The Simpson mess was a lot better in the good old days

January 13, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

It was time for the big wake-up call. All of us who had been eagerly looking forward to the "Return of O.J. -- the Trial" probably know better now.

This is an actual double murder, and not some movie of the week.

And, although it may be tempting, we won't confuse the coming Super Trial with the coming Super Bowl. I don't think there will be any O.J. office pools. What I'm saying is, don't bother to bring the beer and popcorn as you pull up to the set and turn on Court TV -- you probably couldn't keep the stuff down.

It has been easy to forget these past few months what the stakes were. But when the prosecution introduced chilling evidence the other day in a hearing that O.J. Simpson beat up Nicole Simpson, stalked Nicole Simpson and even that he threatened to cut off the heads of her boyfriends, well, that's a different kind of show biz.

The prosecutors want to use some of this evidence -- they withdrew the part about Simpson's threat -- in the trial. Simpson's lawyers argue that it's prejudicial. That's lawyer talk.

But we understand.

The judge locked the jurors away so they couldn't hear what was said. So begins life as a sequestered juror. It's just you and that juror's diary you hope will make you rich someday.

Whatever happens, we heard. We heard all too clearly that the trial will be about more than Kato's hair and the merits of DNA testing.

The prosecution hopes to establish that Simpson first beat Nicole, then stalked her and then, finally, killed her. They've got Nicole's diaries, in which she accuses Simpson of abuse. They've got pictures she had locked away that apparently show her bruises. They've got Simpson's letters of apology.

A friend, who follows the case maybe too closely, called to say, "It was not a great day for O.J." This friend is a master of understatement.

If the judge allows this evidence in the trial, it could help convict Simpson. If he doesn't, we'll still know. Whether or not he's found guilty, and whatever he writes in his new book, the trial will destroy O.J. Simpson, American ex-hero. Maybe that's only just.

But it won't stop there. Because Simpson's lawyers, so warm and fuzzy up to now, will revert to form and go after the reputation of the victims. It's what they do.

At the same time, you can bet millions will watch. At this point, it's too late to turn away.

I much preferred the scandal (nobody even calls it a scandal anymore; spectacle is the word of choice) during what we might call the off-season.

Nothing much was happening, if you don't include the release of the O.J. exercise video and Faye Resnick's book. Also, we had time to revel in the essential "Hard Copy" tackiness of it all. You started to say things like, "You know, I'm not really interested anymore. I'm more interested in Newtie's mom."

Nobody believed you.

Or maybe the media just had time to kill. Because the O.J. stories never stopped.

The mainstream media, dependably viewer and reader friendly, allowed us to get up close and personal with Judge Ito and Marcia Clark and the hundreds of lawyers for the defense.

We cried along with Nicole Simpson's family on prime-time TV.

We laughed along with Letterman when he joked about Kato and A.C. and Ford Broncos.

It was a more innocent time.

And for a while, the entire spectacle was almost, although not quite, as easy to take as the Tonya-Nancy scandal that preceded it. In that one, all that happened was that Nancy Kerrigan got whacked on the knee. And then, as the world watched, she went to Norway and won the silver medal anyway and became a huge hero and made millions -- until everybody got sick of her.

Tonya, of course, ended up on the wrestling circuit. It was pretty much a happy ending all around.

That's the way it started to feel with O.J., like there wouldn't have to be these drastic consequences, although we knew better.

The trial will be remembered as an orgy of media excess, in which the real business of the world was put aside as we became obsessed with the trial of a one-time football player. It will be difficult to explain.

It will be even harder to feel good about.

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