Could O.J. Simpson Go From Inmate to Reality TV Star?
Nonscripted pros consider the potential of a docuseries on the disgraced NFL star if he's released as expected later this year: "The danger of trainwreck shows is that you've got to watch out for the train because it will run you over."
Was O.J. Simpson's recent TV ubiquity just the beginning?
FX Emmy darling American Crime Story and ESPN Oscar winner O.J.: Made in America had the infamous NFL running back dominating the cultural conversation in 2016 — 21 years after his acquittal on murder charges and months before his potential parole: Simpson could be out of the Nevada penitentiary where he's serving 33 years for armed robbery and kidnapping as early as October. Many in the industry think a reality show might soon follow.
"The danger of trainwreck shows is that you've got to watch out for the train because it will run you over," cautions 44 Blue Productions CEO Rasha Drachkovitch (Lockup), one of several reality producers who thinks at least one network or streamer could make a play for a Simpson docuseries to its potential peril.
One top cable chief agrees that 2016 reaffirmed interest in the subject — though the threat of alienating advertisers leaves a small pool of outlets that could get away with such a show. There is precedence for the concern. Simpson, even at the height of his post-trial infamy, never had much success courting a TV audience. In 2006, the ill-fated Fox special O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here's How It Happened was pulled before the premiere when advertisers voiced concern and, more overwhelmingly, dozens of affiliates flat-out refused to air it.
Simpson also made several attempts at finding a TV vehicle in pay-per-view before his 2008 incarceration. One that made it to air, Juiced, was a hidden-camera show in which Simpson put on prosthetics and pranked unsuspecting guests. It was not a financial success.
A more pressing concern from producers, however, is whether a grizzled 69-year-old Simpson is even compelling. Drachkovitch points out that the Simpson story may have been mined to the point of exhaustion. And other reality experts suggest Simpson might be so far removed from his past life as a public figure that he wouldn't even make for coherent programming.
"The last time I saw him interviewed, he was what I'd call bad television," says David Lyle, president of producers consortium PactUS. "So I don't think he's going to be giving the Kardashians a run for their money — unless he married one, I suppose."
A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.