After months of research and investigative interviews, there was one question “OJ: Made in America” director Ezra Edelman knew he’d have to answer when he presented his ESPN “30 for 30” miniseries at the show’s Television Critics Association press day.
But Edelman did his best to avoid the “Did O.J. do it?” question, instead focusing on the racial issues stirred up by the verdict in the post-Rodney King era.
“You could make a case in 1994-95 in Los Angeles, for a black man on trial for murder, it was about the best time for OJ to be tried for murder,” Edelman said Tuesday of Simpson’s trial for the brutal killings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.
But while Edelman’s miniseries, which will air over five nights in June, will cover the infamous court case, he told journalists that the story will be a “story of race and celebrity in America and really touch on OJ’s life as a whole [as well as] the city of Los Angeles and race and going back to the ‘50s and ‘60s.”
Edelman acknowledged the buzz stirred up by FX’s upcoming drama series “The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” which will also be presenting at TCA — and includes similar footage to the scenes teased at the “Made in America” panel.
“I’m sure [‘American Crime Story’] will be great and they have creative license to tell a story in a way that I can’t; they can get in people’s heads and finish scenes in a way that I can’t,” he told Variety and other journalists after the panel. “I have first-person characters to deal with and archival footage to sort of limit me … I just know that there’s a story that people haven’t really engaged with in 20 years.”
He admitted that he was frustrated about the conflicting timing of both projects, but that “I don’t know what the appetite for O.J. is in this day and age … [but] I am interested in this other narrative to explain the reaction that people had to the verdict and to explain that even to this day, people’s opinions break down on racial lines, people’s opinions break down on gender lines. I would like people to emotionally and viscerally understand why black people reacted that way to the verdict, why they were invested in O.J. It’s much deeper than that.”
The time frame isn’t the only difference between the ESPN and FX projects. Prosecutor Marcia Clark granted Edelman an interview for his documentary, her first sit-down since that time, and — aside from archival footage of dad Robert appearing in the courtroom as one of Simpson’s defense attorneys — the Kardashians don’t play a prominent part in “Made in America” (David Schwimmer plays Robert and Selma Blair plays Kris Jenner in the FX series).
“Marcia has made peace with it in her own way, but it’s something she still takes very seriously,” Edelman said during the panel. “She had a narrative for her experience that she wanted to impart … whether she likes it or not, it’s still a part of her existence.”
“Made in America” also comes at a time when ’90s-centered nostalgia is at a peak. Other programs paneling at TCA include Netflix’s “Fuller House” and HBO’s “Confirmation” about the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill scandal.
“I think there’s this incredible trove of stories in the recent past that you can bring to life with all this relevancy,” Connor Schell, senior v.p. and executive producer, ESPN Films, told Variety after the panel. “It’s the stories that are relevant to the people who are now of the level to be the storytellers … you draw from what you know.”