Netflix's 'The Staircase' Was Years In The Making

by Megan Walsh

When The Staircase was first released, viewers were intrigued by the case it analyzed: the strange death of Kathleen Peterson and subsequent arrest of her husband Michael for murder. Opinions diverged on Michael's guilt or innocence, as they are sure to once again when the docuseries makes its way to Netflix on June 8. Part of the series is from its original release but part of it is new, so it's natural to wonder: when was The Staircase filmed? (Romper reached out to Michael Peterson's representatives and Netflix for additional statements.)

Kathleen was killed in 2001, and the documentary began filming not long after Michael was indicted for the crime. It was released in 2004. Director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and his crew got a lot of insider information; they were present in the courtroom, and they spoke to Michael's family. Lestrade has since revisited the case twice: when Michael was released from jail in 2011 pending a retrial, and again a few years later when Michael entered his Alford plea deal.

That last follow-up is the one that Netflix picked up, though all of the previous installments were also part of the package. It seems like Lestrade filmed throughout 2015 and 2016, making The Staircase a series that has spanned over a decade in the lives of those involved. Once it's on Netflix, you can see the whole story from start to finish.

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The Staircase earned rave reviewed, with Entertainment Weekly describing it as, "that rare long documentary about a tabloid crime that becomes a deep exploration of death, the justice system, and the very process of making a documentary film." It left no stone unturned in taking a closer look at the case and Lestrade's early start in covering the trial made it feel like the documentary had captured almost every important moment. Then there were the mysterious details of the case itself: Kathleen's death could have been an accident or could have been murder, and all the contradictory information that came out about it only made viewers more eager to know the truth.

But finding the truth was never Lestrade's goal. IndieWire reported that during a screening of the new episodes at the Tribeca Film Festival, he said, "The purpose has never been to look for the truth. Or to look for what happened that night. It was just to look at the way the justice system would treat the case, and it took 17 years." He did, however, have his own opinions about Kathleen's death and Michael's guilt. As he said at the screening:

We weren't there that night so we can't pretend we know what happened. We may have an opinion or a feeling, but to me, there is no strong evidence presented that Michael Peterson killed his wife. That's where I stand.

In the past, Lestrade had discussed how emotionally draining making the first installment of The Staircase was. In a piece for The Daily Beast, he even said that he wasn't sure he wanted to continue making documentaries anymore. But he also found it hard to forget the Petersons and even said that the "mystery of Kathleen Peterson's death haunts me to this day." Lestrade would be drawn back to this particular case more than once, and that ongoing curiosity is something viewers of The Staircase might share.


Michael was convicted of Kathleen's murder despite insisting upon his innocence. His children continue to support him, whereas Kathleen's daughter Caitlin Atwater is convinced he was responsible for her mother's death. It's a case that inspires countless different opinions (and even one odd theory about an owl) but you'll be able to make up your mind for yourself when The Staircase premieres on Netflix.