O.J. Simpson’s New Drama

The miniseries, which debuts Tuesday, employs some big names to revisit the trial that changed lives – and the meaning of celebrity.

Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson

In a preview for the upcoming TV drama "American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson," the disconsolate ex-athlete is portrayed slumping into the corner of a child's room, holding a gun. "Do not kill yourself in Kimmy's bedroom!" perhaps his closest friend begs him.

The loyal pal is lawyer Robert Kardashian. His daughter "Kimmy," then 14, eventually would be better known as "Kim."

It's telling that for all the star power packed into the miniseries (David Schwimmer as Kardashian, John Travolta as "Dream Team" lawyer Robert Shapiro and Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., as Simpson) the promo's punchline is based on an unseen figure who would later become famous for just being famous.

It's also fitting: The Simpson saga took conceptions of celebrity on a breathless Bronco chase that hasn’t quite ended.

In the wake of the June 12, 1994, slayings of the former football great's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, lawyers (Shapiro, Johnny Cochran) became stars. Witnesses (Simpson houseguest Kato Kaelin) became household names. A once unknown judge (Lance Ito), after spending the day overseeing the so-called "Trial of the Century," went home and watched a gang of his doppelgängers dancing across the stage of "The Tonight Show."

The biggest transformation came for Simpson. The man whose popularity transcended sports like few other athletes went from hugely famous to forever infamous – whether or not you believed "The Juice" capable of double murderer.

The televised Simpson trial, as previously noted, offered glimpses of what Reality TV would become – not only for introducing the Kardashians, but in its portrayal of a Hollywood lifestyle not unfamiliar to current "Real Housewives of (Fill-in-the-Blank)" viewers. The case morphed into an around-the-clock celebrity obsession, before the Internet took hold. It also spurred a cottage industry of books and TV movies.

Now, more than 20 years after the verdict, the Mr. Simpson’s wild ride is still charting new paths, traced in blood. The miniseries, which premiers Tuesday on FX, arrives at a time when the name Kardashian conjures images other than the most steadfast "Dream Team" member.

For those too young to remember the case as it alternately unfolded and took endless twists, 10 episodes might seem like too much O.J. But to those of us who can recall the intense 16 months between the slayings and the jury's "not guilty" verdict know there’s a lot to pack in, even for a dramatized rendering.

The miniseries, based on one of the best books about the murders, Jeffrey Toobin’s "The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson," appears primed to tap into the current hunger for long-form, true-crime exploration, as evidenced by the lure of documentaries like "The Jinx," "Serial" and "Making a Murderer."

While a TV drama seems unlikely to change the minds of folks who lived through the Simpson circus, newcomers might get a skewed impression, no matter how strong the source material.

As Goldman’s father, Fred, recently told People magazine: "You are going to have people basing their beliefs on a movie. Last time I checked, we don't rely on movies for facts."

All the facts may never be known, at least not to everyone’s satisfaction. Simpson, behind bars for robbery and kidnapping, isn’t talking. Still, the impact of the case resounds – with echoes traveling far beyond Kim Kardashian’s bedroom, at any age.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

Copyright FREEL - NBC Local Media
Contact Us