organizations that have tried "feel good news" and have all done poorly in the ratings. Why do you think people slow down and stare at car wrecks, as "tasteless" as that is? I found the show very interesting. Well produced, although after a binge viewing on my part, I started to wonder and figure out how much of the story was "sweetened" with audio and video shot later and added to the scenes. I wonder just how much of the driving video was shot and edited in later. Like most "reality" shows, I'm sure the guys were told or knew to play it up for the camera in terms of creating conflict between the characters. I also found it interesting that RMG was the company behind the Netflix series. As mentioned, the series is shot and edited very well and that's part of what kept me watching. It was also interesting to see several scenes that I had seen go national (the stringer who walked up to the carjacker for one). I hope there is a season 2, but I have a feeling they will play up the conflicts even more if that happens.

Roger Morris's picture

What a ridiculous "article". One of the most misdirected bits of rubbish I've ever read on Fstoppers.

"Shot in the Dark" is an excellent documentary series, shot absolutely brilliantly, and succeeds in giving folks a look into the real life process of overnight news gathering in LA.

Mr. Briggs from the UK, obviously doesn't understand what it is he's writing about in this case. The article comes across as a Brit sitting across the pond declaring LA as lacking in civility.

The final childish comparison to a video game comes across as nothing more than lazy journalism, and drives home the point that the author doesn't have a clue what he's writing about.

Andress Kools's picture

The show's been on my list for a couple weeks now. After reading the article I wasn't sure if this was worth my time, but the comments make it seem more like a show that portrays the reality of 'getting there first' to make money.
Sensationalism is something we all share, but most people forget there's always someone behind the pictures we see, someone with a motive. I'm interested to see these people's motives, their drive and their evolution through the series. So, thanks commenters.

Ferdinand Teunisse's picture

watch it. Just a a photo/videographer the visuals and the the way its shot is amazing. Yes its about people rushing to accidents for money but its done pretty well. they constantly bring the ethics in and you can tell the people doing the job struggle with it. except scott who has to be a sociopath :P As mentioned the episode where the witness an accident and save someones life really was eye opening how human these guys are in the long run. I recommend it and hope they make a season 2

Rob Watts's picture

^ What he said. I loved this show. I can't wait for Season 2. I think the show did a great job of showing the conflicted feelings of what these guys do vs the human in them.

P.S - nice click-bait Fstoppers

Motti Bembaron's picture

Oh no, there is so much garbage on TV this one has to stand in line for that title :-)

John Ellis's picture

Tasteless is NOT a word that springs to mind when watching this series. Mike Briggs, who are you? The videography is fantastic! The potential merger between RMG and LoudLabs in the final episode was such a great close. I can't wait for the second season.

Marc J Wrzesinski's picture

So it's the docu version of Nightcrawler from a few years ago -- which featured an amazing Jake Gylenhall performance.

jon apple's picture

I created this account after reading the comment stream here. I think the article got it right and Its sad to see so many comments "Are you kidding - this is just TV news". TV news is terrible - its straight up unapologetic tragedy porn. The show as the article states is well crafted and there are some points of interest. So maybe the attention grabing headline "most tastless show of 2017" was also in bad taste. that said I think the ending is right on target

"The story here shouldn't be the comic book-style competitiveness of the stringers, but the thin line they tread personally and professionally to support their families in the hope that others are destroyed in dramatic and newsworthy hit-and-runs, bus fires, and homicides... especially the ones that look great on camera."

Chris Bradshore's picture

I dont understand why Austin is celebrated as a hero for helping the man in the accident. He and we as viewers clearly know that an accident was going to happen and still he just sits there with his camera. I do understand that he would put himself in harms way exiting his car but he just sat there totally apathic and numb. I dont know the laws in the US but doing the same thing in Scandinavia where I live would be from a public stand point totally unacceptable. From a legal perspective you have to do what you can do to stop an accident - and this would not be filming an accident going to happen.
I hope his reaction afterwards are not only PTSD but also somekind of inner distress caused by a reflection over his own reactions. I would be ashamed of my self acting like him in such situation.

Brandice Woodbury's picture

The fact that I'm here in Nov. 2022, because I was disgusted by the behavior and disregard for human life, says a lot. But then to equate yourself (stringers) with the REAL HEROES, is infuriating. Like the PRICK that filmed somebody in desperate need of help but chose to watch as he is almost killed when hit, and the other driver! He saw the lights go out. It would have been possible for him to either park behind the disabled vehicle and put the hazards on. How date you then take credit for the rescue! YOU COULD HAVE PREVENTED IT YOU GREEDY VULTURE! You get in the way and put rescue and LEOS at greater risk by being a liability. They cannot watch your dumbass, their crew, the public and then the job! The driving like a fuc*ing moron to get to a scene is not only putting others at risk yet again, but ILLEGAL. I think the press are repugnant for the most part, but I do understand their purpose. However that does not mean you have to be a dick about it. How would you like to wake up and think your loved one is in the other room, turn on the tv, only to see your loved one being filmed in their last moments? Like the reporters who call a victim's family at 7 am, and say 'How do you feel about the rape and murder of your daughter by a crazed man last night?' REALLY?! And they haven't even been notified by police yet. LEARN SOME FUCKING RESPECT