TCA: ‘People Vs. O.J. Simpson’ Aims to Satisfy Audience Appetite for Injustice

Complete Coverage: TCA Winter Press Tour

Pasadena, Calif. -- FX packed the Langham Huntington Hotel stage with 14 cast members, writers and producers of People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story for an hour-long panel capping off its day at TCA winter press tour. The principals predicted the show would resonate given audience hunger for true-crime series established by breakout podcast Serial and Netflix’s Making a Murderer.

“Great true-crime stories aren’t just about crime,” said exec producer Brad Simpson. “They’re about some sort of rupture in society, some underlying issue. Right now, people are interested in stories about the ways in which the justice system might be broken or flawed. People are interested in injustice right now, in ways that they haven’t always been.”

Exec producer/director Ryan Murphy said he “tore through” the entire run of Murderer over the holiday break. “I was so fascinated by that show. You watch that show and you end up asking, ‘How is the justice system so broken?’ I wanted to talk to the jurors and see inside that courtroom. On our show, one of the episodes I’m most proud of is Episode 8, which is told from the POV of the jury. What were they like? What were they going through? I think that’s something people will definitely be interested in.”

Added exec producer Nina Jacobsen, “People will want television to affirm their values and hopes. But right now it seems like people want television to explore their fears and misgivings and concerns about how things may have gotten off-track.”

Jeffrey Toobin, the CNN pundit and New Yorker writer whose book The Run of His Life served as the basis of the film, said while it took two decades for the book to reach the screen, “I knew it was going to happen eventually. This was the most famous event in American history that hadn’t been dramatized.”

John Travolta, a producer who also stars as “Dream Team” lawyer Robert Shapiro, said when the Simpson case unfolded in 1994, he paid scant attention amid a whirlwind career revival and Pulp Fiction’s Palme d’Or win at the Cannes Film Festival. His father, an ex-football coach, was “on the couch following it obsessively,” he recalled.

Asked about promoting a limited series on FX with his last starring role in a TV series, in Welcome Back Kotter nearly 40 years ago, Travolta said it was an “apples-and-oranges” comparison. Kotter “wasn’t, let’s say, critically dependent. We had 40 million viewers a week and we were happy to have them.”

People also stars Cuba Gooding, David Schwimmer, Sarah Paulsen, Courtney Vance, Malcolm Jamaal Warner and Sterling K. Brown, all of whom were on the panel. The 10-episode series, the kickoff to an anthology that will continue in its next season with a take on Hurricane Katrina, premieres Feb. 2.