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Everything We Know About HBO Max's The Staircase

In December of 2001, a novelist named Michael Peterson called 911 to report that his wife had fallen down the stairs and died. Soon, he was put on trial and eventually convicted for the murder. This riveting true crime case became the basis for a 2004 docuseries titled The Staircase by filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, which was released on Netflix. The docuseries proved successful in captivating audiences, and it is now being turned into an adapted miniseries for HBO Max with the same title.

According to the Warner Media press release, the new show will pull from the original docuseries, as well as books and reports that have been written on Peterson and the case to craft the arc of the story. The project is described as "an exploration of the life of Michael Peterson, his sprawling North Carolina family, and the suspicious death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson." 

While the news is quite recent and the project is in early development, there are still some details available. Here is what we know about The Staircase so far.

What might be covered on HBO Max's The Staircase?

The Staircase will be an eight-episode limited series for HBO Max and is a co-production between the streaming service and Annapurna Television. HBO Max head of original content Sarah Aubrey said in a statement that the series "will continue to captivate audiences with every bizarre twist and turn."

It's not surprising that this murder trial has garnered so much attention and served as the foundation for not only the docuseries but also the upcoming miniseries adaptation.  According to a Time Magazine piece that details the events of Peterson's story, he claimed that his wife fell due to being in an intoxicated state after mixing wine and valium. However, Peterson soon became the main suspect, as he was the only person around when the death occurred.

Peterson's trial became even more interesting when it was discovered that he was bisexual and had pursued affairs with men outside of his marriage. Prosecutors speculated that his wife Kathleen finding out about his sexuality and affairs could have been the motive for Peterson to kill her. Further, it soon came to light that his close friend, Elizabeth Ratliff, died in a very similar accident and had fallen down the stairs several years before Kathleen's death. Likewise, Ratliff's death was also ruled as a homicide.

Peterson was found guilty of the murder of his wife and sentenced to life in prison. However, in 2013, he was released from prison on parole due to a retrial; Lestrade added episodes to his docuseries that year to follow the release and retrial.

Who will be in The Staircase?

As of now, there is only one cast member announced, as Colin Firth will play the lead role of Michael Peterson in the miniseries. Known for his roles in films such as Pride and Prejudice, A Single Man, and The King's Speech, Firth is no stranger to dramatic roles and will no doubt knock this one out of the park. For fans of Firth, it'll be fun to see him step into a more sinister role, as many of his more famous roles are closer to good-guy characters.

While there aren't any other cast announcements, there is a director set in place. Antonio Campos — known for his films such as 2016's Christine and 2020's The Devil All the Time — is set to direct six of the eight episodes. Campos will also act as co-showrunner with Maggie Cohn, via TVLine.

"This has been a project I have been working on in one way or another since 2008," Campos said in a statement. "It's been a long and winding road, but well worth the wait to be able to find partners like HBO Max, Annapurna, co-showrunner Maggie Cohn and the incredible Colin Firth to dramatize such a complex true-life story."

When will The Staircase be released?

There is currently no word on when The Staircase will be released on HBO Max. The project is pretty much in one of the earliest stages of production, with the series order having just been announced via the Warner Media press release. And, with only one cast member attached so far, there is still a significant number of blanks to fill in for the upcoming project. The casting choices for other key characters — such as Kathleen Peterson and Elizabeth Ratliff — will likely be announced within the coming months, with a release date announcement hopefully arriving soon thereafter.

To estimate the timeline, we can take a look at another HBO Max original, The Flight Attendant. It was announced that the show had received a series order in July 2019, via Deadline. HBO didn't confirm the release date until October 2020, just one month before it aired on November 22, 2020, as noted by TVLine. Going off of this, it will likely be a while before we get the news of a release date — but once it's announced, the release should follow soon. We'll just have to wait for more updates on The Staircase, though at least, there's an existing docuseries to check out on Netflix now if you haven't already.