O.J. Simpson’s televised criminal trial for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman stretched for nearly 16 months, with many memorable dramas along the way, some of them simply beyond bizarre. With the courtroom saga approaching its 20th anniversary, here are 10 of the trial’s most unforgettable moments.
1. Media hordes gathered at Los Angeles’s police headquarters on June 17, 1994, to hear that O.J. Simpson had been charged with double murder. But then they learned he hadn’t turned himself in, as arranged. O.J. was on the lam! A collective gasp could be heard from the assembled audience, a response likely echoed by the millions of viewers who tuned in.
2. Simpson’s Bronco-led caravan, seen coast-to-coast, live, a few hours later, riveted viewers as a tragicomic spoof of countless action films. 3. Conspicuously missing from TV screens: Frogmen, an NBC pilot starring Simpson that had been completed a few months before the murders. NBC never aired the pilot, which reportedly has a scene in which Simpson holds a knife to the throat of a woman.
4. As tragic as it was in real life, the Simpson saga proved a boon to TV comedy, and nowhere more memorably than on The Tonight Show, where “The Dancing Itos” – a quintet of Simpson presiding Judge Lance Ito look-alikes – became a recurring bit.
5. In January 1995, The O.J. Simpson Story aired on Fox. The sequestered jury was spared exposure to a TV film that, according to an Associated Press critic, managed “to spin exploitation into tedium.”
6. The E! network did its part to shed light on the complex proceedings. In February 1995 it declared, “O.J. Simpson Not Guilty,” basing this conclusion on 61 percent of the viewer-respondents in an E! phone poll. Less than an hour later, E! was back with a new message: “O.J. Simpson Guilty,” the network said, citing the same 61 percent of respondents.
7. On June 15, 1995, assistant prosecutor Christopher Darden asked Simpson to put on the leather gloves that might link him to the crimes. It was a dramatic demonstration, and devastating for the prosecution when the gloves appeared too tight for Simpson’s hands, reinforcing the immortal words of defense attorney Johnnie Cochran: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
8. Befitting a much-watched TV event, conspicuous branding met viewers’ eyes. Ito was seen drinking a Diet Coke on the bench. And what about his computers, whose IBM and Sony logos were identifiable to the TV audience? Both companies said they paid nothing for the huge exposure – other than lending the equipment for Ito to use during the trial.
9. On Oct. 3, 1995, the “not guilty” pronouncement sparked a pair of starkly different images. As Simpson glowed with a crooked smile, Cochran embraced his client from behind and seemed to be burrowing his cheek into O.J.’s shoulder. Seated in the gallery, Ronald Goldman’s father looked stricken while sister Kim collapsed into tears.
10. A week later, the exonerated Simpson went missing again. He had agreed to sit with NBC’s Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric for a live hour-long interview. But just hours before airtime on Oct. 11, 1995, he bailed. The network scrambled to fill the time it had allotted for his much-hyped appearance.
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