For Fox, time, competitive zeal and spite add up to “O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession?,” a two-hour special — cobbled together from material the network opted not to air a dozen years ago — transparently being used as a counter-programming stunt to try blunting the premiere of “American Idol” on ABC.
According to Fox, the “lost” tapes of Simpson’s interview with then-HarperCollins publisher Judith Regan were recently discovered, as opposed to having been held to be used for just such an occasion.
On Thursday, Fox screened raw footage from the original 2006 interview, and it’s compelling. Simpson is asked to speculate about “what might have happened,” as Regan couches it, on the night of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman in 1994.
Simpson was later acquitted of the murders in a highly publicized trial, but found responsible in a subsequent civil suit.
During the interview Simpson at first resists discussing the killings but then proceeds to answer, appearing at several points to validate the prosecution’s timeline and theory of the case. He also lapses into tenses that don’t sound speculative, saying at one point that “Obviously I must have” taken a glove off after the killing, given that one was found at the scene.
In perhaps the strangest portion, Simpson discusses a friend, who he only calls “Charlie,” who went with him to confront Brown and handed him the knife.
Simpson also refers to blacking out; the vast amount of blood spilled (“It was horrible”); having been “fed up” with Nicole for bringing what he considered unsavory characters around his children; sneaking back into his house after the murders; and Goldman striking a karate stance when confronted.
The interview was conducted for a planned TV special in conjunction with a book, “If I Did It.” Simpson says his motivation for talking is “financial, to a degree,” but also refers to it as being “almost cathartic.”
Under criticism at the time, Fox backed out of both the book and special, with Rupert Murdoch — the head of News Corp., which owns both the network and the publishing house — apologizing for the project. Regan was fired, and subsequently settled a $100-million lawsuit against the company.
The book was eventually published elsewhere.
Regan will be among a panel of experts who will participate in the broadcast, among them Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden and retired FBI profiler Jim Clemente.
The special is being produced by Terence Wrong, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and will be hosted by Soledad O’Brien.
In a statement obtained by CNN, an attorney for Fred Goldman said the family welcomes “the airing of these tapes.”
“While justice has eluded our family, Fox Entertainment enables everyone to make their own judgment,” the statement added.
Simpson was released from prison in October, having served time for kidnapping and armed robbery in his attempt to recover sports memorabilia.
As noted, Fox has scheduled the program directly opposite “American Idol,” the reality singing competition, which was picked up by ABC after the network canceled it.
Whatever the actual story about how “O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession?” came to air on the network, the material shown underscores the enduring fascination with what was dubbed the “trial of the century.” As for how much of a ratings draw Simpson remains, by throwing it up against one of the most popular franchises in the history of reality TV, that will be tested Sunday.