Jeff Astrof, who wrote, with Matt Miller, NBC’s upcoming mockumentary Trial & Error, said he came up with the idea about five years ago in the early days of the super-hot murder-docu genre, when watching the documentary The Staircase, about a novelist tried for murder after his wife was found dead at the bottom of the staircase in their Durham, NC mansion. At TCA today, Astrof says he commented to his wife, “if this guy was played by Steve Carell it would be the funniest thing I’d ever seen.”
Nick D’Agosto stars as a bright-eyed New York lawyer who heads to a tiny Southern town to defend an eccentric, “rollercizing” poetry professor (John Lithgow) accused of the bizarre murder of his beloved wife.
While the show is played as a spoof of the documentary genre, and Jeffrey Blitz, who is best known for his work on NBC’s mockumentary The Office and the spelling-bee doc Spellbound, Astrof described the trial episodes as playing like episodes of Law & Order “just turned 15 degrees.”
Trial & Error is envisioned as a sort of anthology series. This season wraps with the verdict and a where-are-they-now finish. Future seasons would tackle different crimes, but the main characters and the town will be back. Future seasons might be inspired by The Jinx or Making A Murderer. “Thankfully a lot of people have killed other people,” Astrof said.
Lithgow famously played alien-in-chief Dick Solomon on NBC’s long-running comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun and, more recently, was the Trinity Killer on Showtime’s Dexter. These days he is playing Winston Churchill In Netflix’s The Crown. When one TV critic suggested his having played Trinity Killer clinched this role for him, Lithgow countered it was the “unexpected combinations of characters” he has played in his career that was “a tremendous asset” in taking this role of Larry Henderson.
“People just don’t know where I’m going to go,” he smiled. “People who commit murder are people who can turn on a dime and I turned on a dime many times.”
Henderson is “completely driven by his id,” and “has no sense of priority or proportion,” Lithgow said. The series begins with a recording of a 911 call Henderson makes to police to report his wife is dead. Only he hangs up abruptly when a second call comes in, because it’s the cable company, which he has “been waiting for all day.”
When one TV critic asked Lithgow to describe the similarities between Henderson and Churchill – yes, that happened – Lithgow replied smoothly that the two characters “are very similar.”
“They’re both beautifully written parts,” he added.
Trial & Error will debut following a 90-minute telecast of The Voice on Tuesday, March 7 before settling into its regular 9 PM time period the following week with back-to-back episodes.