Richard Price and Steve Zaillian’s eight-hour HBO limited series The Night Of, based on a four-part UK series Criminal Justice, is “chess, not speed chess,” Price said today at TCA.

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HBO

Price called the project the “antithesis of Law & Order… put-in-the-microwave-hit-60-seconds-and-serve.”

The Night Of  focuses on a complex New York City murder case with cultural and political overtones, examining the police investigation, the legal proceedings, the criminal justice system and the purgatory of Rikers Island. The series stars Four Lions alum and Rogue One actor Riz Ahmed as a student who is the son of a Pakistani-American cab driver in New York and John Turturro as the world-weary lawyer trying to get him out of prison.

Turturro, asked if he fell in love with his John Stone character, shot back, “I don’t have eczema, if that’s what you’re asking.” “All of the characters are beautifully written and it’s fun being one of them,” he added, more generously.

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One TV critic pounced, saying he wanted to talk – a lot – about eczema as a plot device, as a symbol, and as comic relief.  Zaillian jumped in to say the character’s condition was in the original British series, but expanded upon in the U.S. version after they “did a lot of research on it and it became more and more interesting.”

Price jumped in to explain UK series creator Peter Moffat had suffered with eczema for decades. “He wrote me an email saying it went away in the last few years but, guess what, it came back. When you have a malady that is so personal, it becomes part of who you are. I always put asthma sprays in what I write, because I have asthma.” Price, addressing the eczema-enthused critic, noted approvingly that TV critics have “picked up on it as a metaphor for the frustrations of finding a solution and the entire judicial system.”

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HBO

Asked why the main character was made to be Muslim in the US version, when he was not in the Brit original, Price said that in London “you’re going to have white cab drivers but in NY you’re not going to have lot of American Caucasian cab drivers.”

“It’s an entry level job…packed with South Asians, people from the Middle East and from West Africa.  To make him Pakistani, to me, was the most comfortable of options,” he continued. “Once you have a Muslim character,” Price acknowledged, ‘it adds a layer in terms of the fallout to an atrocious headline-grabbing crime. But, he insisted, “this was not designed to get into post 9/11 ISIS, anti-Muslim xenophobia.”

The death of James Gandolfini, who had been attached to play Stone, was tough on a personal level, Zaillian said, “because I was friends with James.” The character was not rewritten when Gandolfini died, he said, because “the character is the character. We did not re-write anything for John…we just went forward with it.”

The Night Of is executive produced by Steven Zaillian, Richard Price, Jane Tranter, James Gandolfini and Peter Moffat; co-executive produced by Garrett Basch, Nancy Sanders and Mark Armstrong.