A late-night triple homicide is the trigger for a series of deceptions, ambitions and questions in "Scott Turow's Reversible Errors," a two-part series airing on Sunday and Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBS.
For author Turow, the biggest question in watching his 2002 bestseller transformed into a film was how the novel's complex plot could be reduced to work on television.
"The key is getting a director or screenwriter who has to see the movie that is in the book, since it is always a process of abridgment," said Turow, 55, who still practices criminal law in Illinois.
Turow has seen two of his other books turned into screenplays. "Presumed Innocent," published in 1987, was a theatrical film starring Harrison Ford. "Burden of Proof," a 1990 bestseller, became a TV miniseries.
"I understand you have about 180 minutes, and that is luxurious by standards for a feature," Turow said. "But (screenwriter) Alan Sharp had a very clear idea of what he was going to leave out and what he had to have in, in order to make it cinematic. And that is the hard thing."
"Reversible Errors" stars William H. Macy, Tom Selleck, Monica Potter and Felicity Huffman.
Macy portrays Arthur Raven, who left the district attorney's office after his sister's fatal heroin overdose made him no longer want to prosecute or defend drug dealers. As a corporate lawyer, Raven gets assigned the pro-bono final appeal of Rommy "Squirrel" Gandolph, an inmate who now professes innocence to three homicides he previously admitted committing.
Selleck plays police detective Larry Starczek, whose original investigation into the triple homicide resulted in a confession and prison term for Squirrel (Glenn Plummer).
Frank von Zerneck, the film's executive producer, said Turow at first was skeptical about the casting of Selleck. But when Turow saw the former "Magnum, P.I." star in the role, he "pulled me aside and said, 'He IS Larry Starczek.' "
"Tom has a reputation for playing a good guy," von Zerneck added. "And you don't expect him to be the guy who destroys evidence, so I thought that would be interesting."
Von Zerneck called Selleck "the kind of actor where props, clothes, accouterments, the car he drives, the gun he carries, are all very studied and considered. As Tom put it, it's his way of getting inside the character's skin."
Selleck went through eight corduroy jackets, von Zerneck said, to get just the right look. And he insisted on nailing the details, such as how a detective on a murder scene would have a small container on his belt to carry rubber gloves.
"Usually an actor comes on the set and says, 'Where are the props?' but Tom does the research."
To defend the original guilty verdict, Selleck's character teams up with Muriel Wynn (Potter), an ambitious lawyer -- and Starczek's former lover -- who made a name for herself prosecuting Squirrel. Added to the mix is Gillian Sullivan (Huffman), the icy judge who presided over the case, and who was later disgraced and served prison time herself. And a small-time thief named Collins Farwell (Shemar Moore) points the finger at Squirrel, but keeps his own secrets.
Macy said the story is complicated but believes that "to a large extent, we in Hollywood are pandering too much to our audiences. They're much smarter than we are," he said. "I know that with an audience, they want to know what happens next, not how to feel about it. And you lose their respect when you paint it out for them," he said.
Macy described his character as "having this dark center. He's revisiting this case, which was tried at such a dark time in his life, and I like the idea that everyone in the script knows more than my character," he said. "Arthur Raven is the guy who is unpeeling the onion, where every time he rolls over a rock, some horrendous surprise comes out. "
The film spans seven years with the storyline shown in flashbacks -- a structure that von Zerneck said was the film's big challenge.
"There is a 10 year time period in the book, and the story ping-pongs back and forth," he said. "We wanted to shorten the time period, and we had to drop some major characters. But the great thing about Scott Turow is that he understood what we wanted to do, and he liked the idea."