the staircase hbo vs netflix
True Crime

OPINION: Why the glossy HBO series The Staircase should NEVER have been made

Anybody else been left with a bad taste in their mouth?

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Everybody is talking about The Staircase HBO vs the Netflix series – both about the death of Kathleen Peterson.

Forget Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s ongoing court battle, and the stupidly expensive Wagatha Christie saga.

“Did Michael Peterson kill his wife?” is the question on people’s lips.

HBO viewers are all clambering to discuss their theories on whether or not Micheal pushed his wife down the stairs, and whether the HBO series is better than the original Netflix documentary.

But I think it’s all pretty sick.

Colin Firth as Michael Peterson, and Toni Collette as Kathleen Peterson
Colin Firth as Michael Peterson, and Toni Collette as Kathleen Peterson in the eight episode series The Staircase (Credit: HBO)

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The Staircase HBO vs Netflix – what’s the difference?

In my opinion, the HBO series of The Staircase should never have been made.

In fact, several of Kathleen’s family members did NOT want it to be dramatised at all.

The Staircase is a pimped up version of a very tragic real life crime, one which had already been examined in the Netflix series of the same name.

Netflix’s true crime series is an excellent documentary following the trial, and interviewing the family – including Michael Peterson.

If you want to know more about Kathleen’s death, this is where you should be looking.

In fact, the true crime documentary is now back in Netflix’s top 10.

And deservedly so.

You can make up your own mind about Michael Peterson’s guilt – or innocence – without the distraction of the famous faces and designer wardrobes in the HBO version.

One fan called HBO’s The Staircase “a brilliant show”, while another said: “The Staircase on HBO is one of the best shows out there right now.”

But that’s my point.

It’s not just a TV series; it’s based on real events, that happened to real people, and it’s being applauded as if it’s the latest series of Line of Duty.

Is The Staircase on HBO ethical?

There’s something deeply unsettling about a megabucks TV channel trying to make more megabucks by profiting from someone else’s death.

Why else would HBO dramatise a story that only recently featured in a (much better) true crime doc?

Has any of this helped Kathleen? Or bought closure to the family?

Or has it bought more pain, having to relive it all over again?

Kathleen Peterson died a tragic death in horrifying circumstances.

And the man who was convicted of killing her is now getting more notoriety…

Hasn’t anybody else been left with a bad taste in their mouth?

It feels all sorts of wrong.

Patrick Schwarzenegger as Todd Peterson
Patrick Schwarzenegger as Todd Peterson in The Staircase (Credit: HBO)

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The Staircase HBO vs Netflix

The Staircase on HBO is a glossy TV drama, with A-list actors, re-enacting hyperthetical scenarios.

After all, only Michael Peterson knows what happened in that house on the night of December 09 2001.

The other person is dead.

I can’t help wondering what Kathleen Peterson would make of all this?

The HBO series cast popular actor Colin Firth – Mr Darcy FFS! – as the convicted murderer.

Remember Michael Peterson WAS convicted of Kathleen’s murder.

In 2017, he submitted an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter, which allowed him to publicly maintain his innocence while still acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict.

Nevertheless, courts can consider an Alford a guilty plea.

Crucially, I think viewers are forgetting that these are real people who are still alive, who lost a mum/sister/friend.

The cast is ridiculously glamorous – Arnie’s son Patrick Schwarzenegger plays Todd Peterson, award-winning Toni Collette is Kathleen, and Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner stars as Margaret Ratcliff.

So you have to be really, really good looking to be able to tell the story of Kathleen’s death?

Is it okay to glam up a murder? Pretty sure it’s not.

Is Michael Peterson profiting from the show?

One fan of the original documentary on Netflix nailed it when he wondered why the show was being made at all.

Twitter user Deputy Hockey wrote: “HBO is making a drama called The Staircase about the Michael Peterson case.

“I could see them getting away with a movie but I’m a little surprised they’re doing a series on it given it was so recent and he’s already been released.

“Unless Michael Peterson’s getting paid.”

It’s a valid question.

Whether or not Michael Peterson has or will profit from the series, he’s still getting plenty of fame.

This makes me feel very uncomfortable, bearing in mind two women he was the last to see alive ended up dead at the bottom of staircases.

And Michael has already written a book about the crime.

US law prohibits criminals from profiting from writings or shows about their crimes.

Michael Peterson and Kathleen Peterson
What would the real Kathleen Peterson think about the glossy HBO drama? (Credit: Sky Atlantic)

Did Kathleen Peterson’s family give consent?

We know Kathleen’s sister Candace was against the Netflix true crime documentary ever being made.

She and Kathleen’s other sister Lori chose not to participate in The Staircase.

Imagine being the sister of someone who died, having to relive it all over again – every time somebody wants to dredge it up for financial gain.

Are there inaccuracies in the HBO series The Staircase?

To top it all off, the HBO series The Staircase has been accused of inaccuracies.

In addition to a few significant omissions, the show has made one major alteration.

In the show, the prosecution points out attorney David Rudolf during the grand jury hearing.

However, Rudolf told the Charlotte Observer: “I was not in the grand jury, because defence lawyers are not allowed in a grand jury room.

“Anybody who knows anything about the criminal justice system will look at that scene and say ‘that’s bullshit’.

“So, that’s just stupidity.”

David, who served as Michael Peterson’s lawyer during his murder trial, has since accused the HBO series of “turning truth into fiction”.

He has called for “HBO to have the humility to apologise and post a disclaimer about the truthfulness of its portrayal of the people who made the documentary.”

Juliet Binoche plays Sophie
Juliet Binoche plays Sophie in The Staircase (Credit: HBO)

The Staircase HBO vs Netflix

French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade made the true crime documentary The Staircase.

Years later, he gave fellow director – and friend – Antonio Campos access to his archive of thousands of hours of footage of the Peterson case,.

He also sold him the story rights.

And this is where it gets nasty.

The pair have since fallen out, with Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and the documentary team taking serious issue with the HBO miniseries’ depiction of their work.

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade says that perhaps the biggest injustice in the dramatisation is the reimagining of the story as a family drama, where warring, angry children take centre stage.

That is not how he remembers it.

“They were exceptionally close,” he says.

True crime documentaries that have got it right

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great dramatisations of real life crimes out there.

The Pembrokeshire Murders in 2021 was a gritty re-enactment of John Cooper’s crimes.

But the crucial difference is that it was told from the point of view of DCS Steve Wilkins, who helped track him down.

The same goes for In Plain Sight, and Des – the killers aren’t likeable, and viewers follow the police investigation.

Four Lives told the horrifying story of serial killer Stephen Port from the perspective of the victims and their families.

These are chilling portrayals of murders, not designed to titillate.

What are viewers saying?

Many viewers love the show, but there are others who agree that it’s in bad taste.

One viewer wrote: “Tbh kinda rude of HBO to do a scripted miniseries of The Staircase when the documentary is right there.

“They didn’t even change the name. Low blow.”

Another said: “Watched the HBO show The Staircase – it’s depressing, and graphically violent.

“The scene that depicts her falling accidentally is horrific to watch. Kinda upset me. Think I’m done. It also has a lotta sex scenes, and the characters all seem sad and unlikable. Nothing to invest in.”

A third tweeted: “Staircase on HBO was trash. The original doc on Netflix was better.”

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The Staircase true crime documentary is currently available to watch on Netflix. The dramatisation of the same name is airing on Sky Atlantic.

What do you think of the HBO series The Staircase? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix.

Helen Fear
TV Editor