TV Networks Fear O.J. Interview Might Cause Advertiser Exodus

Brooke Keast/Nevada Department of Corrections via AP

After nine years in jail, the disgraced NFL star seeks seven figures, but traditional media won't bite.

Associates of O.J. Simpson have been shopping his first post-prison interview for weeks, numerous sources tell THR. But the erstwhile NFL great, who was released from Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada a little after midnight on Oct. 1, so far has no takers.

"It is treacherous," says one TV news veteran. Not with a "10-foot pole," says another.

In part that's because those representing themselves as his associates — and there are many of them — are asking for a seven-figure payout for an interview with Simpson, who was acquitted in the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman but ended up serving nine years for a botched 2007 robbery in Las Vegas. Sources at ABC, CBS and NBC all stress that they will not pay for a Simpson interview, which would violate news division standards. Multiple large cable TV groups, including A+E Networks and Discovery, also have passed.

But any money paid to Simpson would be the target of debtors charged with collecting the $33.5 million civil judgment levied against Simpson in the 1997 wrongful death suit brought by the Brown and Goldman families. California attorney David Cook, who has been charged with collecting from Simpson on behalf of the Goldman family, told CNN Oct. 1, that the original judgment has now ballooned to close to $70 million due to interest on the unpaid award. 

But the ethical thicket for media companies goes beyond paying Simpson, 70. Even if he could be persuaded to do an interview without payment, the optics of even giving him a platform are likely to be controversial. If an interview aired as part of the lineup on a news program like Today or 48 Hours, it would not automatically lead to an advertiser exodus. But, says one media buyer, "if any anti-O.J. sentiment starts, I could see people pulling away."

Similarly, a Simpson special on a broadcast or cable network would likely be a nonstarter for advertisers. "From a news perspective, it's probably a get," notes media consultant Bill Carroll. "From an advertiser's perspective, it's something that most, if not all, advertisers would stay away from."

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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