Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images. Inset: David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
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August 09, 2018 at 09:00 AM EDT

Like its scrappy cast of characters, Trial & Error isn’t giving up hope.

Showrunner Jeff Astrof tells EW he’s staying “optimistic” about the critically-acclaimed but low-rated series, despite the fact that NBC’s option to renew the mockumentary, currently airing its Kristin Chenoweth-fronted second season, lapsed this week. Warner Bros. TV, the series’ producing studio, is now shopping the comedy elsewhere, as the series regulars’ contracts have not yet expired.

“I’m trying to maintain optimism,” Astrof says. “It’s very easy to be sad and depressed, and if I find out every network and every streamer passed on season 3 of the show, I’m still not going to give up hope until the last second… I let NBC know in advance that this would happen. It’s not playing hardball — it’s that I owe it to myself, I owe it to the fans, I owe it to the cast, and I owe it to this little world that we created to keep it going.”

Trial & Error, which is told in the style of true-crime documentaries and follows young New York lawyer Josh (Nicholas D’Agosto) attempting to handle big cases in the small, strange town of East Peck, had already been fighting an uphill battle to make season 2 happen. Production moved from Burbank to the more cost-effective Vancouver, cuts were made to the writing staff, and the schedule was kept as tight as possible; according to Astrof, the 10-episode season 2 was shot in just 45 days. The biggest obstacle, though, was the show’s time slot: NBC had slated the second season for the summer, leaving it relatively unmoored, as the series is airing without comedy lead-ins and has been relegated to airing two episodes per week.

Then again, the ratings “have not been strong,” Astrof admits, adding that he understands NBC’s call to leave the series in limbo. “I don’t want to crap on NBC, because they did air us and they picked us up for two seasons… In fact, I spoke to my contact at NBC today who gave me notes on the final episode, and my reaction was, ‘Are you kidding me?’ but also, I still work there, and we talked candidly about it. I said, ‘I feel like you and I are in a burning building with Dixie cups full of water,’ and he said, ‘You know what, we’re going to keep putting water on the flames until the end.’

“NBC is candid with me,” he adds. “They were like, ‘Look, we want to be clear that it’s not canceled, but on the other hand, we have a very full schedule.’ So I’m not saying NBC is out of [the running to renew the series] by any means, but they were pretty clear that at this point they knew I’d be shopping it around… I would love it for NBC to call us today, but I don’t anticipate that necessarily.”

Sergei Bachlakov/Warner Bros/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Even so, the network has had a recent track record of granting resurrections — even if they’re in TV movie form — and picked up Brooklyn Nine-Nine after the comedy was axed by Fox. That move had given Astrof hope: “When Brooklyn Nine-Nine got picked up, I know people thought, ‘Oh no, there goes the Trial & Error slot,’ but I thought, ‘No, that’s amazing news. That’s a companion show. From the beginning, they told us, ‘We don’t really have any comedies to pair you with.'”

After all, Trial & Error, with its serialized storytelling (each season follows a new case), requires viewers to tune in to every episode from the beginning — which is why Astrof thinks the comedy could do well on a streaming platform. “The show was meant to be binge-watched,” he says. “It was based on The Staircase. I don’t want to eliminate any [potential streamers interested in the series] but initially, when I came up with the idea for the show, I was binge-watching shows on Netflix, and I thought, ‘Wow, what about this for Netflix?’… That’s what I’m looking for in a home now.”

Whatever happens, Astrof says he at least has a story in mind for season 3, to tackle an older case from East Peck’s history. “In my mind, it’s going to be based on a case that we mentioned already in the first two seasons, and it’s going to be loosely based on [Netflix docuseries] Wild Wild Country, [the 1996 documentary] Paradise Lost, and a podcast called The Long Dance,” he explains. “It’s a podcast about the only unsolved murder in North Carolina history, and it’s a 1970s case, and I thought…if I had to do an unsolved case from 1994, East Peck in 1994 equals the 1970s in the rest of America,” he laughs.

But for now, Astrof’s just hoping to find that third season a platform. “I want to keep our show alive, that’s my goal,” he says. “I’m looking for any place that will take us. Trial & Error is my firstborn baby, and I’m going to do everything I can to get it to season 3.”

Trial & Error airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

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