Accused murderer O.J. Simpson sat down for a lengthy, revealing interview with TV/film producer Judith Regan back in 2006. The taped interview was never released and in the decade since it took place, the video was thought to have been lost forever. Fortunately, the tape was recently recovered and now Fox will be airing the interview as part of the two-hour O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession? special airing Sunday, March 11, 2018 at 8pm ET/PT.
Judith Regan joined ex-Los Angeles Prosecutor Christopher Darden, Eve Shakti Chen (a representative of Nicole Brown Simpson’s family), anti-domestic violence advocate Rita Smith, and retired FBI profiler Jim Clemente as analysts on Fox’s O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession?, with journalist Soledad O’Brien serving as the special’s host. During the two-hour special, the analysts will delve into Simpson’s explanations of the events surrounding the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman and will provide context to his statements.
In support of Fox’s O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession?‘s premiere, executive producer Terence Wrong took part in a conference call. Wrong provided a behind-the-scenes look at how the special was put together, his initial reaction to hearing the recently discovered interview, and what viewers can expect when they tune in on March 11th.
What drew you to this project and how long did it take to film the special?
Terence Wrong: “We filmed this pretty quickly, in about less than two months. Really, it just began as a no-pressure invitation to come out to the Fox lot in L.A. by Rob Wade, a very dynamic guy if you’ve ever met him. He’s the head of Fox Alternative. Rob is British. He wasn’t even here when the case happened, and frankly, he didn’t know a lot of the details of the case. But he knew this was an explosive case that had occurred in recent American history, and there were these tapes that had been brought to his office. He said, ‘I want you to look at these and evaluate them,’ and I was hooked.
It was riveting television, can’t turn away. The cliché would be ‘car crash TV,’ but it was really just – he sucks you in, O.J., he’s charismatic and charming, and at the same time there’s something a little manic and a little disturbing – or a lot disturbing. I knew I’d never seen anything like it, and I knew it would be a unique contribution to what people understand or know about the O.J. Simpson case.”
Why didn’t the interview air back in 2006? How or why was it lost?
Terence Wrong: “I only know what I read, and it’s the same thing you probably read. The families were unhappy with the prospect of the interview airing, they feared O.J. would be paid, and the decision was made not to do it. As I understand, what happened was back then, it was the world of tape and as somebody who works in this business of making television, we went through a huge digital revolution and the tapes get stored somewhere. We’re not in a tape world anymore, and we haven’t been for many, many years. I think in 2005 we went to HD – or ’06 – and even before that we were transitioning.
Anyway, they were somewhere. They weren’t to air because they had been shelved and somebody knew that – I don’t know who – but eventually it was brought up to Fox executives that these tapes existed still. We’ve had a bunch of things connected to O.J. happen in the last two, three years. We had an Oscar-winning documentary, we had a fantastic drama on FX, and we had him paroled in October. So we said there’s an interview with O.J., wouldn’t that be a great special or something interesting to see?
That was mulled for a while, and then I got the call [asking] would I be interested in coming out to Los Angeles and looking at the material and seeing if there was a two-hour show? Well, it became evident that a two-hour show would be the best format to make out of these things. I was curious. I’m a student of O.J.-ology and I’d seen every frame of the works I cited, and I actually covered the case a little back in ’94. So I went and I looked and, sure enough, it was incredibly riveting.”
Do you think the public will be more receptive to this now than they would have when this was first originally shot?
Terence Wrong: “I don’t know. For me, the distinction between 2018 and 2006 is, the resonance between those two may not be as great as 1994. What really strikes me when I look at the O.J. case, as it struck everybody – and it was in the documentary – that it was two years after the Rodney King case and the trial takes place in this incredibly inflamed environment of racial strife in Los Angeles. By 2006, where was that, and where were people thinking about the case? And now we’re in 2018, you could argue we’re again in a time of heightened sensitivity to race questions after Ferguson, etc.
I’d say as somebody who puts a lot of television on the air, what we are very cognizant of is that you have a new generation of viewers. I’ve kind of aged out of the demographic but for people my age, we know every nuance of that case. For younger people, they really don’t. They say, ‘There is a celebrity, he was a star football payer, he potentially murdered or was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife. It was controversial. There was this thing called a chase, I think, there was a white Bronco,” and that’s it.
They don’t know Mark Fuhrman may have moved the glove, Dennis Fung took evidence home, Johnny Cochrane got Chris Darden to let him get O.J. to try on the glove. They don’t know it. So that, to me, is the big difference, is that you have an audience now who’s going to be delving into this for the first time.”
What was your takeaway when you first watched the tapes?
Terence Wrong: “Well, it was jaw-dropping. Inside of 10 minutes I knew that this was unbelievable television, and that a lot of people were going to have the same reaction as me. Good producers are always putting themselves in the place of the viewer and trying to watch things as a viewer, and I couldn’t turn away. In a way, it’s a little bit ‘car crash television’ because why would you do it if you were him?
I just found it riveting. It was a little…I don’t know how to put it…people say creepy, but creepy is such an overused word. It was a little eerie to be inside his head for so many hours, just listening to the stream of consciousness come out of his mouth, because that’s the way he talks. There are a million parentheticals and he just zigs and zags to one subject after another, and it’s disturbing.”
What, if anything, got cut from the original interview for the special?
