‘Trial & Error’ Creator Reveals True-Crime Inspiration for NBC Comedy

TCA 2017: “If this guy was played by Steve Carell, this would be the funniest thing ever,” Jeff Astroff says

Last Updated: January 18, 2017 @ 1:05 PM

Jeff Astroff, the creator of the upcoming NBC comedy “Trial & Error,” said the inspiration for his mockumentary series was the 2004 docuseries “The Staircase.”

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s 2004 BBC documentary miniseries followed the trial of Michael Peterson, who was accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson, in 2001. (A follow-up film was produced in 2012.)

“I said, ‘If this guy was played by Steve Carell, this would be the funniest thing ever,'” Astroff said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Wednesday. After pitching the initial idea, he then teamed up with executive producers Matt Miller and Jeffrey Blitz, whose credits as a director include “The Office” and Comedy Central’s “Review.”

Astroff said the series was conceived long before the recent boom of serialized true-crime storytelling like “The Jinx” and “Making a Murderer,” but it was when the latter exploded in popularity that “Trial & Error” became a top priority.

“We said, if we don’t do this now, someone else will,” Astroff said.

Astroff said he initially planned to include the documentary film crew as part of the narrative, led by an “Aziz Ansari-like” director. But the writers said Blitz convinced them to cut the character out by explaining that no self-respecting documentarian would insert himself in his own project.

“It felt like it pulled you out of the show,” Astroff explained. Eventually the decision came down to the cast they had already assembled, and not wanting to take time away from the other characters.

“The idea with the show has always been can you do a workplace comedy, where at the heart of it is an actual story engine,” he said.