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Documentaries & Non-Fiction Series

Justice, USA Week 1: Executive Producer Marshall Goldberg and Showrunner Randy Ferrell Discuss Why It Took So Long to Make the Series, Filming on Location in Nashville and More 

Justice, USA Week 1: Executive Producer Marshall Goldberg and Showrunner Randy Ferrell Discuss Why It Took So Long to Make the Series, Filming on Location in Nashville and More

Warning: Major spoilers ahead. Turn back now if you haven’t watched the first two episodes of Justice, USA.

I knew I wanted to watch this documentary series when the trailer dropped a few weeks ago. While our criminal justice system will never be perfect, there’s a real case to be made for reform and change. While I know there are attorneys and people within law enforcement infrastructure trying to do good, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

This series isn’t about bad cops, a corrupt system and villainous criminals. While that might be exciting to watch, it isn’t the truth. Justice, USA strives to humanize every person who gets arrested in Davidson county in Nashville, Tennessee — both juvenile and adult — and it’s incredibly compelling.

We see the judges advocating for restorative justice and rehabilitation and those who are strictly interested in punishment. We watch police officers deal with uncooperative inmates and also show great concern for people in their jails. We observe attorneys fight for their clients and sometimes let them down. We meet the kids that have run afoul of the law, sometimes in heinous ways, and the adults who have been caught in the system for years. At the end of the day, it’s important to see past the person’s charges. They’re human and want to be treated as such.

As the series opens, we learn that it took almost a decade to make. I had a chance to speak exclusively to executive producer Marshall Goldberg and showrunner Randy Ferrell about the show’s timeline and why they chose Nashville for the location.

TV GOODNESS: The audience is told that the series was nine years in the making. Tell me more about that.

Marshall Goldberg: “Well, I conceived of it 11 years ago and it took two years after the nine years to get it on the air after we were finished. But it took five years to find a place that would let us film the way we wanted it to be done.

We wanted total access and we wanted a guarantee from the DA that nothing we heard or recorded would be sought as evidence. I did a pilot and then it took another three years to get funding to make the whole series. And then at that point, Randy came in as the showrunner and we filmed for seven months, edited for seven months, and then we were done and got caught up in a media merger maelstrom for another two years. But here it is. Finally.”

TV GOODNESS: You answered this a little bit just now, but when you were considering what city to film in, how did you land on Nashville and was part of it because you needed that permission?

Marshall Goldberg: “It was entirely because of that. I wanted to be able to talk to defendants and film conversations between them and their attorneys and have that permission from the DA, a written agreement. I started in California and the DAs and the public defenders were afraid of being embarrassed and losing control. The judges were cooperative, but no one would give us the access we wanted except in Nashville. Nashville’s the only one.”

Randy Ferrell: “And don’t forget, the sheriff’s office obviously was a critical component. I mean, being able to unlimited access throughout the jails was another critical component to this. The sheriff here in Nashville is a really, really good guy with a lot of great ideas and vision and allowed us that access.”

JUVENILE JUSTICE

Juvenile justice in Nashville is a very different beast. We meet Tristan Williams, who has been in the juvenile detention center since his arrest at 16. Any gun charge is an automatic 30 day hold, but his case is serious enough that the DA wants it transferred so Tristan can be tried as an adult.

As with most of the inmates we meet during the series, we’re told what they’re charged with and if there was a news story about that person we see a clip of it. I wanted to know a bit more about why Marshall and Randy included that information, especially since Tristan’s story has been sensationalized in the local media.

TV GOODNESS: In many cases, after we meet someone and learn what their charges are, we see a news story that aired when they were arrested. Why did you include those? I thought it was a super interesting choice, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Randy Ferrell: “That’s a really great question and I’m glad that you paid such close attention. There’s a lot of nuance. We don’t try to hold the viewer’s hand. We really want people to experience it when it’s confusing, when it’s traumatic. All of those emotions, we want people to literally feel.

And so the decision to use the news broadcast [was] to literally portray what was being said about these folks when these events happened. I mean, obviously in Tristan Williams’s case, the circumstances of that situation are shocking when you have so many young people and literally everyone in the car is shot.

I’m not saying anything negative about the news, but they have the facts and information that they have at the time, and they put the story out. So if you’re Tristan and you’re thinking that everybody’s painting you as this monster and you have a different concept of who you are and you’re battling that, it is just the juxtaposition of how things are characterized versus how people feel about them when they’re going through the situation. I think that’s what went into the decision.”

Marshall Goldberg: “We didn’t want to focus on whether they committed the crime they were accused of. That diverts attention from their experience, and the deeper question of what’s the purpose of incarceration? Why are we taking people off the streets and putting them in these conditions and what is it we hope to accomplish?

I think that’s what you get to and you can’t get to that if you’re focused on just whether they did what they say they did or anything like that. We just want people to observe what these arrestees are experiencing and go from there.”

Interview edited for space and clarity.

I hope you’ll come back next week part two of my discussion with Marshall and Randy.

The next two episodes of Justice, USA premiere Thursday on MAX.

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