The People v. O.J. Simpson: Why People Watched the O.J. Media Circus Then and Now

TV Insider Staff
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Left: Reed Saxon/Pool/AP Photo. Right: FX

O.J. Simpson, Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson

Back in 1994, when the O.J. Simpson trial began, it riveted TV watchers and kickstarted a media circus. More than two decades later, the original story became dramatized by FX in the series The People v. OJ. Simpson. Surprisingly little has changed with how the real trial riveted audiences for a year and how viewers have been swept up in the weekly storylines.

As the series reaches a close for Season 1, we dug through TV Guide Magazine archives to the original issue where the trial was covered by two experts—journalist and media critic Neal Gabler and law professor and TV commentator Arthur R. Miller—to see how their thoughts uncannily applies to the FX series, with .gifs from the current series to illustrate them.

For Pure Entertainment

Neal Gabler

"This whole O.J. Simpson miniseries has been fabulously, deliriously, dizzyingly entertaining... It’s been the news equivalent of a great beach read."

"Plot sells—always had and always will. And good, juicy, real-life plots with terrific protagonists sell especially well in a crowded, competitive market with dozens of maws to feed."

Arthur Miller

"Americans are both fascinated and repelled by the Simpson case, behaving like moths attracted to the flame, unable to decide whether to turn away or get even closer. Perhaps we have become a nation of schizoids over this."

For Understanding How Law "Worked"

Neal Gabler

"O.J.’s life becomes a cautionary tale of a black man trying to make it in a white society. Or an example of male brutality in a male-dominated society. Or of out deep denial when confronted by the misdeeds of famous people we like. (After all, many of us knew of his spousal abuse and liked him anyway.) Or of the way pampered individuals lose their moral bearing because they have always played by different rules than the rest of us. Whatever theme we select, the allegorical possibilities keep us listening and pondering."

Arthur Miller

"TV showed us—and properly so—that the police forensic procedures were lax in the hours following the double homicide. At times, some lawyers did seem to be motivated by ego rather than rationality—let alone the truth. And with gavel-to-gavel coverage, it can’t be denied: Every potential trial juror has been polluted to some extent."

"With all its excesses, the televised hearing gave Americans the most extensive education ever offered to a mass audience on how the justice system works and what our Constitution protects. Never before had the merits and demerits of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure been offered to the American people–or at least those who chose to listen and to think—by good lawyers in a capital case. Never before had the inner workings of police, coroners, and forensic experts been explained as fully by real cops. It took us well beyond L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, and my personal favorite, Kojak—and with comparatively few commercials."

For Seeing the Combustion of Celebrity

Neal Gabler

"The irony is that this who whodunit has obviously focused more attention on Simpson, made him a bigger 'star' than anything else he had done."

Arthur Miller

"To me, there is one ultimate unsolved legal mystery of the O.J. Simpson saga. No, I don’t mean, 'Did he do it?' It is, simply: 'How do we assure that the same quality of legal representation and the same attention that’s been given to an affluent celebrity is provided to every other American who becomes enmeshed in legal difficulty?'"

Neal Gabler

"The theater is called America and this month the main feature has been 'The Crime of O.J. Simpson.' It’s been a great, great show."

Arthur Miller

"The truth is, the O.J. saga is fascinating story about the human condition and many of its dark sides. With all of its elements—a hero brought low, obsessive love, race and wealth, beauty and brutality—it is only human to be fascinated by it."

All .gifs via GIPHY