The O.J. Simpson scandal has once again erupted into the American conscience with a new, low-budget real-crime tabloidy tale, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
The TV miniseries debuted Tuesday on the FX channel and racked up an impressive 5.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. That makes the debut the network’s top hit ever, and it drew a record number of the advertiser’s most beloved bracket — 18 to 49 years old — with 2.5 million.
One of those viewers? Orenthal James himself.
“He’ll say he won’t but he always does,” Norman Pardo, friend and former manager of O.J. Simpson, told ABC News. “It’s about him, even though it’s fictional or what not, it’s still, it’s about him so he’ll watch. Somehow, they’ll figure out a way to do it.”
The 10-episode series is based on the book, “The Run of His Life: The People v O.J. Simpson,” by CNN’s senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. It recreates the entire sordid saga — from the discovery of the body of Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown, the low-speed chase as helicopters beamed live pictures of O.J. in his Ford Bronco to millions of viewers — to the blunder-filled trial.
The show sports some big stars: Cuba Gooding Jr., John Travolta and Sarah Paulson. But the series has already garnered backlash from viewers, critics and even the victims’ family. Simpson himself is not happy with the miniseries, Pardo said.
Those who watched the first episode are already pointing out discrepancies between what some believe is the truth and what is depicted on the show. Critics are “laughing” at Gooding’s portrayal of the former NFL star.
“They never consulted, I don’t think, anybody from O.J.’s side to explain that that’s not O.J. It doesn’t even sound like him,” Pardo said. “O.J. Simpson has a charisma about him. He’s a good-looking guy. He’s a ladies man.”
Meanwhile, another Hollywood star is compiling evidence that he thinks will exonerate the football Hall of Famer, who was acquitted of killing his ex-wife Brown and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995. He was found liable by a civil jury two years later.
William Dear, a Dallas-based investigator, is shopping around to start a new TV project that he believes will prove Simpson’s innocence. Dear says he has spent the past two decades gathering “hard evidence” that will vindicate Simpson, who is currently incarcerated for felonies from 2007, including armed robbery and kidnapping. He was sentenced to 33 years.
Dear’s desire to prove Simpson’s innocence is backed by actor Martin Sheen, who has been making the rounds to TV executives eager to find the next true-crime sensation.
Dear’s 2012 book, ”O.J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It,” lays out alternative theories of the case. He hopes that FX’s miniseries and ESPN’s five-part docu-series, “O.J.: Made in America,” will increase interest in his pitch rather than dismiss it.
Despite criticism and hot new debate in offices everywhere, The New York Times called the show “absorbing” and “thoroughly entertaining,” while Entertainment Weekly gave the show an “A,” calling it “a meticulously crafted, powerfully resonant docudrama.”