Every once in a blue moon, a TV network is forced to acknowledge that there is such a concept as broadcast standards. There are societal lines that should not be crossed, and there are limits to the glories of "creative integrity." It's too bad it took an extremely distasteful concept like Fox's book and TV special featuring O.J. Simpson, with the former football star-turned-movie star-turned-murderer talking about how he would have killed his wife had he been the killer.
This "If I Did It" book and TV interview monstrosity was deliberately planned for the last week of the November sweeps, and Simpson reportedly was to be paid a cool $3.5 million for his efforts.
It was a disaster. Fox News Channel discussed the story relentlessly, obviously promoting both the book and the upcoming interview, but it backfired and open revolt ensued. Fox affiliates across America began rumbling that they would not air this sordid special. Bill O'Reilly called for a boycott of advertisers on the forthcoming O.J. event. Geraldo Rivera went nuclear. News Corp. capo di capi Rupert Murdoch finally had to intercede, and killed the entire project.
"This is an interview that no one thought would ever happen," Fox reality-show ringmaster Mike Darnell had proclaimed in announcing "If I Did It" a few weeks ago. That's because it never should have happened. But it's encouraging that in an age where many have felt public opinion makes no waves in Hollywood any more, it turns out there are limits to what garbage networks will put on the air. It didn't take a four-year investigation by the FCC to determine that this was inappropriate. There was public outrage so intense that it threatened the entire Fox empire, and that's why Fox dumped it.
Murdoch made the correct call, but as everyone at Fox knew, this open acknowledgment of a hideous miscalculation would trigger immediate derision, primarily from Fox's competitors. And then, while everyone at Fox was putting on the P.R. Kevlar, fate intervened to save the day. On the very day that Fox announced it was withdrawing both the O.J. book and the TV show, news emerged that another Hollywood has-been, comedian Michael Richards, went on a screaming frenzy at the Laugh Factory, using the N-word against two black men heckling from the audience.
Richards didn't kill anyone. He didn't even say this on television. But his ugly outburst was recorded on a cellular phone, and soon it could be seen all over the Internet. TV coverage followed. Newscasts censored out the racial epithets, but the large wave of negative publicity triggered the long tour of apologies and regrets for the suddenly pitiful Richards, beginning with a sympathetic appearance on CBS's David Letterman show.