O.J. Simpson dramatised

A 10-part series takes a behind- the-scenes look at how America's football hero was charged with murder and then acquitted

Cuba Gooding Jr. (centre), lead star in The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, with cast members (from far left) Sterling K. Brown, Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance and David Schwimmer during the Television Critics Associati
Cuba Gooding Jr. (centre), lead star in The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, with cast members (from far left) Sterling K. Brown, Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance and David Schwimmer during the Television Critics Association Cable Winter Press Tour in California last month. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • Twenty years ago, it was the trial of the century, watched by millions of Americans. Now, the O.J. Simpson murder trial is back on television, exploiting a growing obsession with true-life crime mysteries.

The first episode in the 10-part The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story premiered on Tuesday on FX.

It offers a dramatised behind- the-scenes look at how America's football hero was charged, but acquitted of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman.

It stars the white female prosecutor convinced of his guilt and Simpson's lawyers who persuaded the predominantly black jury of reasonable doubt in the 1995 trial.

With glowing reviews, the show is a guaranteed hit at a time when Americans are debating race and the criminal justice system, and armchair detectives are cutting their teeth on a flood of documentary series revisiting apparent miscarriages of justice.

There was HBO's award-winning The Jinx, a New York real estate scion confession to murder, Netflix hit Making A Murderer which moved the White House to explain its inability to intervene and Serial, a radio podcast that reopened the case of a man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend.

Coming up is The Jury, a drama which follows a murder trial through the eyes of jurors and exploring the biases and experiences that influence their judgment.

The Simpson trial was the biggest of the lot, combining celebrity, narcissism, murder, race, cut-throat lawyers and TV coverage into one of the biggest reality spectacles.

"You can trace the interest in American crime drama probably back to the O.J. Simpson trial," said Mr Larry Cunningham, a law professor at St John's University in New York.

The current debate about police tactics and how minorities - particularly black men - and the poor are treated by the criminal justice system has fanned appetite for such shows, experts say.

The serialisations delve into what makes a murderer, the investiga- tion and proceedings that can acquit or convict a defendant.

"There's a real urge to understand what really happened. If he did do it, how could you find him innocent?" says Cuba Gooding Jr, who plays Simpson in the FX drama.

The cable network is hoping for a hit as big as Making A Murderer, the 10-part documentary released on Netflix last December.

Filmed over 10 years, it is a real- life thriller following a man, Steven Avery, who was cleared by DNA after being wrongfully jailed 18 years for rape, only to become implicated in a murder.

It became the binge-watching fad for the liberal literati, sparked the pique of reality star Kim Kardashian - whose attorney father Robert Kardashian is played by David Schwimmer in The People V. O.J. Simpson - and even elicited a White House statement about why it was unable to pardon Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey.

"I'm not surprised we're seeing a lot of these docu-series now," said Mr Robert Thompson, a professor of television at Syracuse University. "Crime is automatically exciting and the investigation of it is interesting. It's got mystery, it's got adventure."

But while lawyers classify the shows as entertainment, they have also helped to spark court-room action. Robert Durst, the wealthy New Yorker whose life and alleged crimes were scrutinised in The Jinx, was arrested after apparently making a confession into a hot mic while in the toilet.

It was a breakthrough more than 30 years after his former wife disappeared. He was suspected but never been convicted of murdering Kathleen Durst, close friend Susan Berman and a neighbour. He is in prison awaiting trial in California.

Serial, the National Public Radio podcast that kicked off the trend, also resulted in the case being reopened of Adnan Syed, convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore in 1999.

"Court systems do fail, so maybe there's something to be said for having this separate process of private journalists looking into these cases," said Mr Cunningham.

But he cautions that the pressure to tell a compelling story may mean that facts are missed or not subject to the full scrutiny of court.

Last year set a new record for exonerations in the United States - at least 149 people who served on average 14.5 years in prison, said a new report from The National Registry of Exonerations. Out of the 149, 54 were exonerated of murder and more than two-thirds were minorities, including half who were African American, it said.

"Progress so far is a drop in the bucket," it said. "By any reasonable accounting, there are tens of thousands of false convictions each year across the country and many more that have accumulated over the decades."


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2016, with the headline O.J. Simpson dramatised. Subscribe