Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley’s new ABC drama series takes a look at Modesto, CA, as it’s rocked by a racially charged trial involving the murder of a married couple in their home. Like the British miniseries Traffik and its spinoff Steven Soderbergh film, American Crime is an ensemble drama about those involved in a heated situation and how its rocks their lives. More than focusing on the verdict of the trial, Ridley sparked to the project after executive producer Michael J. McDonald and ABC approached him in 2013 by “how people deal with specific things” on the show. “It’s the job of police prosecutors to be objective and move things along in the judicial system,” says Ridley, but there’s another side into how we react as humans. Modesto served as an ideal setting over an areas such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York or even Mississippi because “we already know what the people think in those places geographically.”

american crimeSaid Oscar winner Timothy Hutton about his character Russ, whose son is one of the murder victims:”There’s something amazing about playing a character who has been impacted by tragedy. When you read further in the script, you understand the layers and years of the person’s past. To be able to play those two dynamics is a pretty rare experience.”

The 11-episode series premieres March 5, and it’s a part of a recent initiative for ABC as it looks to emulate the traction of pay cable drama miniseries on its schedule.

One of the parts from the sizzle reel that made critics wince today was a “hands up, don’t shoot” image reminiscent of the events in Ferguson, MO. Asking Ridley how such racially charged events have impacted the show creatively, the creator said: “The difficulty in doing a show like this is that you want to be relevant to a certain degree. When one starts working on the show, you think there are certain events that are not relevant anymore. However, the reality with these events is that they remain cyclical.”

As far as that image, Ridley added: “It wasn’t (our intention) to exploit any of these things. … It wasn’t about putting things in the script for preaching. We want to find ourselves in that space where we could feel honorific to events but not worry about chasing events. There are going be people who draw some parallels with what we are doing.”

Also appearing on the panel were EP McDonald, actors Felicity Huffman, Penelope Ann Miller, W. Earl Brown, Caitlin Gerard, Richard Cabral, Benito Martinez, Johnny Ortiz, Elvis Nolasco and Regina King.