TNT's new crime drama Murder in the First marks a return to form for Steven Bochco, the creator of pioneering cop shows like NYPD Blue and L.A. Law. (No, it's not based on the 1995 movie of the same name.) Starring Taye Diggs (Private Practice) and Kathleen Robertson (Boss) as homicide investigators Terry English and Hildy Mulligan, the show follows the investigation, from start to finish, into a single case — namely, a double homicide.
Structurally, Murder in the First uses a similar formula to Murder One, the ABC show Bochco created in 1995. The 10-episode first season is divided into three acts chronicling the entire legal process, staring with the crime and initial investigation, continuing with the trial, and ending with the verdict and its aftermath. Though Murder One was canceled after two seasons, at the peak of TV's modern Binge Era two decadess later, the format aligns nicely with "event series" and anthology fare like FX's Fargo and HBO's True Detective.
"I don't know that we've reinvented the wheel here. I don't think that was the mandate with this show," Bochco tells TVGuide.com. "What I like about it is — and I've never really done this before — it's a show that really combines all the elements of the criminal justice system. ... What we're able to do is start the show as essentially a police procedural, and then it becomes a legal drama, and then it becomes a courtroom drama, and then it comes full circle back to being a police drama. So for me, it really was an opportunity to combine several familiar genres, and I enjoyed it immensely."
Hildy and Terry's murder investigation leads them to smarmy tech wunderkind Erich Blunt (Tom Felton), who has connections to both of the people who turn up dead by the end of the pilot. But while Murder in the First is a detective story on the surface, it also has an undercurrent of examining class warfare between the haves and the have-nots in urban communities like San Francisco, where the show is set.
"The new sort of billionaire class in San Francisco has really sort of upended the socioeconomic balance of the city to a significant degree, and has caused some degree of angst in the community as people get priced out of neighborhoods and stuff like that," Bochco says. "Here you've got this community of youthful billionaires, and these are kids who basically never hear the word 'no.' And on the other side of it, you've got working-class cops in the criminal justice system, and it's a very different approach to life. So, setting those two cultural elements on a collision course is kind of interesting."
With TV veterans Richard Schiff, James Cromwell and Steven Weber appearing in supporting roles, Murder's first few episodes focus mainly on Hildy — a single mom who's trying to balance her career with raising a 6-year-old daughter — and Terry, who loses his wife to a terminal illness in the first episode.
"I liked, as I always do, the idea of giving these partners two very real and separate private lives, and seeing how those private lives impact their ability to not only do their jobs, but do their jobs with each other," Bochco says. "Having a male inspector who, at the prime of his life, is having to deal with the loss of a loved one, and then having a female partner who, like so many women that we met [during our research], is a single mom."
Adds Robertson: "I don't know if I would particularly want to do a very straightforward procedural show, where you don't really get a chance to delve into the characters' lives and back stories — because as an actor, that's the fun stuff," Robertson says. "So we kind of get to do both, which is nice."
While a romance between the pair seems like it would be a stretch at the end of the first three episodes, there are hints that the show may progress in that direction.
"Complicated. Really complicated," Diggs tells TVGuide.com of Hildy and Terry's partnership. "They both have their own demons, so they're very human. They want to do a really good job at what they do, and at the same time, they're personally kind of attached. They know each other better than anyone else. They're family, but then at the same time there is a certain kind of attraction there."
Robertson is less evasive. "I think that Hildy is absolutely in love with [Terry], but absolutely knows that it's [probably not] the right thing to do, especially when his wife dies," she says. "It's a thing of always sort of having a soft sweet spot for somebody, but they're married, they're married, they're married. And then once that is taken out of the equation, it sort of complicates things on a lot of levels. It's not like somebody getting a divorce. Having somebody lose their spouse is a much more complicated thing for both people involved."
For now, though, the duo has the case to distract them. And that's likely where the audience's attention will be focused as well. Bochco has woven a complicated, compelling mystery that surprises viewers just when they've been lulled into a false sense of confidence that the most predictable conclusion is the correct one — an experience that was shared by the cast and crew, according to Robertson.
"We all sort of followed this journey very much like the audience will be following this journey," Robertson says. "We had no idea what the outcome was ... which was kind of fun. I actually liked that, in that I was right where Hildy was. She had her suspicions and her feelings of what was happening, but she didn't really know until the very end. ... We all had many theories of what the ending was going to be, and we were all wrong."
Adds Bochco: "I had more than one cast member come up to me and say, 'Well, I thought I was the one who did it.'"
Murder in the First premieres Monday, June 9 at 10/9c on TNT.