Tonight, Fox will show you something that it wasn’t willing to a decade ago. The network will air a two-hour special titled O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession (8 p.m. ET/PT), which is built around a “lost” — and controversial — 2006 interview with O.J. Simpson that was conducted 11 years after he was found not guilty of brutally murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in a trial that polarized the country. (Simpson was found liable for their deaths in civil lawsuits filed by their families, and later served time in prison for an unrelated armed robbery and kidnapping.)
This interview, which the network is billing as “no-holds barred,” features Simpson giving publisher Judith Regan a “disturbing” hypothetical account of the night of the double murder. It was originally supposed to air in concert with the book If I Did It, but after public backlash, News Corp nixed the special and the book. (After the Goldman family secured rights to the manuscript, the book was published with additional commentary by a different publisher in 2007 and retitled If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer.) The new special also features a panel of analysts, including Regan and Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden, who will join host Soledad O’Brien to break down the interview.
Reached via email, O’Brien — the veteran broadcast journalist who anchors the syndicated political talk show Matter of Fact With Soledad O’Brien — previews the special and warns viewers to brace for something “bizarre.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to host this special?
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: As someone who spent much of her career covering O.J. Simpson, or watching specials and series and docs about O.J. Simpson, I thought this had the potential to forge new ground. That’s before I watched the 2006 interview. After I screened it, I knew this would be something everyone would want to see. It’s the most bizarre interview I’ve ever been part of.
Fox initially canceled the special over the backlash. How did you feel about that decision at the time — and do you think sentiments have changed? Why should this special air now?
My first question — when the project came to me — was, “How do the victims’ families feel about this interview?” As you point out, it was controversial, then eventually scuttled. Hearing friends and family members of the victims were on board was important for me. And they told me why: They feel like everyone should hear O.J. Simpson in his own words, even talking “hypothetically” about the night of the murders. He never testified on the stand. They felt the public should hear — and see — this.
What struck you — or chilled you — as you were watching this lost interview?
The specific description of the day and night of the double murder was just bizarre. He frames it as hypothetical, but it’s so detailed and specific. O.J.’s description of his relationship with Nicole is illuminating. Also very dysfunctional, even as he tries to make it all sound very normal. Finally, the way he describes yelling at his deceased wife — I just can’t describe it any better than bizarre.
How would you describe the tone of the panel discussion? And what conclusions are reached?
Our panel is incredible. Chris Darden from the original prosecution team. FBI profiler Jim Clemente. Domestic violence expert Rita Smith. Nicole Brown Simpson’s childhood friend Eve Chen. And Judith Regan, who conducted the 2006 interview. It’s a great panel. I think watching Chris Darden watch O.J. recount that night — it was like watching him get punched in the gut. And Eve — I was grateful she stayed for the whole panel. Much of what she heard was brutally painful for her. The tone I’d describe as thoughtful and analytical — but I’d seen it five times. None of them — including Judith — had ever seen the interview. Stunned would be the appropriate word for their reactions.
Will viewers see anything in this special that will change their minds about O.J. Simpson?
That’s a good question. I think there will always be people who think O.J. is innocent. Others who will always think O.J. is guilty. But this interview is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. So if you found the bronco chase, the trial and all the coverage afterward compelling — this is just utterly different, and really a must-see.