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TV Series Interrogation Lets You Play Detective As You Watch The Show

Photo Credit: John Golden Britt/CBS.

The creators of the revolutionary crime drama Interrogation on CBS All Access have solved the ultimate creative puzzle, allowing viewers to choose the episodes' order.

By Gina McIntyre

Interrogation streams exclusively on CBS All Access.

When Anders Weidemann was in his twenties backpacking across Asia, he stayed one night at a modest home that had been turned into a hotel. Although the proprietor had once lived there with his wife and two children, the man was now the sole occupant. He gave his guest the run of the place—except for one room, which was off-limits. "Of course, I went in," says the award-winning Swedish writer and producer. "I found a shoebox that contained the couple's entire correspondence. Love letters, postcards, photographs, divorce papers. Everything was out of order, so I had to put the puzzle together. I thought, 'One should write a novel like this.'"

Actors \u200bKyle Gallner and Peter Sarsgaard in TV series Interrogation

Kyle Gallner as Eric Fisher and Peter Sarsgaard as Detective Dave Russell in the CBS All Access series Interrogation.

Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/CBS.

Instead, he and acclaimed show biz veteran John Mankiewicz (House of Cards, Bosch) translated the concept into their groundbreaking new CBS All Access series, Interrogation. The 10-episode true-crime drama, which debuted Feb. 6, tears up the procedural playbook, allowing viewers to watch the pilot and then the subsequent eight episodes leading up to the finale in any order they wish. "This is actually how cold case detectives do their work," Weidemann says, "starting with one interrogation and then following where their instinct takes them."

Actors \u200bKyle Gallner and Peter Sarsgaard in TV series Interrogation

Kyle Gallner as Eric Fisher and Peter Sarsgaard as Detective Dave Russell in the CBS All Access series Interrogation.

Photo Credit: John Golden Britt/CBS.

Inspired by a real-life cold case that Weidemann and Mankiewicz unearthed during meetings with the Los Angeles Police Department, Interrogation centers on the 1983 murder of a woman named Mary Fisher in Sherman Oaks, California, and the subsequent conviction of her son, Eric (Kyle Gallner). Sentenced to life in prison, Eric maintains his innocence from behind bars. The show's stellar ensemble cast includes Peter Sarsgaard, who plays David Russell, the lead detective on the case; David Strathairn as Eric's father, Henry; Kodi Smit-McPhee as Chris Keller, a troubled, homeless teenager; and special guest star Vincent D'Onofrio as Internal Affairs officer Ian Lynch.

Actor Kyle Gallner in prison for TV series Interrogation

Kyle Gallner as Eric Fisher in Interrogation.

Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/CBS.

Determining how to put together such an ambitious, multilinear narrative required patience and ingenuity. After meeting with detectives and other consultants, the producers assembled a skilled team of writers to pen interlinked installments unfolding over the course of three decades. Each script included a lengthy interrogation that would yield important clues. "We didn't know if it was going to work," admits Weidemann.

On the set of TV series Interrogation

(L-R) David Strathairn as Henry Fisher, Kyle Gallner as Eric Fisher and Executive Producer and Director Ernest Dickerson of the CBS All Access series Interrogation.

Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/CBS.

"Essentially, we had to write nine pilots," Mankiewicz continues. "If you can watch them in any order, they each need to have all the basic information about the case. For six months, we looked at how all nine fit together. You had to make them resonate with each other, adding details that bounce back and forth from episode to episode, and different points of view. It was a difficult, but exciting, process."

David Strathairn as Henry Fisher and Kyle Gallner as Eric Fisher in the CBS All Access series Interrogation.

Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/CBS.

As the scripts came together, the showrunners realized that rather than devising a traditional "setup and payoff" for each episode, they instead needed to rely on character-driven "contrasts" to drive the drama. For instance, explains Weidemann, "You have Detective Russell in one episode [seeing himself as] a sweet, loving married man, but then you see him from somebody else's perspective in another episode, and he can be a real corrupt bastard."

Kyle Gallner and Peter Sarsgaard in TV series Interrogation

Kyle Gallner as Eric Fisher; Peter Sarsgaard as Detective Dave Russell in Interrogation.

Photo Credit: John Golden Britt/CBS.

The passage of time also amplified the tension and the mystery—facts that characters felt certain were true can become hazy as the decades wear on. Says Mankiewicz: "Even in our own lives, I've known things that have happened for sure and then found out I was completely wrong. If you add the pressure of a murder conviction to that story, the stakes are incrementally raised."

\u200bPeter Sarsgaard as Detective Dave Russell in TV series Interrogation.

Peter Sarsgaard as Detective Dave Russell in Interrogation.

Photo Credit: John Golden Britt/CBS.

Rooting the series in an actual case also helps make Interrogation feel authentic, something Weidemann and Mankiewicz believe modern audiences crave. They're optimistic, too, that offering savvy viewers the chance to play detective—with a sharply drawn story that taps into larger questions about the subjective nature of the truth—helps the series stand out.

"If you've seen an episode which another member of the audience hasn't, you know more," Weidemann says. "And in that way, you seem smart when you stumble upon the same thing from a different perspective and then you go, 'Aha! I know that this person is lying.' But if you flip it and you watch the B episode first, you think that that person is telling the truth. It's a new structure with many insights," he adds. "It feels like we've been working in a new country where nobody has been before."

Originally published in Watch Magazine, May-June 2020.

Interrogation streams exclusively on CBS All Access.

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