Maybe it was the fans cheering from the overpasses. Maybe it was the low-speed chase itself, which provided ample room for color commentary. But slowly and surely a nation of rubberneckers disconnected from the tragedy of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman’s murders and got hooked by the Hollywood unreality of it all — the legal drama unfolding where Days of Our Lives should have been, the nightly media circus riding into prime time on the flimsiest of rumors. Who could help treating O.J. Simpson’s fate as a new form of entertainment? Hardly anyone, as the following time line shows:
June 17 A Howard Stern fan calls in to ABC’s live coverage and tells coanchors Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters that he can see Simpson in his Brentwood driveway. ”Oh, my Lord, this is quite tensive,” the caller says. ”And Baba Booey to y’all.”
June 17 Among the estimated 95 million Americans watching Simpson’s long run are David Hasselhoff and invited guests at a party after his U.S. concert debut on pay per view (TV audience: approximately 30,000). ”Nobody saw us because O.J. was on the run,” the overgrown lounge singer mumbles, disheartened, to his handlers.
June 24 Out on bail after driving the infamous Bronco, Al ”A.C.” Cowlings attends a party for porn film stars in Los Angeles.
July 6 ABC interrupts coverage of the pretrial hearing to show One Life to Live. The move drops the network’s audience precipitously. The next day — surprise! — gavel-to-gavel coverage returns.
July 11 In a People magazine spread, Simpson defense lawyer Robert Shapiro poses shirtless in his pool with his wife, Linell, and their dog, Spike.
Sept. 5 Simpson houseguest and hearing witness Brian ”Kato” Kaelin subs for Greg Kinnear on Talk Soup and snags one of the E! network’s highest ratings to date.
Sept. 26 Sitting at the defense table, O.J. Simpson sings ”Memory,” from the Broadway musical Cats, to himself.
Oct. 4 The previously stalwart Judge Lance Ito sends a message to shock jock Howard Stern, which appears in New York’s Daily News: ”Enjoy the show, just don’t get arrested in L.A.”
Oct. 8 Reportedly propelled by focus groups, prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark gets a $180 makeover from ”hairstylist to the stars” Allen Edwards.
Oct. 13 Owners of the Daily Motivator desk calendar are greeted with this quotation from O.J.: ”The day you take complete responsibility for yourself, the day you stop making any excuses, that’s the day you start to the top.”
Oct. 19 The Playboy Entertainment Group puts O.J. Simpson: Minimum Maintenance Fitness for Men, a $14.95 video, on the market. Segments show Simpson getting fit at his now-famous Brentwood mansion with now-famous houseguest Kaelin. Sales have been ”mediocre,” says Barry Leshtz, vice president of the group.
With the trial possibly beginning sometime in January and cameras locked out of the courtroom for jury selection, there are signs that the case may revert — temporarily, at least — to being a mere news event. Robert Shapiro has decided to stop holding daily press briefings, and on Nov. 29 — for the first time in six months — the National Enquirer put out an entire issue without one mention of the Simpson case. — Beth Pinsker