Rather, what will be made very clear is that things won’t be very clear at all. License will be taken with regard to the truth in order to stimulate the arcs of the cast of characters and the truth will be buried. How can I be so sure of such an outcome of a program I haven’t seen? I know television.
And although I haven’t seen this “dramatized” version of the story, I did watch the original “television movie” — which was the O.J. Simpson trial itself. It was one of those “Trials of the Century,” like when they used to have college football games of the century. We seem to have more football games and trials than centuries, but that’s another story as well.
The trial of O.J. Simpson unfolded before our eyes on television with plot twists, a cast of characters that could only be categorized as a cast of characters, and bequeathed to us a litany of L.A. celebrity-excess tropes whose half-lives still glow with tabloid radiation.
It was as if the prosecution team had seen too many television versions of trials when they allowed the defendant to touch and manipulate the evidence (that infamous glove) and “prove” it “didn’t fit.” I wrote a few scripted lawyer-centric television dramas in my day and never forgot my first conversation with a real lawyer who was a technical adviser on one of those imaginary lawyer shows.
The first thing out of his mouth was that he fully expected me, as well as all the other writers, to disregard his sound legal technical advice if sound legal protocol interfered with a good story. He was so right.
He also explained to me that real lawyers aren’t like every single fictional lawyer ever portrayed on television, who still go about “solving” crimes on witness stands. The reality of the actual process of the law is not all that exciting.
And no lawyer, according to this technical advisor — who may not have played a lawyer on television, but was a member of the Bar in good standing — ever asked a witness, either for the defense or the prosecution, a question of which they did not already know the answer.
Replay the notorious moment in the O.J. Simpson trial when the prosecution handed over the bloody glove to the defendant giving him the freedom and opportunity to bend, fold and mutilate the physical evidence in such a way as to present a puzzled look on his face to the jury that this glove somehow was a poor fit.
No, I don’t think I’ll be setting my clock or DVR (if I had one) to watch the O.J. Simpson movie. And it won’t be out of some elevated sense of my own specialness, but more out of the sentiment that I’ve already seen it — and I know how it ends.
The Founding Fathers were definitely on to something when they insisted on the rights of the accused and public trials. But once again television comes along and, by magnifying these things, simultaneously distorts them.
Instead of the informed populace guys in tri-cornered hats envisioned, we have mass pop culture fodder. The televised O.J. Simpson trial was just that and the grim fact that two people were brutally murdered, children orphaned and parents and siblings thrown into an abyss of grief got lost amid the sensationalism.
Television, of course, can’t be the sole culprit. The Scopes Monkey trial and the Lindbergh kidnapping trials were the rage of their time and their media.
“To Kill a Mockingbird’s” Atticus Finch sums up a lot about America, race and the legal system when he addressed the fictional jury in the trial he was defending:
“I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system — that is no ideal to me; it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.” Despite the goodness and eloquence of Atticus Finch, that imaginary jury produced a verdict that condemned an innocent man.
The O.J. Simpson trial, far removed from the Jim Crow South of the 1950s depicted in Harper Lee’s masterwork, was still a lot about race and the legal system and, yes, even television. Every minute of the proceedings were broadcast live into millions of living rooms across the country and it’s hard to not think that impacted the way the parties involved acted.
Maybe I’m jumping the gun and light will be shed on a crime and a trial more than two decades old. But whether it sheds any new illumination or not, people on either side of the verdict will not likely be swayed. And as for me — frankly, I’d rather watch a rerun of “Matlock.”
Robert Brennan has been a professional writer for more than 30 years, including many years in the television industry.