Not Guilty: A Look Back At The OJ Simpson Trial 25 Years Later 

How the murder case was one of TV’s first true reality shows 

On October 3rd, 1995 with an estimated near 100 million people around the world tuned in, a jury of 12 men and women found OJ Simpson not guilty of first-degree murder in the brutal slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The verdict followed nine agonizingly long months of testimony in what became known as “The Trial of the Century”

The not guilty verdict was the dramatic climax of a media circus that began just over a year earlier, on the night of June 12th, 1994 when Brown Simpson and Goldman were viciously stabbed to death outside her Brentwood home while her two children slept inside. The verdict has become one of those “Where were you when…” type of moments in history like the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion, or the September 11th terrorist attacks. Whether it deserves the distinction is, of course, debatable, but in many ways, the Simpson case was one of television’s first reality shows with every dramatic moment and revelation playing out in real time during a decade where salacious scandals turned people like the Menendez brothers, Tonya Harding, and John and Lorena Bobbitt into household names.

The OJ Simpson reality show truly began on June 17th, five days after the murders, when Simpson, beloved football superstar-turned-actor-turned TV pitchman and prime suspect in the homicides, failed to turn himself into the LAPD that morning as previously agreed upon. By 2pm, LAPD Commander David Gascon took to the airwaves in a press conference to reveal that Simpson was considered a wanted murder suspect and a fugitive from justice. Later that day, at 5pm in an even more stunning turn of events, Simpson’s lawyer and long-time friend Robert Kardashian appeared at a press conference of his own, reading a letter from Simpson believed to be a suicide note in which he maintained his innocence but said, “I can’t go on.” And then, later that night, just when you thought things couldn’t get any more dramatic, OJ Simpson and friend and former teammate Al Cowlings were spotted by news helicopters on an LA freeway in a white Ford Bronco with Simpson believed to be armed with a gun. Networks immediately sprung to air, even interrupting game five of the NBA Finals between the Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks to track the vehicle while crowds gathered on the side of the freeway to cheer on the double murder suspect. “The Bronco Chase” as it’s since come to be known, ended peacefully just before 9pm with Simpson returning to his Rockingham estate where he was promptly arrested on live television, marking one of the greatest falls of an American sports hero we’ve ever seen.

But despite being the main, and only, suspect in a brutal crime, Simpson still went into his trial seven months later with his share of supporters.

As public and dramatic Simpson’s arrest was, his subsequent trial was even more public and more dramatic; televised live every day on Court TV and covered extensively by news outlets and around the clock by 24-hour news networks. The trial was so riveting, it even had a detrimental effect on other daytime programming. The Washington Post published an article in July of 1995 titled Simpson VS The Soaps reporting that daytime soap viewership was down 14% from the previous year. Television’s most popular soap at the time, The Young and The Restless saw a 15% drop in viewers. Difficult for the scripted exploits of Nikki and Victor Newman to compete with the real-life drama of a once-celebrated sports hero now on trial for a brutal double murder. And similarly, with reality shows and soap operas, the players in the Simpson trial became pop culture figures. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno spoofed presiding judge Lance Ito with semi-regular sketches featuring “The Dancing Itos,” it was somehow newsworthy when lead prosecutor Marcia Clark changed her hairstyle mid-trial, Simpson houseguest Brian “Kato” Kaelin became a standout character, earning his Warholian 15 minutes of fame for being a harmless and loveable dope, and most notably, smooth-talking “Dream Team” defence attorney Johnnie Cochran, known for his famous “if it does not fit, you must acquit” speech, was spoofed on Seinfeld with the recurring character Jackie Chiles. The trial took on a life of its own, becoming a complete and total circus with the lives, and gruesome deaths, of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman taking a back seat to the everyday courtroom spectacle of shenanigans and acts of showmanship.

When the trial finally, and mercifully, reached its controversial conclusion on October 3rd, 1995, North Americans were rightfully divided on Simpson’s actual innocence. A newly-free Simpson vowed to devote his life to finding “the real killers” with David Letterman later joking on his late night show that Simpson was searching every golf course in America for the culprits.

The end of the Simpson trial did not mean the end of the Simpson reality show. The players continued to pop up in the news over the next several years, most infamously Simpson himself when, in 2007 he found himself on trial once again, this time for his part in a botched armed robbery attempt involving his own memorabilia. Simpson wasn’t so lucky in court this go ‘round and, in a truly strange coincidence, was found guilty of 12 charges on October 3rd, 2008 – exactly 13 years to the day of his acquittal in the double murder trial. The late Ronald Goldman’s father Fred and sister Kim were in the courtroom to observe, just like they were that day in 1995 when Kim Goldman’s painful screams greeted the reading of the not guilty verdict. The 2008 verdict was ultimately more satisfying for the Goldmans.

The same year Simpson found himself in front of another judge, a new reality show premiered on E! called Keeping Up With The Kardashians taking viewers inside the everyday lives of the late Robert Kardashian’s family. And while you can argue it was Kim Kardashian’s sex tape and friendship with fellow reality star Paris Hilton that put her in the spotlight, there was no denying the public’s interest in the Kardashian konnection to the kontroversial Simpson case.

In 2016, the Simpson murder case provided inspiration for not one, but two high-profile pieces of programming; the uber popular and highly-acclaimed limited series, The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story as well as the Oscar-winning ESPN documentary, OJ: Made in America the latter of which is a spectacular deep dive not only into the case and trial itself, but into the long history of racism within the Los Angeles Police Department. Sadly, that aspect of the documentary remains as relevant as ever and its themes of racism within law enforcement not limited to only Los Angeles.

But now, it’s 2020 and it’s been exactly 25 years since those famous words, “We the jury in the above and titled action find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder” were heard live by nearly 100 million people. OJ Simpson has been a free man since October 1st, 2017 after nine years behind bars. And yes, he’s back on his beloved golf course and sometimes, even popping up on Twitter. The Kardashians have announced we’ll no longer be keeping up with them, via E! anyway, as they’re pulling the plug on their long-running reality show. Perhaps, after 25 years, it’s also time to bid farewell to the Simpson reality show, truly one of pop culture’s first and longest running real life dramas. The jury did, whether right or wrong, acquit and now, half a century later, it’s time for us to quit.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>