Was O.J. Simpson's recent TV ubiquity just the beginning?
FX Emmy darling American Crime Story and ESPN Oscar winner O.J.:Made in America had the infamous NFL running back dominating the cultural conversation in 2016 — 21 years after his acquittal on murder charges and months before his potential parole: Simpson could be out of the Nevada penitentiary where he's serving 33 years for armed robbery and kidnapping as early as October. Many in the industry think a reality show might soon follow.
"The danger of trainwreck shows is that you've got to watch out for the train because it will run you over," cautions 44 Blue Productions CEO Rasha Drachkovitch (Lockup), one of several reality producers who thinks at least one network or streamer could make a play for a Simpson docuseries to its potential peril.
One top cable chief agrees that 2016 reaffirmed interest in the subject — though the threat of alienating advertisers leaves a small pool of outlets that could get away with such a show. There is precedence for the concern. Simpson, even at the height of his post-trial infamy, never had much success courting a TV audience. In 2006, the ill-fated Fox special O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here's How It Happened was pulled before the premiere when advertisers voiced concern and, more overwhelmingly, dozens of affiliates flat-out refused to air it.
These were the key players in the O.J. Simpson trial:
Key Players in the OJ Simpson Trial
Key Players in the OJ Simpson Trial
Defense attorney Robert Shapiro (L) sits next to O.J. Simpson during a preliminary hearing following the murders of Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman July 7, 1994 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Lee Celano/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 27: Prosecutor Marcia Clark complains to the judge 27 February about a second statement by Rosa Lopez, a key defense witness, that was not released by the defense. Lopez, a housekeeper to a neighbor of O.J. Simpson's, claims to have seen a white Ford Bronco outside his home at around the time the prosecution claim the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman took place. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 19: O.J. Simpson (R) whispers to Defense attorney F. Lee Bailey (L) during testimony of FBI special agent William Bodziak 19 June during the O.J. Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles. Bodziak compared one of O.J. Simpson's tennis shoes to a model of the Italian-made Bruno Magli shoes, which left imprints at the murder scene of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 16: O.J. Simpson defense attorney Alan Dershowitz (standing) gestures during a motion to Judge Lance Ito 16 June in which he said that the standard of juror dismissals must be changed. The defense has accused the prosecution of juror targeting and hiding witnesses. Seated are (L-R) prosecutor Marcia Clark and Scott Gordon. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden, one of the prosecutors in the OJ Simpson murder trial is shown during a court hearing December 9
OJ Simpson sits in court October 14 with his attorney Robert Shapiro during a hearing in Simpson's murder trial
Defense attorneys Robert Shapiro (L) and Johnnie Cochran, Jr., arrive at the Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles September 26 for the first day of jury selection in the OJ Simpson murder trial. A protestor's painting on spousal abuse is in the background
Superior Court Judge Lance Ito makes a point during a pre-trial hearing on suppression of evidence in the OJ Simpson murder case September 21 in Los Angeles
Josephine Guarin, housekeeper at OJ Simpson's estate in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, testifies during a pre-trial hearing on evidence suppression in the OJ Simpson murder case September 22
Prosecution witness Candace Garvey, a friend of Nicole-Brown Simpson, testifes about OJ Simpson's appearance at his daughter's dance recital June 12, 1994, during afternoon court session in OJ Simpson's murder trial
Prosecutor Marcia Clark wears rubber gloves as she places a left-hand glove found at the feet of murder victim Ronald Goldman into a plastic bag during OJ Simpson's murder trial, February 17
Denise Brown (L), sister of Nicole-Brown Simpson, cries as she testifies February 6 about Nicole-Simpson's relationship with O.J. Simpson, during morning court session in Simpson's murder trial. Brown wears "Angel" earrings and pins in memory of her sister
FILE PHOTO 16MAR95 - Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman is shown on the witness stand March 16, 1995 during O.J. Simpson's murder trial in Los Angeles. A bloody fingerprint was found at the scene of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman but police bungling destroyed it, Fuhrman says in a new book published on February 17.
Prosecutor Brian Kelberg points out a wound near Ronald Goldman's ear on an autopsy chart during testimony June 9 in the OJ Simpson murder trial. The Los Angeles County coroner said that Goldman received two small stabs to the neck in addition to fatal slashes, suggesting that he was taunted by his attacker before being killed
Kim Goldman, sister of murder victim Ron Goldman, reacts to the showing of a photograph of her brother's bloody shirt during the OJ Simpson double murder trial in Los Angeles June 26. The prosecution presented the final phase of its case, trace and hair evidence.
**POOR QUALITY DOCUMENT
Arnelle Simpson, daughter of murder defendant OJ Simpson, testifies July 10 on her father's behalf in his double murder trial in Los Angeles. Arnelle Simpson is the first witness in the defense's case
Defense witness Robert Heidstra points during his testimony July 12 at O.J. Simpson's murder trial to the area near where he walked his dog on the night [Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman] were murdered June 12,1994. The chart is a map of the area around Bundy Drive, site of the murders
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Simpson also made several attempts at finding a TV vehicle in pay-per-view before his 2008 incarceration. One that made it to air, Juiced, was a hidden-camera show in which Simpson put on prosthetics and pranked unsuspecting guests. It was not a financial success.
A more pressing concern from producers, however, is whether a grizzled 69-year-old Simpson is even compelling. Drachkovitch points out that the Simpson story may have been mined to the point of exhaustion. And other reality experts suggest Simpson might be so far removed from his past life as a public figure that he wouldn't even make for coherent programming.
"The last time I saw him interviewed, he was what I'd call bad television," says David Lyle, president of producers consortium PactUS. "So I don't think he's going to be giving the Kardashians a run for their money — unless he married one, I suppose."
A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.