The OJ Simpson trial has been billed as the most publicized criminal trial in American history – the first reality TV show for the courtroom voyeur (“if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”) and Saturday marks 20 years since that acquittal, when Simpson was found not guilty in the murders of his estranged wife and her alleged boyfriend.
Simpson was a Heisman Trophy winner, an NFL running back, a sportscaster, actor and college and pro football halls of fame inductee. Depending on how old you are, Simpson was all of those things, said Chuck Braverman, who directed “The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case: The Untold Story” and “O.J. Speaks: The Hidden Tapes,” a new two-part documentary on the case.
The film looks back at the OJ trial and how it was seared into Los Angeles’ consciousness. “He’s the most famous American to ever be prosecuted for murder,” Braverman said.
The O.J. Simpson verdict was also one of the most memorable TV moments, drawing in almost 54 million viewers, or more than 42 percent of the country’s TV-watching households at the time, according to Nielsen.
The media circus at the time also helped launch the Kardashians to TV fame. Robert and Kris Kardashian (parents of Kourtney, Kim, Khloe and Robert) were friends with Nicole and O.J.; and Robert Kardashian joined O.J.’s defense team at the time.
In the film, Kris Jenner recounts several key moments leading up to the eventual murder of her friend Nicole Brown Simpson. She says she’ll never forgive herself for not doing more and not believing Nicole when she said she thought Simpson would kill her, according to Braverman.
Braverman initially wanted to do a documentary about Larry Schiller. A filmmaker and friend of Kardashian, Schiller had unfettered access to the murder trial and amassed more than 100 hours of (mostly audio) tape of O.J. and his lawyer.
He had “all this unheard, unseen, mostly audio because he was friends with Robert Kardashian, O.J.’s best friend,” Braverman said. “When O.J. called Kardashian, the first person Kardashian called was Larry.”
But instead of becoming the focus of the film, Schiller handed Braverman his tapes. The resulting film premiered on A&E and Lifetime Movie Club this week (you can watch it online).
Though O.J. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court, he was later ordered to pay more than $30 million in punitive damages to the Brown and Goldman families in civil court.