•New ABC series stars Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton.
• Crime story is set in the city of Modesto.
• Family and faith play strong role in the story.
“American Crime,” the new drama from John Ridley, follows a diverse group of people in Modesto who are drawn into a shocking murder that draws national attention.
Before tackling TV, Ridley was the producer/writer of the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave.” His television credits include producing “The Wanda Sykes Show,” “Third Watch” and “The John Larroquette Show.”
ABC approached Ridley about making a series about an incident that galvanizes groups of people. Ridley talks about how “American Crime” is that program. The cast includes Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, W. Earl Brown, Caitlin Gerard and Benito Martinez.
Question: Why did you agree to make “American Crime”?
Answer: I had worked very much over the last few years with very specific history, dealing with “Red Tails” or “All Is By My Side,” with “12 Years a Slave.” And it was an opportunity to deal with narrative and to really try to build characters that didn’t necessarily have to be honorific to any specific event. It was really an opportunity to sit down with the actors and talk about these characters and build them out.
What is the key element of the series?
It’s not about the police. It’s not about the prosecutors. But it really is about the family and what they deal with, not just for 45 minutes, but the fact that these events usually take months, if not years, to deal with. And sometimes even then, there’s not a resolution.
How much were you influenced by current events?
There was a difficulty in doing the show because and I think for whatever you do, whether it’s drama, whether it’s comedy, whatever, you want to be relevant to a certain degree. And I think when we originally started working on this show, we were at a space where there were times where I thought, “Well, maybe we’re not relevant anymore. Maybe we’ve moved past certain things.” And then as the show was moving along, very sadly, I realized that we were actually predating some things and that the reality is that, unfortunately, these events remain cyclical in this country.
Why set the series in Modesto?
What we thought that was very interesting about Modesto is it’s a city that perhaps maybe you’ve heard of, but you can’t necessarily think of anything. It’s California, and a lot of people just automatically think California is wildly a blue state and very blue people. But it’s a big state. It’s a complex state. There’s a lot of thought that’s going on in this state, and people are very different. Modesto represented an amazing canvas that could be any city.
What hot button issues to you face?
One of the things I think that’s very strong about this show is we deal very much with family and faith. We examine Christianity. We examine Catholicism. We examine the Muslim religion. We’re not trying to be indicative of any one aspect of those faiths, but how those faiths drive and strengthen people. And sometimes when all else falls away, that’s what remains, is faith, whether it’s religious faith, whether it’s faith in a secular system, or what have you. But having an opportunity over the length of the show to look at faith through many different aspects was very, very important to us.
Why did you decide to use a very non-TV style to make the series?
I think, first and foremost, more than anything else I really wanted to do a show that was observant. And there’s all kinds of television out there. I’m not going to pretend that one is more correct than the other. But honestly, what was very important to me, if this show was going to be about individuals dealing with things, I wanted to be able to see those people deal with something. I wanted to be able to create a space that was observant.
This story will wrap up with this season. How will you be able to do a second season?
The concept of coming back next year, if we are so fortunate, and really challenge ourselves all over again would be very, very exciting to me. I hope it’s exciting to everybody who is sitting here.