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‘The Night Of’ sizes up potential for a second season on HBO

Executive producer-director-writer Steven Zaillian, left, actor Michael Kenneth Williams, Riz Ahmed and executive producer-writer Richard Price speak at 'The Night Of' panel discussion at 2016 Television Critics Assn. Summer Tour in Beverly Hills.
(Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Despite surface similarities, no inspiration for HBO’s “The Night Of” was drawn from the massive popularity of true crime podcast “Serial” for one very good reason.

“We started making this show seven years ago,” Steve Zaillian, executive producer, director and writer of the series, told the assembled audience at the 2016 Television Critics Assn. summer press tour.

“I remember ‘Serial’ came out while we were filming and we thought it was a strange coincidence,” added Riz Ahmed, who plays Nasir (Naz) Khan.

Though only three episodes of HBO’s critically acclaimed limited series “The Night Of” have aired, there’s already been talk of how a second season could be crafted from a story that ostensibly has a definitive end.

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“This was designed as a stand-alone piece,” Steve Zaillian, said when asked about the potential for a second season. “That being said, there are ways of taking what [the show] feels like and what it’s about and doing another season on another subject. We’re talking about it.”

The limited series, which debuted on HBO July 10, serves as an in-depth examination of the New York City criminal system via lawyer Jack Stone (John Turturro) and his client Naz, who is suspected of murder.

Loosely based on the BBC series “Criminal Justice,” the aim of “The Night Of” was to take the idea of an examination of the legal system and delve into the details that make America’s criminal justice system unique, executive producer and writer Richard Price said.

This process expanded the original series’ four-hour run to the eight hours “The Night Of” became.

“It was basically the small chips of life,” Price said of what was added to the series to fill out the additional time. “Going through a gauntlet like that expands the show into a whole universe. It was a painful process. It was chess, not speed chess”

Central to the expanded detail of “The Night Of” was the oppressive presence of Rikers Island, with the jail serving to ground the series as a uniquely American experience.

“When you go there, it’s startling,” said actor Michael Kenneth Williams, whose Freddy is a longtime inhabitant of the jail. “It’s not even a prison. It’s a jail, that feels like a prison.”

Williams, who based his character in part on the experiences of his incarcerated nephew, expounded on the reality of Rikers, saying “It’s startling to know that someone can steal a backpack or be accused of stealing a backpack and be there for 18 months waiting for a trial. Whether you’re guilty or not, you have to go to that place.”

For as much praise as the show has received, there are still criticisms it contends with, in particular the choice to make Naz a Muslim, leading some to wonder if such a choice plays into pre-existing racism.

From Price’s point of view, Naz’s faith is a natural extension of transplanting the show to New York from London.

“In the original, you’re going to have white cab drivers in London. In New York, it’s the immigrant’s first job,” Price said, adding that Naz is specifically Pakistani because of a novel on Pakistan his wife was writing at the time.

“In terms of how this metastasized into an examination of post-9/11 malice, I just thought of this guy being the son of a real NYC cab driver,” Price said.

Episode 4 of “The Night Of” airs Sunday (July 31) on HBO.

libby.hill@latimes.com

Twitter: @midwestspitfire

For more on TCA press tour:

‘Stranger Things’ has big plans for a second season, if Netflix gives it the green light

‘Gilmore Girls’ reboot will be home in time for Thanksgiving

PBS president voices concern over TV-to-wireless auction


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