Why We’re Fascinated by ‘American Crime Story’

Brandon Marcus

It’s been more than 20 years since Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were brutally murdered. However, the anticipation for American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson proves one thing: We are still very interested in the O.J. case. Why?

Late in the evening of June 13, 1994, a gruesome scene was found: Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman had been savagely slain at Brown’s residence in Brentwood, Calif. The case quickly captivated America, especially since the one and only suspect was O.J. Simpson, former football legend and movie star. The following chain of events cascaded quickly: the speculation, the accusations, the evidence, the Bronco chase watched by millions and then finally the murder trial that became one of the biggest cultural moments in American history.

You already know this. In fact, nearly everyone is knowledgable about the case and the trial, but that isn’t stopping FX from airing Ryan Murphy’s The People Vs O.J. Simpson. Despite the ubiquitous nature of the case in pop culture and American psyche, the show is bound to bring in blockbuster ratings. People are already buzzing with the thought of reliving the circus that was this trial. What gives? Why are we so drawn to this behemoth of American law and celebrity?

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You can’t deny the casting has something to do with the hype. Front and center is Cuba Gooding Jr. playing O.J. himself. Gooding Jr., who has seen his fame rise and fall over the years, hasn’t turned in an amazing performance in a long, long time. The idea of seeing him portray one of the most notorious figures of the last few decades is appealing, mainly because we want to see how well he’ll do. The guy has chops (plus an Oscar!) so it’s time he showed them off again.

Next on the cast list are Sarah Paulson and David Schwimmer, two well known television performers, playing defense attorneys Marcia Clark and Robert Kardashian. They’re followed by Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey, Selma Blair as Kris Kardashian and Connie Britton as Faye Resnick. However, the biggest piece of this puzzle is John Travolta.

Travolta will be playing Robert Shapiro and people are beside themselves talking about the casting. In fact, the entire cast has had people talking for months. Some of the choices are surprising, some are perfect, some feel like stunt-casting. But it’s undeniable that many will tune in to see how these actors portray their iconic real-life counterparts. Murphy and his crew have certainly nailed this aspect of the series.

So many people affiliated with the O.J. trial were ready-made for TV. A handful of them were involved in Hollywood so they were literally performers, adding a layer of dramatic flair to their testimonies. Others, like Johnnie Cochran, were just larger-than-life characters. Combining these personalities into the melting pot of a courtroom was a recipe for must-watch TV.

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It’s not just the casting that is getting people excited. Something must be said about the addictive nature of the trial. As Survivor, Big Brother and countless singing competitions have proven, reality TV is engrossing and this case was the mother of all reality TV. Many have heralded (and blamed) the Simpson case with creating the genre as we know it. As noted in the June 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, “Two decades after America dropped whatever it was doing to watch a white Bronco cruise down the San Diego Freeway, the O. J. Simpson case remains unparalleled as noir mystery, soap opera, and (though no one knew it at the time) TV’s first reality show.”

The trial showed networks that they could create cheap content without writers and actors and people by the millions would tune in if the drama was ripe. Why spend millions of dollars on scripts and casts when you could just throw a bunch of real people together and see what happened? The O.J. trial was a major catalyst for that revelation.

Like reality TV, the Simpson case was captivating. Not only was it the people on the stand, it was the case itself. It was the story of a broken marriage between two famous people, something you would see in the movies or read in a Hollywood tell-all book. It had revealing moments and surprising evidence and cliffhangers. Did people feel bad taking such pleasure in the pain and misery of others? I don’t have to tell you that didn’t stop them from watching. It aired during the middle of the day but still drew in ratings that rivaled primetime hits. People couldn’t look away and made it a juggernaut. American Crime Story will certainly tap into that vein and people are excited to remember all the water cooler moments.

The People Vs. O.J. Simpson is also capitalizing on a wave of ’90s nostalgia. This might not be intentional but it’s certain. Disturbing as it was, the O.J. trial was a major part of the 1990s and people are currently thinking fondly of that decade. Maybe it’s the reboot of The X-Files, maybe it’s the fact that a Bush and Clinton are running for the White House again, maybe it’s the return of Nickelodeon cartoons. Whatever the reason, people are looking back at the ’90s through rose-colored glasses. A discussion about the Simpson case leads to a conversation about others things from the ’90s, things that make people feel good. So you can bet many people are talking about American Crime Story because of the things that surrounded the original trial, things like favorite shows and childhood and a simpler time.

There’s another component that is boosting the buzz around Murphy’s show: the renaissance of true crime entertainment. Serial, The Jinx and most recently Making a Murderer have taken the country by storm. People are becoming engrossed in these real-life mysteries and are hungry for more. While we all know how the O.J. trial ends, American Crime Story will be well-edited and directed and put together just like Making a Murderer and The Jinx, deftly delivering all the surprise revelations and moments bound to become trending topics. The show will scratch the itch many are feeling after burning through those other dramas. The surprises won’t be fresh, but they’ll still pack a punch if done well. The show couldn’t be coming out at a better time.

The O.J. Simpson case was full of drama, tragedy and glamorous people doing truly horribly things. It seemed to come straight out of a screenwriter’s brain. It makes sense that  Murphy decided to make the first season of American Crime Story revolve around this sensational tale of tragedy. Will it be one of the most talked-about new series of the year? That’s very likely. Twenty years have passed and Americans are still fascinated by the dark, disturbing world of the O.J. Simpson trial.

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Brandon Marcus
A pop culture lover from birth, Brandon has previously written for VeryAware.com, NerdBastards.com, Trouble.city and CHUD.com. He has complained extensively about inconsequential things on all those sites. Brandon resides in the Pacific Northwest but his heart belongs to Gotham City.
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