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'O.J.: Trial of the Century' review: It cuts to the chase

O.J. Simpson reacts as he is found not

O.J. Simpson reacts as he is found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, at the Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles on Oct. 3, 1995. At left is defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey and at right is defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. Defense attorney Robert Shapiro is in profile behind them. Credit: AP / Myung J. Chun

THE SHOW "O.J.: Trial of the Century"

WHEN|WHERE Thursday night at 9 on Investigation Discovery

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Without any narration, this documentary traces the O.J. Simpson murder trial from start to finish, using archival footage from various sources. Viewers are left with a bird's-eye view -- 20 years after the crime -- of the "trial of the century."

MY SAY It was June. It was hot. It was slow -- this last "it" referring to a news cycle that had ground to a dead halt. That would change.

On the night of June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, former wife of O.J. Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered. Simpson, who was to be charged, disappeared and was next seen on the evening of June 17 in a white Bronco chased -- or, more accurately, followed -- in "low-speed pursuit" by a fleet of LAPD squad cars and an armada of TV news choppers.

And in that moment, the modern TV news industry as we now know it was born -- or, as some have persuasively argued, died. Over the next year as his trial played out, the O.J. news industry exploded. O.J. ephemera filled newscasts, pushed soap operas off the air, changed viewer habits and created new ones, too. Nothing before, nothing since, had been or would be covered with such intensity except maybe a war or two; the attacks on Sept.11 would be the sole exception, but even coverage of that would eventually tail off. O.J. coverage built in intensity, culminating in the jury's not guilty verdict on Oct. 3, 1995.

The lessons to be drawn from this spasm of monumental TV overkill? Those won't be told Thursday night on this informative and effectively produced doc by Nicole Rittenmeyer ("102 Minutes That Changed America"). She'd need another film to even begin to explore those. Nevertheless, O.J. coverage absolutely anticipated what was to come: the lurid pursuit of ratings at all costs; cable TV news' eventual split into warring camps along ideological lines; and, ultimately, viewers' retreat into a million camps of their own making, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. One can only imagine -- or shudder to imagine -- what would happen if that Bronco pursuit happened today.

At least this film offers some clear-eyed perspective: The O.J. spectacle was about race, even though TV news only belatedly found that out.

BOTTOM LINE Very good "tick-tock," not quite enough perspective, although the film does say Simpson spawned

a $1-billion news/merchandise industry. That figure almost seems conservative.


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