Is HBO's 'The Night Of' Based On A True Story?

by Caitlin Flynn

A gaping hole was left in my Sunday night TV viewing schedule after Game of Thrones and Veep aired their season finales on June 26. Luckily, HBO has a miniseries lined up to fill the void — The Night Of will premiere on July 10 and, after watching the first episode, I think it's safe to say that it will quickly become a new favorite amongst crime drama connoisseurs. Like many recent procedural dramas, the entire season will focus on one case and the series will depict the crime, the arrest, and the legal proceedings. Many crime shows borrow from the headlines, so is HBO's The Night Of based on a true story?

According to its official synopsis from HBO, the murder case depicted is entirely fictitious. A Pakistani-American college student, Naz, borrows his dad's cab to attend a party, but he has a change of plans when an attractive, mysterious young white woman asks for a ride. They go to her apartment alone for a drug-fueled night of partying, but things take a gruesome turn when Naz wakes up to find her brutally stabbed to death. With no recollection of what happened, he flees the scene — but it's not long before Naz is arrested for murder.

Although The Night Of isn't based on a true story, showrunners Steven Zaillian and Richard Price drew their inspiration from a British TV series. According to The Wall Street Journal, it's an adaptation of BBC's 2008 procedural, Criminal Justice. But, there will be key differences between the two shows. Although both main characters borrow their father's cab, spend the night with a beautiful young woman, and wake up to find her murdered, The Night Of's New York City setting is key to the show — so the main character's race was changed.

Zaillian told The WSJ: “In the British series he’s a white kid because most of the cabdrivers are white. Most of the cabdrivers in New York City are not... That one decision affected the whole show.” Racial tensions and prejudice will undoubtedly play an important role throughout the series. In the premiere, two young men shout racial slurs at Naz as he walks with the young woman to her Upper West Side apartment. Once he's charged with murder, we can expect to see the role race will play in his ability to receive a fair trial. Price told The WSJ that he wanted to depict how people of Middle Eastern descent are treated in a post 9/11-world. “I wanted to show the knee-jerk hatred that came out,” he explained.

Zaillian and Price went to great lengths to make The Night Of as realistic as possible. Because New York City is so important to the plot, the series was shot in and around Manhattan — so we can expect the visuals to be extremely authentic. At an advance screening in April, Inverse.com reported that Zaillian told the audience:

“We shot everything in New York. Every interior, every exterior, for 150 days. And it shows. You can’t fake it in Toronto. I’m really proud of that. I’m proud to have made a New York movie... We shot everywhere. We shot at the courthouse. We shot at the prisons. We shot in the subway.”

Riz Ahmed, who plays Naz, also emphasized the importance of shooting in New York. Ahmed is originally from the United Kingdom, so he spent time in Queens speaking with locals in order to better understand his character's background.

Although The Night Of is not based on a true story, the creators and cast put a great deal of effort into creating a realistic depiction of what might happen if a Pakistani-American man was charged with a murder he most likely didn't commit.

Images: Craig Blankenhorn; Barry Wetcher (2)/HBO