‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’: Why the O.J. trial is as relevant as ever

People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Photo credit: Michael Becker/FX Networks

‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’: Why the O.J. trial is as relevant as ever

TV

Brad Simpson is the executive producer of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story," which premieres Feb. 2, at 10 p.m. EST on FX.

When we started writing “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” we asked ourselves, “Why is this case relevant today?” Part of the initial answer was that the O.J. Simpson trial was the start of something new: the birth of the 24-hour news cycle and the rise of celebrity culture. During the trial, the soap operas were shut down for a year and people discovered that they loved the drama of real life better than a fictional story. Kato Kaelin is arguably the first reality TV star, and the case is the first time America heard the name Kardashian. 

But as we prepared for our premiere, the relevance of “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” Jeffrey Toobin’s main theme suddenly entered the headlines again as protests erupted over police misconduct in Ferguson, Missouri, and around the country. Jeffrey’s book – and our series – is about the role race played in the trial. The Bronco chase, watched by 100 million people, brought America together, but the verdict tore America apart. The news was filled with images of black audiences cheering for O.J.’s acquittal, while white audiences fumed with anger. Neither side could understand the other. The case shone a spotlight on a problem that is always with us but not always visible: that your experience with and view of the justice system and the police is different based on the color of your skin and your economic status.

The O.J. trial’s relevance today
More than 20 years later, the themes O.J.'s trial brings up are just as relevant. But we couldn’t have known that we would experience a racial earthquake similar to the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots right as we shot our show. Suddenly, the series became alarmingly relevant. The O.J. case doesn’t feel so historic, even though it was actually so long ago.

As we edited, the country became obsessed with true crime stories. “The Jinx,” “Serial” and “Making a Murderer” were all massive successes. There are times when people are obsessed with justice – when the bad guy gets put in prison and everything works out just right. But right now, people are obsessed with injustice and the ways in which the system might be broken. That’s certainly what you see in “The Jinx” and “Making a Murderer,” and there’s no question that’s the perception when looking back on O.J.

Wherever you stand on O.J.’s guilt or innocence in the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman – and according to polls, a majority of the country thinks he’s guilty – nobody thought after the Bronco chase that O.J. would walk free. Black or white, everyone thought he was going to prison. We hope the show helps everyone understand the verdict – and the polarized reaction to it.

Human characters
For years, when I mentioned I was working on a show about the O.J. trial, I would hear two things: First, I would hear where people were during the Bronco chase. It's a defining moment for the people who lived through it. As with the Kennedy assassination, America stopped. We all watched the chase together.

The second thing I would hear was whom people hated during the trial. Everyone who watched the trial was frustrated by at least one player. Again and again I would hear, “I hated Marcia Clark,” “I hated Chris Darden,” “I hated Johnnie Cochran.” Our hope for the show is that we can turn some of those feelings on their head. Our series humanizes the real-life people who went through this trial. We hope that if you hated one of our characters during the trial, you will watch our show and know what it was like to walk in their shoes. There was so much more going on than what we saw on TV.

Looking ahead
I am enormously proud of what we’ve been able to do in turning the O.J. story into an anthology series launching the “American Crime Story” franchise. It really is the ultimate crime story in America, and it arrives during a sort of Golden Age for anthology television that features “Fargo,” “American Horror Story” and “True Detective.”

We’ll be exploring a different crime every year, expanding on the idea of what crime is and examining the before and after. Our next one will be about Hurricane Katrina – the crime being the lack of preparation in permitting the levies to fail and the lack of response in the aftermath. We’re excited about what this franchise can be.

Read Brad's previous post about how "The People v. O.J. Simpson" was made.

Read more about "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" and follow the show’s Twitter and Facebook accounts for exclusive content. The limited series premieres Feb. 2, at 10 p.m. EST on FX.