BY GREG BRAXTON
LOS ANGELS TIMES (TNS)
Two decades after the “Trial of the Century,” O.J. Simpson remains a hot commodity.
Cable and broadcast TV have seen a deluge of specials commemorating the 20th anniversary of the murder case centered on the former football great and the brutal slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
The reexaminations have included CNN’s “The O.J. Verdict: Shock of the Century” and a documentary from the Investigation Channel re-creating the saga with news reports of the day.
Though it seems that every possible nuance, detail and gesture from the case has been analyzed, probed and prodded, two epic Simpson-related projects will arrive in the coming months, each with unique perspectives that their producers contend will shed more light and cultural context on the proceedings.
ESPN’s “O.J.: Made in America,” a seven-hour-plus documentary from filmmaker Ezra Edelman, will be unveiled this month at the Sundance Film Festival. The project, which will air this year, was produced under the sports network’s “30 for 30” banner and chronicles Simpson’s personal life before and during his murder trial. Edelman has promised deeper insight into Simpson and his case than other specials have offered.
Connor Schell, ESPN senior vice president, films and special content, called the miniseries an event that represents the most ambitious project from ESPN Films: “The quality and intelligence of the storytelling that Ezra achieves over these seven-plus hours is stunning.”
10-hour FX show
FX will debut a markedly different take on the Simpson case in February. “The People v. O.J. Simpson” from producer Ryan Murphy (“Scream Queens,” “American Horror Story”) is a 10-hour-long dramatization that will examine the trial from several viewpoints, including the attorneys, Simpson and families of the victims.
The show features a cast of major stars taking on the roles of the participants: Cuba Gooding Jr. (“Jerry Maguire”) as Simpson, John Travolta as defense attorney Robert Shapiro, Courtney V. Vance as defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, Sarah Paulson as prosecutor Marcia Clark and David Schwimmer as Simpson’s attorney and friend Robert Kardashian.
In addition to putting his spin on the Simpson saga, Murphy is using the project to kick off “American Crime Story,” his anthology series designed to tackle a different true crime case in each installment. (The franchise has no connection with ABC’s “American Crime,” Oscar winner John Ridley’s culture clash/crime miniseries).
Explores case, race
Press notes on the FX miniseries said that “The People v. O.J Simpson” would “explore the behind-the-scenes dealings and maneuvering on both sides of the court, and how a combination of prosecution confidence, defense wiliness and the LAPD’s history with the African-American community gave a jury what it needed: reasonable doubt.”
Nina Jacobson, one of the executive producers, said that viewers will also see how many of the volatile issues surrounding the Simpson case, including class, privilege, police misconduct, celebrity and race — particularly in the extreme opposite reactions to the verdict between Blacks and Whites — remain hot-button topics 20 years later.
“In the last year, it’s been remarkable to see how resonant this trial still is because the same issues are so present,” Jacobson said. “All those issues are still very much in play in terms of the differing reactions people have, depending on race.”
Focus on emotions
Gooding said his objective in playing Simpson was to connect with his emotional turmoil. “People have a definite opinion of his guilt or innocence, and I tried to keep my face where I would play all the emotions. I really felt I could connect with the role.”
“The People v. O.J. Simpson” covers a lot of emotional ground, from a despairing Simpson in his jail cell to an emotional Clark at home who is dealing with a divorce and life as a single mom while trying to maintain a grip on the biggest case of her career.
Given the continuing fascination surrounding the Simpson trial, both projects are likely to attract viewers looking for more clues to the questions surrounding the case that remain unanswered to this day.