For $29.95, you expected, what? O.J. Simpson confessing that he did indeed kill his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman? Or that his pledge to search for their real killers had led to suspects?
As the producer of the just-released video "O.J. Simpson: The Interview" has said, he'd be selling the tape for a lot more than $29.95, plus shipping and handling, for bombshells of that magnitude.
Instead, the video offers more of the same that we've become accustomed to when it comes to the Simpson saga: more nitpicking of the trial's finer points, which you'll find either enlightening or tiresome, depending on the degree of your personal O.J. obsession; more -- and sometimes interesting -- discussion of the racial sores opened by the case. Still, there is the simple, voyeuristic pleasure of getting inside if not O.J.'s head, then at least his estate on the now famous Rockingham Avenue in Brentwood.
While there is nothing new revealed in the tape, there is something to be said for seeing it come straight from the horse's mouth during a 90-minute interview, followed by a tour of the house and grounds with the former football player himself as the guide, some clips from the trial and an occasional bit in which Mr. Simpson talks straight into the camera.
At times, the video seems to drag on as long as the trial itself; the actual running time is 2 1/2 hours. The interviewer is Ross Becker, a former Los Angeles anchorman who now owns a radio station in Elizabethtown, Ky., who actually does press him on some tough matters: how the victims' blood got into his Bronco, how his blood dripped on the walkway of the crime scene, why the police would conspire against him, etc.
Asking them isn't the problem; what to make of the answers is. At this point, either you believe Mr. Simpson or you don't. Nothing he says, short of announcing that, yes, he did commit the murders, will change most people's minds now. Certainly the video won't change any minds, says one longtime O.J. observer.
"If you thought he was guilty, you don't change your viewpoint; if you thought he was innocent, you don't change your viewpoint," says Greta Van Susteren, the CNN commentator whose trial analysis led to a daily legal affairs show, "Burden of Proof." Ms. Van Susteren watched the video yesterday and will devote today's show to it. "What really needs to happen . . . is he needs to undergo cross examination on the witness stand."
Ms. Van Susteren, a lawyer, is one of the media personalities to interview the now seemingly ubiquitous Mr. Simpson. Last year, he agreed to an interview with NBC, only to back out when the network refused to abide by some last-minute restrictions on what could be asked. Last month, however, he appeared on the Black Entertainment Network, and followed that with a phone-in to CNN's "Burden of Proof."
His appearances coincide with the release of the video, which a California-based company began mailing last week. It currently is available only by mail order via a toll-free number, 1-800-OJ-TELLS.
For the money
Tony Hoffman, the executive producer, refused to say how many orders he has received. "I'm very, very happy with the sales, considering how limited the advertising was," says Mr. Hoffman, who is a well-known infomercial producer.
Some media outlets refused ads for the video because of the controversy that continues to surround Mr. Simpson and the verdict he received. "The National Enquirer wouldn't accept ads," Mr. Hoffman dourly notes, "but the New York Times did. The national cable stations have universally blocked us."
Both he and Mr. Simpson have been unequivocal on why they embarked on the video project: to make money.
"Are you doing this [video] for the money?" Mr. Becker asks his interview subject.
"Oh, obviously," Mr. Simpson responds.
Later, he defends himself against charges that he is capitalizing on the tragedy of the murders, which many continue to believe he committed. Mr. Simpson says others were much quicker to jump on the moneymaking bandwagon.
"Who went out and pimped this immediately? Marcia Clark, [Christopher] Darden," he says of the prosecutors who have signed big-money deals to write books about the case. "I don't begrudge them that," Mr. Simpson continues, adding that he is only hoping to "replenish" what he has lost defending himself against the murder charges and providing for his children, Justin and, as he repeatedly calls her, "Sydney Brooke."
The tape begins inside, with Ross Becker explaining the ground rules of the interview -- he didn't submit questions in advance, but agreed not to ask about his children, personal finances, privileged conversations with attorneys and post-trial legal action.
O.J. Simpson enters, and sits down, his face initially the unreadable, waxen mask that he presented during much of the trial. He starts off sounding beleaguered, talking about the "ordeal" of the criminal trial and now the civil action brought against him by the family of Ron Goldman.
As he warms up to the subject at hand, he does become more passionate. The hot buttons are familiar: Marcia Clark, Denise Brown, Faye Resnick, Mark Fuhrman and other members of the now demonized LAPD.
He responded heatedly when Mr. Becker asked about the jury's short deliberation before coming to a verdict, wondering whether they found him not guilty because of the evidence or because he, like the majority of the jurors themselves, is black.
The polls showed that a majority of whites thought he was guilty even before the trial started, Mr. Simpson notes, so why "knock" the jury for only deliberating a couple of hours. Mr. Simpson goes on to talk about the racial disparities on death row, and how black jurors repeatedly convict black defendants, getting increasingly agitated until he says, "I'm sorry I'm getting a little pissed."
The emotion, though, seems genuine; some may find other parts of the tape less convincing. In response to questions about the alleged abuse Nicole suffered at his hands, he repeatedly talks about how strong and "confrontational" she is. He admits to physically removing her from his bedroom in 1989, in the incident that led to his no contest plea, but says he did not strike her. And he disputes the severity of the 911 call that has been played repeatedly, when a fearful Nicole is heard calling police as O.J. is yelling in the background. Nicole's "confrontational" nature even plays into his version of who actually killed her.
He suggests someone from "the world of Faye Resnick," meaning drug dealers, came to Nicole's home and she became "confrontational" with them.
For avid followers, there are juicy tidbits -- about the surreal slow-mo Bronco "chase" prior to his arrest, about the bracelet he bought for Paula Barbieri but gave to Nicole, about limo driver Allan Park's testimony, and on and on.
Ms. Van Susteren notes that all of Mr. Simpson's recent statements -- on her show, on the videotape and in his deposition for the civil trial -- have been consistent so far as she can tell. And, she says, he does manage on the tape to shed doubt on the prosecution's implication that, after the murders, he jumped a fence onto his property, dropped the bloody glove that detective Mark Fuhrman said he discovered behind the guesthouse, making the thumps that Kato Kaelin heard.
In the video, Mr. Simpson takes viewers on a tour of the narrow walkway in question, saying no blood drips were found there even though the alleged killer would have to make his way through heavy brush and, in the dark, would have crashed into the air conditioning unit that juts out near the area the gloves were found.
What does all this mean now? It could have implications for the civil case, Ms. Van Susteren says, and, of course, while some profess their weariness of the Simpson case, many still follow it.
"Our ratings are still extremely high when we do a Simpson show," she says.
The video is not without the vaguely weird moments that we have come to expect from the Simpson saga.
On the house tour portion of the tape, as he is picking selected nits of the case, he takes us into his bedroom. Although he is in the midst of making some rather complicated, fine points about disputed evidence found therein, he takes the time to pick up a book on his nightstand, "The Right to Privacy," by Caroline Kennedy and Ellen Alderman, and give it a plug.
"I believe this is a book everyone should read," he says casually, as if it just occurred to him in passing.
When pressed to comment on this out-of-left-field endorsement, the book's publicist, Paul Bogaards would only say this, referring to a much less controversial endorsement that the book has received: "He's no Ann Landers."