‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ turns 21

By Diane Brown, IU Communications Specialist

The television series “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” premiered this week. It was a reminder that it’s been 21 years since the day I sat in on O.J. Simpson’s trial for the murders of his second wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a restaurant employee named Ronald Goldman.

My, how time flies.

“It was nearly impossible to live in this society between June 12, 1994, the night of the murders, and October 2, 1995, the day the verdict was announced, and not be aware of events in the trial,” said IUPUI Professor Dennis Bingham. “It was like the proverbial car wreck: It was hard to look away. It was hard not to have an opinion.”

The People vs. OJ Simpson

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY — Pictured: (l-r) Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX Networks

Bingham, professor of English and director of the film studies program in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, is penning a blog on the 10-episode FX series. At the time of the events, Bingham had been teaching at IUPUI for about three years.

My courtroom seat during that day in 1995 was next to that of Dominick Dunne, the writer and investigative journalist who was covering the trial for Vanity Fair.

At Dunne’s death in 2009, Dan Abrams talked about the friendship he developed with Dunne and others during the nine-month-long trial when reporters “day after day” took their assigned seats and “developed the sort of friendships you generally only develop in college living together day in and day out.”

I was not part of that circle.

At the time of the trial, I was a staff writer for one of three daily sister papers whose readership stretched across eastern Los Angeles County. Media outlets that had been assigned seats in the courtroom during the trial had to have that seat filled every day or lose the privilege, I was told. So when the reporter normally assigned to cover the trial had pressing duties in another part of the courthouse, my editor pulled me for duty in Judge Lance Allan Ito’s court.

In my newspaper days, I covered a number of stories that had more in-the-courtroom spunk than the Simpson murder trial, including one involving a family’s fight to keep a pot-bellied pig within a city’s limits. The pig had a booster club that showed up for proceedings.

Personally, I found the circus of hawkers gathered outside the Los Angeles court building during the trial more entertaining — and as IUPUI’s Bingham said in his first blog installation posted Feb. 1, chases on L.A. freeways are a common feature of newscasts in Los Angeles.

Dunne would go on to write a novel based on his experiences covering the trial.

I would go back to my desk to write about the limousine driver’s testimony as a front-page news story for the following day.

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY -- Pictured: Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson. CR: Michael Becker/FX Networks

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY — Pictured: Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson. CR: Michael Becker/FX Networks

After 20 years, what I remember most about that day at the O.J. Simpson trial is how anxious I was to make sure I didn’t nod off — a no-no Ito promised to reward with dismissal from the courtroom; how I wished the judge didn’t have a rule against chewing gum in the courtroom; the courthouse swagger of Johnnie Cochran; and oh — how good-looking O.J. was in person.

If you are interested in serious, intellectual reactions and analysis of the FX series as drama, you will want to follow Bingham’s blog on the School of Liberal Arts website. New installations of “His Just Deserts — or Ours” should appear within two days of each broadcast. Bingham, a biopic scholar, promises to offer his thoughts on the show as drama, as biography, and as history.

Bingham’s 2010 book titled “Whose Lives Are They Anyway?: The Biopic as Contemporary Film Genre” includes a chapter on “Ed Wood,” a 1994 film by “People v. O.J. Simpson” screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.

“You’ve given the biopic genre the text it needs and deserves. You really seem to understand our work and what we were going for,” Karaszewski, who grew up in South Bend, Ind., reportedly said of Bingham’s work.

“The People vs. O.J. Simpson” holds court at 11 p.m. Tuesdays on FX.

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