Entertainment

O.J. Just Won’t Go Away

Hollywood is obsessed with the former NFL star convict

Televised murder trials began a national obsession. Fledgling 24-hour news operations had a story that put them on the map. TV executives had found a ratings gold mine.

“This is the best daytime drama we got. I would much rather watch OJ than some soap with a doctor having an affair with a nurse,” said a TV executive portrayed in the FX Simpson miniseries.

Because of the O.J. trial, we came to know Jodi Arias, Casey Anthony, Scott Peterson and others. 

We entered a new chapter in race relations, especially relations with the criminal justice system. In 1995, just three years removed from the Rodney King riots, which also took place in Los Angeles, cynicism about race relations was still very raw. Before the trial even began, Simpson was still seen by many African-Americans as a success story — a record-setting running back in the NFL and a successful pitchman and movie star — brought low by a racism-infected justice system.

His attorney, Johnny Cochran, skillfully reinforced this during the trial, and, as a result, reduced confidence in police and courts to deliver race-neutral justice is the trial’s enduring legacy. We talk little about the skill that went into creating doubt among the jurors about Simpson’s guilt but much about this other outcome of the trial, which led to Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray and others.

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Prosecutors also have learned another skill set is required for such high-profile trials. In the FX TV series, Marcia Clark presses Garcetti about handling media coverage. 

“Trial is in here. Not out there,” Garcetti responds.

Wrong answer. Thanks to the O.J. trial, today’s prosecutors know they need to understand the 24-hour news cycle and the power of images as symbols as much as the evidence against the defendant.  

Indeed, it could be argued this was America’s first reality TV show. The first chapter in the saga — the police chase of Simpson’s Ford Bronco — captivated the nation and changed news coverage forever. Covering such chases and standoffs is now standard fare. 

It gave us Kato Kaelin, who is still working in the reality TV world. It gave us the Kardashians, who also remain in the news to this day. 

All-in-all, it’s an impressive list of changes from the prosecution and coverage of this one crime. The Simpson saga gave us reality TV, star attorneys, the Kardashians, the auto chase as TV fodder, a more intense, modernized obsession with celebrity and even contributed to the current debate about overcriminalization. Thanks to renewed interest as a result of these shows, it’s likely to remain in the news for some time.

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