ESPN's 5-Part O.J. Simpson Doc Largely Avoids the Kardashians

Director Ezra Edelman is aware there will be comparisons to FX's dramatized take on the trial — and eager to note the differences.
Getty Images; Courtesy of NBC

2016 is a big year for O.J. Simpson. The long-retired running back may still be locked up in Nevada's Lovelock Correctional Center for an armed robbery conviction, but his 1994-95 trial for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman has found its way into two upcoming TV miniseries — one scripted (FX's American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J.) and one documentary (ESPN's O.J.: Made in America).

The latter marks a first for the sports network's venerable 30 for 30 franchise, a five-part miniseries that aims to tell the complete life of Simpson and not just the unprecedented media circus that culminated in the divisive "not guilty" verdict watched around the world.

"It was such a concentration of full cultural absorption," director Ezra Edelman told reporters during Tuesday's Television Critics Association press tour. "What is lost 20 years later is that there's this story that led up to the trial. There was a history, in terms of who O.J. was as a celebrity and as a black man in America, that is fascinating. What I think is hopefully different in this is a totally engaging narrative that takes place over the course of 40 years ... not one."

O.J.: Made in America also boasts many big gets in terms of interviews. Prosecutor Marcia Clark breaks a years-long silence on the subject of the trial for one part of the series.  

"I would say Marcia has made peace with it in her own way, but it's clearly something that she still takes very seriously," Edelman said when asked if Clark carried baggage for losing the case against Simpson. "To hear their perspective 20 years later and see them in the flesh is the most powerful part of it. It was difficult getting everyone to talk, especially the primary players."

Those primary players include Simpson, who did not grant an interview — "Oh, we tried," said Edelman. — but Simpson does appear in a lot of rarely seen footage. One such clip comes from a 2013 parole hearing in Nevada, where the prisoner appears visibly stunned when a judge asks him about his first arrest in 1994.

When talk turned to FX's American Crime Story, Edelman admitted that he hadn't seen any of the six episodes already circulating among media types and that he probably wouldn't for some time. He seemed to be aware, however, of how the specter of the proto-famous Kardashian family figures into the Ryan Murphy-produced series. (Their patriarch, the late Robert Kardashian, was intimately involved with the trial — but FX also cast actors to play ex-wife Kris and children Khloe, Kim, Kourtney and Rob.)

Will the family come up in the 30 for 30 take?

"Not that much," Edelman asserted. "Robert Kardashian, as someone who was friends with O.J. and by his side, all you see of him in this movie is depositions of him before the civil trial."