Netflix’s ‘Unbelievable’ Showrunner Says ‘Creative License Wasn’t Taken at All’ in the Making of the Series

Netflix’s newest limited series (check out Netflix’s best period dramas), Unbelievable, isn’t much different from real events the program’s based on, according to showrunner Susannah Grant. Warning: spoiler alerts ahead. 

Unbelievable premiered on Netflix Sept. 13 and is the newest addition to the streaming service’s lineup of original content (learn why Netflix keeps canceling their best original shows).

The 8-episode show inspired by the 2015 Pulitzer prize-winning article called, “The Unbelievable Story of Rape,” (read the article here) about a young woman who reported being raped in her Washington state apartment only to retract her official statement after those around her suggested she may have been lying. Later, she was charged with filing a false report. 

Years later, detectives in Colorado investigated cases with similar circumstances and made the connection to this previous case in a neighboring state and realized the young woman might’ve been telling the truth after all. 

Watch the trailer for Unbelievable below:

The one thing Netflix changed about the real story for TV

In the Netflix series, the young woman’s name is Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), which brings us to the one aspect of Unbelievable that doesn’t exactly match up with the real story.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Grant said the only difference between the show and the real-life version of events depicted in Unbelievable is the names. In the show, all the characters’ names and identifying features were changed for privacy reasons.

“We were very conscious from the get-go about respecting the privacy of everybody involved as much as possible,” Grant told the publication. 

Marie is the young woman’s middle name and the show’s producers chose the last name of Adler, according to Newsweek.

She continued, saying the authors of the 2015 article, Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller, who worked as consultants on the series, worked with the production team to ensure privacy remained intact for all those involved.  

“Ken and T. had changed the names of all the women who were survivors of this rapist, so we went further and changed a lot of identifying features about them because there’s no reason to let this enter their world in a way they don’t want it to,” she added. 

Story ‘didn’t need any enhancing’

Other than changing the names of everyone involved, Grant said nothing’s different in the series.

“We were very true to the facts of the case and to the work those detectives did and the journey Marie went through,” the showrunner said. 

Kaitlyn Dever
Kaitlyn Dever. | Erik Voake/Getty Images for Netflix

She continued, saying there was simply no need for theatrical embellishments but more about figuring out what story-telling approach to take.  

“It didn’t feel like we had to change much, it was more shaping and pacing and figuring out how to tell the story in a way that made sense in our narrative structure,” she said before adding, “Creative license wasn’t taken at all. It was such an incredible story that it didn’t need any enhancing.”

How the real Marie Adler reacted to ‘Unbelievable’

Among the many Netflix users who have undoubtedly binge-watched the compelling limited series since its premiere is the woman at the center of it all: the real Marie Adler.  

In a number of tweets, Armstrong revealed how the real Marie Adler reacted to the show. While the real Marie Adler called the experience difficult — she told the writer she “cried quite a bit” — Armstrong said she also called Unbelievable “excellent.” 

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org