New series on O.J. Simpson

The series stars (from left) Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, Cuba Gooding Jr, John Travolta and David Schwimmer.
The series stars (from left) Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, Cuba Gooding Jr, John Travolta and David Schwimmer.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • More than 20 years after about 107 million people watched a Los Angeles jury announce that it had found O.J. Simpson not guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman, are television viewers ready to see it all again?

From the discovery of the murder scene at Nicole Simpson's Brentwood home; to the nationwide broadcast of O.J. Simpson's slow-speed highway flight in a white Ford Bronco; to a months-long criminal trial, meticulously chronicled and analysed on TV, these vividly remembered, not-too-distant events are re-enacted in a 10-episode FX mini-series, The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, which debuts on Feb 2.

This biographical drama (adapted from Jeffrey Toobin's book The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson) features a high-wattage cast, including Cuba Gooding Jr as O.J. Simpson; John Travolta and Courtney B. Vance as defence lawyers Robert L. Shapiro and Johnnie L. Cochran Jr; Sarah Paulson as prosecutor Marcia Clark; and David Schwimmer as Simpson confidant Robert Kardashian.

Perhaps the most surprising participant in this series, which is planned as an anthology, is Ryan Murphy, the executive producer and director better known for the feel-good pop of Glee and the gory melodrama of American Horror Story.

Still, he and his collaborators (who include producers Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson) say the time is right to revisit the case, at a moment when the headlines bring daily dispatches of confrontations between white law enforcement officers and black civilians, and issues of race and police misconduct are as visible as ever.

In December, these members of the American Crime Story team gathered in New York for a conversation.

Ryan, this is a project that's very different from the TV work you are known for. What made you want to tell this story?

Murphy: I had finished shooting The Normal Heart, which was notoriously difficult to get made. As soon as it was finished, I went into a little bit of a funk. I called my agent and I said, "Send me the best television scripts that you have that are not getting made." Nina and Brad had this O.J. Simpson project, based on the Toobin book, and I read the first two scripts. I just thought they were riveting and brilliantly written. It wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be. It was a series about a violent incident that did not have violence in it. That was interesting to me and very smart.

Brad Simpson: Toobin had a real thesis, that the trial was about race from the very beginning.

What are your memories of how the events of the Simpson case intersected with your own lives?

Travolta: My father was a football player, so he was obsessed with this case. Most of my updates were through dad. I was celebrating the Pulp Fiction success from the Cannes Film Festival. I was on this high of having a new career, I hoped, and then feeling this tragedy. The dichotomy was really wild.

Schwimmer: In LA, they were starting to interrupt programmes to show high-speed chases from a helicopter. But suddenly, this event had much more impact on me. I was really upset by the crowds cheering. There was something about this moment that felt like the birth of reality television and I found that really distasteful. I thought, "Oh, this is a new chapter for us as a country. "


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'New series on O.J. Simpson'. Print Edition | Subscribe