May 10, 2022 - News

Infamous Durham trial portrayed in new HBO series "The Staircase"

three men stand in a court during a tv show
Colin Firth (center) portrays Durham's Michael Peterson in this new HBO series. Photo courtesy HBO Max

Nearly 20 years have passed since Durham resident, novelist and one-time mayoral candidate Michael Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife, Kathleen, and we're still talking about the case.

What's happening: A new limited series called "The Staircase" premiered this week on HBO. The true crime show stars Colin Firth, Sophie Turner and Michael Stuhlbarg, among other big names.

  • It's set in the Durham area, although it was filmed in Georgia.

Flashback: The case, which stirred up heated internet debates over a so-called "owl theory," was also the subject of a docuseries by the same name by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade.

  • He filmed the series in three parts from 2004 to 2018.
  • Netflix propelled the case further into the spotlight in 2018 shortly after (spoiler alert!) Peterson agreed to a reduced charge of manslaughter and was released on time served.

Owls? Yup. There's an interesting alternative theory to how Kathleen Peterson wound up dead at the bottom of her Durham home's staircase ... an owl attack.

  • If you want to go down a rabbit — errr owl — hole, there's a whole Reddit channel with 15,000 members to discuss this theory with you.

What they're saying: So far the series is just as popular as its documentary predecessor. The HBO series has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the docuseries has a 94%.

The bottom line: It's time for some binge-watching.

two men sit at a diner table
Michael Stuhlbarg (right) plays Peterson's lawyer, Charlotte's David Rudolf, in the series. Photo courtesy HBO Max
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