With the 20th anniversary of the White Bronco chase causing the O.J. Simpson trial to loom large in the rear-view mirror, a brief word about the football star’s last, still-unseen TV pilot, “Frogmen.”
As I detailed in a fairly exhaustive 2000 piece about the project, Simpson had starred in an NBC series prototype in 1994 – he was longtime buddies with the network’s then-president, Don Ohlmeyer – that was shelved after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
In the pilot – which wasn’t picked up but remained in contention, and at the least would have aired as a two-hour movie – Simpson played the leader of a crack team of ex-Navy SEALs. The group worked out of a surf shop in Malibu, and the tone seemed designed to tap into a vibe similar to “The A-Team.”
In a moment that fleetingly drew attention during the trial because of its parallels to the murders, there was one sequence in which Simpson’s character, John “Bullfrog” Burke, surprises an intruder and holds a knife to her throat. It turns out it’s Bullfrog’s grown daughter. (The prosecution opted not to use the video.)
Researching the piece, I was able to watch a 25-minute presentation for the pilot – a source screened it for me, but wouldn’t let the videotape out of his possession – and interview a number of the co-stars. They had watched their hopes of the show being picked up for midseason slowly disappear as that Bronco cruised down the freeway, and were subsequently hounded by the press obsessed with all things O.J. The cast included Evan Handler (of “Californication” and “Sex and the City”), Louis Mandylor and Todd Allen, who had auditioned for another Warner Bros. pilot for NBC that year: “ER,” and the role that went to Anthony Edwards.
As noted at the time, the decision to lock “Frogmen” away no doubt meant sacrificing a small fortune – a rare and welcome act of self-restraint, given the morbid curiosity factor. (Frankly, I had practically forgotten about it until last week, when a TV news staffer ran across the earlier story and called asking if I could supply them with the pilot, or the means of accessing it.)
Handler, actually, might have put it best in 2000. Asked if he was surprised the pilot hadn’t aired, he said, “That is about the only proof you have that there is some dignity in the advertising and television business.”