Wednesday, July 19, 2017

O. J. Simpson: Soap Opera of the Century

Like millions of others around the world, I was glued to the TV on October 3, 1995, to watch the verdict announced in the O. J. Simpson double murder trial. I'd worked in soaps for so long by then (and had been a fan even longer), I almost didn't mind the preemptions because the true-life "Trial of The Century" eclipsed almost anything Bill Bell or James E. Reilly could put on the air. It even had a surprise ending many never suspected.

For me, however, it was more personal. My cousin, Keith, was the manager at the now infamous Mezzaluna Restaurant in Beverly Hills and dated murder victim Nicole Brown Simpson. A struggling actor at the time, I also worked there as the maitre D' (in another odd soap connection, the bartender was soon-to-be-discovered Laura Leighton: "Sydney" of Melrose Place fame) and spent lots of social time with Keith, Nicole and her kids. Of course, I'd seen O. J. at Mezzaluna on occasion and heard all the "first-hand" stories that have since become the stuff of legend. It all seems like a surreal, and very horrible, dream...but it was a part of my youth just as it is a part of our generation's pop culture, still being exploited in highly rated and well reviewed TV series and documentaries.

This week, O. J. Simpson is going to be back on the small screen for his latest parole hearing [for a different crime of which he was convicted], probably preempting the few remaining daytime soap operas...a genre his trial was credited with irreparably damaging; too many viewers got out of the habit and switched off.

It is ironic that almost a quarter century has elapsed (time flies, friends) and there is still an appetite for O. J. Simpson news. Other convicted criminals, even the celebrity sort, don't get that kind of coverage so maybe it's an opportunity for us to reflect as to WHY people are still so compelled. I have made a career in TV reporting since his first trial and the only answer I can come up with is "Because it's a soap opera."

While I will certainly be curious to know the outcome of his hearing, I'll read about it online and hear about it at work. And when I get home, I intend to catch up on my DVR recordings of Days of our Lives, The Young and the Restless and General Hospital.

EDITOR'S NOTE: O.J. Simpson is set for a parole hearing Thursday, July 20 at 1 p.m. ET, on the remaining counts for which he was convicted in Las Vegas in 2008. According to a number of experts, Simpson has a strong chance of a favorable outcome before the Nevada Board of Parole, which in 2013 paroled him on five counts.

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