A&E, LMN revisit O.J. Simpson trials

Realscreen speaks with executive producers Stephen Auerbach and Chuck Braverman, and LMN's Laura Fleury about investigating the trial of the century with two definitive documentaries.
September 29, 2015

On October 3, 1995, an estimated 100 million people worldwide would watch as former NFL running back O.J. Simpson was acquitted of charges in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Twenty years after the verdict gripped the world’s attention, A+E Networks-owned channels A&E and LMN are premiering two documentary specials from filmmaker Lawrence Schiller and ABS Productions surrounding Simpson’s criminal and civil trials. The films will feature unreleased interview footage, recordings and revelations gleaned from more than 100 hours of civil trial deposition tapes.

The two-hour The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case: The Untold Story – premiering tomorrow (September 30) at 8 p.m. EST/PST on LMN – promises to paint a psychological portrait of the former football star’s personality before, during and after the criminal trial. Forming the backbone of the film will be a secret seven-minute recording made by Simpson before the infamous Bronco chase on defense attorney Robert Kardashian’s Dictaphone.

“It’s really a few minutes of him rambling, but he says a lot of things that sound like someone who’s about to confess – he doesn’t – and he also sounds like someone who doesn’t expect to be living much longer,” Laura Fleury , senior VP and head of programming for LMN, tells realscreen. “It’s a pretty dramatic piece of tape.”

Although cameras provided non-stop news coverage prior to Simpson’s arrest, as well as the proceedings from the courtroom and his departure from the Los Angeles County Superior Court in California, broadcast cameras were unable to capture the aftermath once he arrived home.

But through director Schiller’s personal connection to Kardashian, executive producers Chuck Braverman and Stephen Auerbach were able to recover exclusive never-before-seen home video of an elated Simpson in the comfort of his own home following the controversial acquittal verdict.

“I don’t even think Larry [Schiller] remembered that he had the videotape inside O.J.’s house the day of the criminal trial verdict and after he came home,” Braverman says.

“Larry also recorded audio of all the principals of the trial, and especially Kardashian. Every single day he had an audiotape, and in [The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case], the relationship between Kardashian and O.J. is key to a lot of the elements going on,” he adds.

Meanwhile, through extensive sit-down interviews with Goldman family defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli, the filmmakers discovered the existence of a number of plaintiff deposition videotapes recorded in the months leading up to the civil trial sitting under protective order in a warehouse storage room. Those recordings would include nearly two weeks of testimony from Simpson, Al Cowlings – O.J.’s best friend who drove the Ford Bronco – and his son, Jason Simpson.

As the 20th anniversary of the acquittal approached, the filmmakers decided to also create a “palate cleanser” by producing a secondary film focusing on the civil trial to air the following night.

“They pitched the idea of a documentary for the civil trial and that was very appealing to A&E, and then as a result of having these two documentaries – one on LMN and one on A&E – we as a company decided to synergize, and each of the documentaries will repeat on the other network. We’re cross promoting,” Fleury said.

Airing on A&E on October 1 at 9 p.m. EST/PST, the two-hour O.J. Speaks: The Hidden Tapes provides new insight into the criminal trial while detailing the civil trial that would later find Simpson liable for the wrongful death of and battery against Goldman and battery against Brown. He was subsequently ordered to pay US$35.5 million in damages.

Internationally, Crime & Investigation (CI) and A&E will air the specials within a week of the U.S. air dates. In Canada, France and Southeast Asia, the specials will air on the same day as the U.S. In total, the docs will air across more than 125 territories.

unheard story

O.J. Speaks: The Hidden Tapes

Though cameras were not permitted to record within the courtrooms of the civil trial, the filmmakers were able to recreate the testimonies of Simpson and others through the use of the deposition tapes.

“I said from the beginning that it was going to kind of be like a Rubik’s cube, and it really was,” Braverman says.

Once the filmmakers retrieved the civil trial archives, further unreleased materials were found that had been subpoenaed. Within that material would be the Holy Grail for Simpson researchers: the nearly two-and-a-half hour wedding tape to Nicole Brown Simpson.

“One of the things filmmakers like to do is shine light into places that are dark, and I think we had a great opportunity in both of these films to reveal things that people didn’t really know,” Auerbach says when asked about the motivation behind the projects.

“We knew going in that there had been half a dozen shows already on the air,” Braverman added. “We were behind the curve, but we have material and information that was new and unique and different through Schiller. That’s why we were able to sell it.”

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