‘American Crime’ EP John Ridley Says They ‘Never Tried to Exploit Events’ Like Ferguson

TCA 2015: ABC’s new series contains storylines and imagery that feel ripped from the headlines

Executive producer of ABC’s new drama, “American Crime Story,” John Ridley tried to distance the show from any idea that its story is “ripped from the headlines.”

“Whether its drama or comedy, you want to be relevant,” Ridley, who wrote “12 Years a Slave,” said during Wednesday’s Television Critics Association press tour. “When we originally started working on the show, there were times where I thought, ‘Maybe we’re not relevant anymore’ and then I thought we were ahead of the times. The reality is, fortunately, these events remain cyclical.”

“American Crime” follows the home invasion murder of Matt Skokie — a war vet — and an assault on his wife, Gwen, and the subsequent trial and events surrounding four suspects and their families. As the series unravels, everyone’s part in the crime, including the victims and beliefs around race, faith gender and class will come to the surface.

Before the panel, ABC played the first look for the series. In it, a man says “Hands up, don’t shoot.” The saying and gesture comes from the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. It would become a power symbol in demonstrations in Ferguson after the shooting incident, and throughout the United States following the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer involved in the shooting.

Ridley said the show didn’t set out to reference the Ferguson events.

“You talk about a very specific image there,” Ridley said. “It’s not about putting things into the script where we’re preaching. Sometimes, it is just the image or shot. It’s something that resonates. Whether it’s the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ or going very tight on the eyes of a police officer when we realize a situation is about to get out of control. We just found ourselves in that space and wanted to make sure we could be honorific to events, not worry about chasing events, but realize that yes, rightly or wrongly, people are going to draw parallels with what we’re doing.”

“It was never our desire to exploit these events,” he added.

“American Crime” premieres Thursday, March 5 at 10 p.m. on ABC.