This isn’t the first time O.J. Simpson has wreaked havoc on the network news divisions.
In 1995, Simpson left Katie Couric and Tom Brokaw standing at the altar when he backed away from a planned primetime interview with the two anchors — just hours before the live event was to have taken place.
Peacock’s decision to air the interview caused the same sort of outrage as Fox’s planned event. Net’s switchboards were flooded with calls, and some picketers even protested the net’s affils.
NBC had planned to turn its O.J. interview into a three-hour event under the “Dateline” banner. The interview itself was to air commercial-free, but the Peacock’s sales department initially told Madison Avenue sources that ads on the two hours before and after the interview would air at a huge premium.
Net then backed down from the idea of jacking up ad rates on the night, with then-NBC News prexy Andy Lack insisting the net wouldn’t “do anything to (inflate) our ad rates.”
It’s unclear whether NBC, like Fox today, would’ve had much luck selling ads anyway.
“We have clients who will buy time after the rape scene in a movie-of-the-week,” Jon Mandel, who at the time was senior VP, national broadcast,
of Grey Advertising, told Daily Variety in 1995. “And they won’t go near this.”
Ironically, in 1995, Fox execs decided to counter NBC’s planned O.J. interview by airing a repeat of the family-friendly film “Beethoven.”
The movie, said then-Fox topper John Matoian, was “a light-hearted alternative for viewers and their families who are weary of the prolonged coverage of the O.J. Simpson story.”
Simpson finally did speak in 2004, to both Couric and Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren, as well as then-CNN anchor Catherine Crier. Those interviews raised few eyebrows, however — perhaps because no money apparently changed hands.
NBC and Fox News did squabble over the timing of the broadcasts, with the Peacock complaining that Fox News had broken an embargo by airing parts of its interview before Couric’s “Dateline” broadcast.