Terence Wrong: “Well, nothing substantive in any way, because you always cut people going to the bathroom, taking off their mic, shifting around, repositioning for this or that. Judith Regan – and I have told her this – she did a real service to me as the person who took great pains to make a longer show out of this by following a timeline. And you guys as writers know, when you’re writing a story it’s so great when there’s an actual timeline or chronology. It’s like, ‘Whew!’
She really started the interview with, ‘How did you and Nicole first meet?’ and it goes all the way through the hypotheticals of the night of the murder, and then O.J. going to Chicago, and then coming back and getting arrested, the Bronco chase and then the trial. Then he talks about speaking to the kids about it, and going to the grave site, and how he sees himself today – which is not today; that was 2006 – and so that’s the timeline. All of the long exchanges of the interview are in this edit, so I don’t think there was a lot left on the cutting room floor that was worth anything.”
Are you hoping that by seeing the tape people will change their minds or that there will be some new action in the case?
Terence Wrong: “No, hoping to achieve things like that are really not what I do when I make shows or when I covered news. I think it’s simply a fascinating kind of contribution to a subject that people have shown an abiding interest in. I think we’re not remaking O.J.: Made in America; we’re not delving into the legal minutiae of the case. We’re not doing a drama. We’re taking you inside the mind of O.J. Simpson where nobody has ever been, at least on television. It adds to that pantheon for those people who remain fascinated by this case. I think this case is part of the social history of the United States, for better or for worse.
We already talked about coming two years after the L.A. riots. It delves into issues of celebrity, privilege, domestic violence, race, interracial marriage. I think it strikes so many chords, and it leaves so many people raw that its larger, cosmic significance is why it’s more than just a celebrity crime. That said, because of the story arc that Judith pursued in how she interviewed him, literally beginning at the beginning of their relationship, you see a very dysfunctional relationship, a very tortured one, in which he had the power. He had the wealth, he had the celebrity, and he had the physical power. When these very disturbing incidents of domestic violence occur, and we know there were eight or nine [of them], and several are highlighted in the interview because she asked about them, you can’t help saying, ‘Why did she stay? How did she stay? Did her family know? Did it have to go this way? Could somebody have intervened?’
It’s a real kind of consciousness-raising program about domestic violence. One of the better moments of the panel that we did last weekend where we showed excerpts or large chunks of the program to the panelists and had them react was when Chris Darden, the former prosecutor, remarked how even the 9-1-1 operator – and the 9-1-1 call that really was one of the last incidents before Nicole was murdered – says, ‘What did you do to make him angry?’
Now, I’m not prejudging his guilt by that statement. The domestic violence is one thing we know happened. Leaving aside his guilt or innocence, there’s no debate that domestic violence was front and center in that relationship. The idea that the 9-1-1 operator would say, ‘What did you do to get him angry?’ and as Darden pointed out as a prosecutor that that was generally the mindset, that these things are family disputes. Particularly this time in the #MeToo era, and we’ve had celebrated cases – ‘celebrated’ is the wrong word, we’ve had notorious – I don’t know what the right word for it would be, but you get where I’m going…that’s one thing the program, I think, will accomplish.”
You said earlier the families were unhappy with the interview back in 2006. Do they support it now and how much input have they actually had in the process?
Terence Wrong: “I only know what I read in The New York Times, I hope I don’t offend anybody, about 2006. But I can say that now they support it. I’ve had a lot of conversations with Denise Brown and I know the Goldmans support it because they reached out to other people at Fox. And through their lawyer, they’ve made supportive statements. I think their thinking is, ‘He’s free again and we know him, and we think he’ll hang himself in this interview by implicating himself, so let’s see it. Let’s let everybody see it.’ I’m summarizing, I’m short-handing what they think, and I know Denise said that to me.”
How important was it to get Christopher Darden involved in the special, someone who knows the case so thoroughly?
Terence Wrong: “Well, for me personally it was very important because he had a number of different perspectives. He remains very passionate about the victims, and he strikes me as still wounded by the outcome of that case. He’s a very dignified person and I felt very privileged to meet him and get to talk to him. He was critical because there are people who had six degrees, or less than six degrees of separation from O.J., and then there are people who have a much more distant perspective, but who may bring some expertise.
On the panel, we had three people who had actually seen and known O.J. or been in his presence: Judith Regan, who interviewed him [in 2006]; Chris Darden, who spent 11 months prosecuting him; and Eve Shakti Chen, who was Nicole’s life-long friend. Then we have other people who were analyzing the tape from the point of view of their expertise: a retired FBI profiler, Jim Clemente; and an anti-domestic violence advocate, Rita Smith. So, Darden was really important.”
Was there anyone you wanted for the panel who said no?
Terence Wrong: “I would’ve liked to have had Fred Goldman, but it wasn’t so much that he said no. He’s not a young man anymore and I think emotionally it’s a pretty taxing thing to relive it, and to have to sit there and watch O.J. talk about it, if you come from the perspective of Fred Goldman. They were supportive, as I said, the Goldmans, but it might have been… I can’t predict what it would’ve been like, but I was curious. Other than that, no, not really.
I think we did really well, and I think it was a really emotional, kind of riveting thing. When you watch Sunday night, you may find that some of the high points for you are really from that panel. As riveting as the [original O.J. Simpson] interview is, some of the insights and truth-saying and emotion that flows out of that panel is just unbelievable, and sucked the breath away of everybody in the control room, and all of the crews working on it. People just were…there was a kind of a silence at the end.”