O.J. Simpson’s infamous 2006 TV interview in which he hypothesizes about the murders of his ex-wife and her friend offers a jarring look at the former pro football star’s explanations for the polarizing case that has fascinated the nation for nearly 25 years.
Fox on Thursday screened about 45 minutes of footage from the interview that was recorded in 2006, but was shelved until just two months ago, when network executives made the decision to move forward with a new special built around Simpson’s sit-down interview with publisher Judith Regan. The two-hour special is set to air Sunday.
Terry Wrong, exec producer of “O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession?,” said the interview was an important document in what has become the cottage industry of “O.J.-ology,” he said. Fox’s sibling cabler FX generated record ratings and nine Emmy Awards for its 2016 miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Filmmaker Ezra Edelman won an Oscar last year for his 10-part ESPN documentary “O.J.: Made in America.”
In predicting that “The Lost Confession” would become a “TV event,” Wrong cited the enduring public debate about the contours of the case — which still spurs discussion about race, class, wealth, and privilege in the justice system — and the enduring suspicion that Simpson got away with murder in the 1994 slayings of Nicole Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.
“I think it should be seen, this interview,” Wrong said during a Q&A after a screening for journalists at 21st Century Fox headquarters in New York. “This is a unique kind of document. This is him in his own words giving you a window into his psychology.”
Wrong, an ABC News alum, said he was approached by the network in January to work with the raw footage and turn it into a special. He was not involved in the original 2006 production.
“The Lost Confession” weaves the Simpson interview with the analysis and commentary from a panel that includes Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden, a longtime friend of Nicole Simpson, a domestic violence expert, and a criminal profiler. Wrong said Nicole’s sister, Denise Brown, watched the filming of the panel discussion, but opted not to take part on camera.
According to Fox, Simpson was not paid for the interview back in 2006 but he was paid for the book. The interview was scheduled to air as a TV special dubbed “If I Did It” that was planned in conjunction with the publication of the book by Fox’s HarperCollins unit. After an uproar from the public and the victims’ families, Fox hastily pulled the TV special and book, and Rupert Murdoch went so far as to issue a public apology.
Wrong said he and network executives have received the approval of Nicole Simpson’s family and the Goldman family to air the footage. It is believed that Simpson was paid in 2006 for participating in the book project, but not directly for the TV interview. The book became entangled in the Goldman family’s civil lawsuit against Simpson. It was eventually published with the proceeds going to the Goldman’s as part of the legal judgment the family won against Simpson.
“Both families feel that he’s guilty and he got away with murder,” Wrong said of why the families no longer objected to the interview being showcased. “Their attitude is, he’s going to hang himself.”
Simpson was famously acquitted of the double murder charge in 1995. Under the law, he can no longer face legal sanction for those murders. But the case nonetheless made Simpson a social pariah. He wound up serving nine years in jail for a 2007 armed robbery in Las Vegas. He was paroled in October.
Simpson’s representatives were contacted by producers about offering a possible contemporary response to the 12-year-old interview, but they have not responded to those requests, Wrong said.
In the interview, Simpson “hypothesizes” that he could have been at the murder scene with a friend he calls by the fictitious name “Charlie,” who brought a knife. He describes encountering “a guy” at Nicole Simpson’s Brentwood condo who tried to threaten him with “karate moves.” Simpson then says he doesn’t remember what happened until he found himself inside the condo, staring at the dead bodies of Nicole Simpson and Goldman and he and Charlie were also covered in blood.
Wrong said Darden speculates the story involving Charlie is Simpson’s way of creating an alter ego to give himself cover in his mind for the heinous crime.
In the interview, Regan questions Simpson about his relationship with Nicole from the first time he met her, when she was 18 and working as a server at a Beverly Hills cafe. Simpson’s casual dismissals of the numerous instances of domestic violence that erupted in the relationship are recurring and disturbing, Wrong stressed. Even the way a 911 operator handles a call for help from Nicole is shocking in light of contemporary standards.
“His misogyny and the way in which he couched virtually everything,” he said. “They had eight or nine domestic violence calls to (Simpson’s home). Even on the 911 call, the operator said to Nicole, ‘What did you do to make him angry?’ ”
Wrong asserted that the special should serve “as a huge advertising for raising consciousness and for intervention on domestic violence.”
Wrong said Simpson’s demeanor in the interview underscores how he was able to brush off the taint of domestic violence charges through his celebrity and the all-American persona he cultivated.
“It’s riveting television. You can’t turn away. He sucks you in. He’s charismatic and charming and at the same time, there’s something a little manic and a lot disturbing about him,” Wrong said later in the day Thursday on a conference call with reporters.