It was a Friday afternoon in mid-June 1994 when a car chase that never got above 60 mph drew millions of eyeballs to TV screens everywhere, fascinated by the scene playing out before them.
The car, a 1993 white Ford Bronco, carried cargo wanted by the Los Angeles Police Department. Several squad cars trailed the Bronco at a safe following distance.
Behind the wheel was Al Cowlings; in the back seat, crouched out of view, with a loaded gun and a cell phone, was O.J. Simpson, Cowlings’ friend and former NFL teammate. Simpson had failed to appear earlier that day at the police station, where he would have been charged with killing Nicole Brown Simpson, his ex-wife, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
The chase lasted a few hours, during which time a detective tried to talk Simpson into tossing the gun out the window, to no avail. News helicopters — more than 20 in all — captured the drama into the evening, long enough for supporters of the former football star and actor to assemble on overpasses along the route with signs and cheers.
As darkness fell, the cameras tracked the fugitive back to his home where, upon his eventual exit from the vehicle — and after a phone call to his mother — waiting police took him into custody.
It was only the beginning of a media circus that lasted more than a year and culminated in the acquittal of Simpson for the two slayings.
The media saturation of the arrest and trial seems quaint by today’s standards, when viral videos aren’t the exception but the norm. But this was reality television for real. There were no producers creating drama for a prime-time audience, the case had its own drama.
It was so hard to escape coverage that the major players of the prosecution and the defense became household names: Marcia Clark, Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian — yep, that Kardashian, ex-husband of Kris; a close friend of the victim, Nicole; father to Kourtney, Kim, Khloe and Rob; and friend and lawyer of O.J.
Although the spectacle played out in the news and tabloid media, and the lengthy trial was broadcast on Court TV (now TruTV), what the public saw then wasn’t the whole story. “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” a new series from the creators of “American Horror Story,” aims to tell what happened when the cameras weren’t filming.
The series, which premieres Tuesday on FX, uses as its source material the book “The Run of His Life: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” by Jeffrey Toobin, and boasts an all-star cast.
Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the accused killer. John Travolta is Shapiro, the lawyer who forms part of the multimillion-dollar defense team of Kardashian (David Schwimmer), Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane), and Alan Dershowitz (Evan Handler).
Sarah Paulson, a veteran of “American Horror Story,” plays Clark; Bruce Greenwood is Gil Garcetti, district attorney for Los Angeles County; and Selma Blair appears as Kris Jenner.
“American Crime Story,” a limited series that plans to examine a different high-profile case each season, comes along just as a hunger has emerged for true crime. The popularity of the “Serial” podcast and Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” would suggest that the time is now to revisit the so-called trial of the century.
And chances are pretty good that, even 21 years later, the public has an appetite for more O.J. “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday on FX .
“Grease” is the word: Following NBC’s act — which has aired live productions of “The Sound of Music,” “Peter Pan” and “The Wiz” — Fox is going back to Rydell High with “Grease Live!” airing Sunday.
Julianne Hough is Sandy, Aaron Tveit is Danny, and Vanessa Hudgens, Carly Rae Jepsen and Keke Palmer round out the Pink Ladies. Mario Lopez, Boyz II Men, Ana Gasteyer and Eve Plumb also appear in the production of teen angst and summer love.
The three-hour special starts at 6 p.m. Sunday on Fox.
The game is afoot(ball): In advance of the 50th Super Bowl airing Feb. 7 on CBS, the network will count down the top 50 best ads that have appeared as part of the game telecast over the years. Join Katharine McPhee and Boomer Esiason for “Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials 2016,” 7 p.m. Tuesday on CBS. The pregame should start shortly thereafter.