Celebrities, murder, sex, drugs and one unusually slow car chase. The O.J. Simpson trial had all of the elements needed to make it one of the 1990s' greatest tragicomedies.
But while television executives took note of its record-setting numbers—95 million people tuned in to watch the case that year—it didn't exactly launch reality television as we know it today, as some media publications have recently claimed.
"I think we have to be really careful in saying that it [reality televison] was O.J. Simpson's fault," said television expert and regular guest Bob Thompson from the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, who spoke to Margery Eagan and Jim Braude today about the anniversary of the event.
O.J. Simpson's trial coincided with other changes in television programming and technology that were already happening, Thompson explained, including the rise of 24-hour cable channels, smaller cameras and increased competition for all-hours viewership. "The infrastructure was there and waiting for an event like this," he said.
Reality television's start might be more accurately credited to the premiere of MTV's The Real World in 1992, according to Thompson. Nonetheless, the infamous White Bronco chase across the Los Angeles freeway and subsequent courtroom antics made it a TV event "of mythic narrative proportion" that was unprecedented in its media coverage, he said.
Listen to Thompson's take on the O.J. Simpson trial, Season 2 of Netflix's Orange Is The New Black and the benefits of binge-watching television below: