NBC will air Simpson interview

October 10, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

O. J. Simpson has agreed to a live interview with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric that will air tomorrow night at 8 on NBC, a network spokeswoman said last night.

"The interview will be broadcast live from NBC studios in Burbank and will run for one hour without commercial interruption," Beth Comstock, vice president for NBC news information, said in a telephone interview.

The network will pre-empt all of its normal prime-time programming tomorrow night and replace it with a three-hour special edition of its "Dateline NBC" newsmagazine, built around the interview, titled "O. J. Simpson: After the Verdict."

Comstock said that NBC is not paying Simpson and that there are no ground rules as to what Brokaw and Couric may ask.

As to how NBC got Simpson for the exclusive, Comstock said, "We've been interested in it for quite some time, and so we pursued it."

But, of course, there is more to it than that. Before being charged with the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, Simpson worked as a sports announcer for NBC Sports. The network's sports division honored his contract through last year.

Furthermore, Don Ohlmeyer, the West Coast president of NBC, has steadfastly stood by Simpson, regularly visiting the former football star in jail. In July, during a press conference with television critics, Ohlmeyer repeated his conviction that Simpson was innocent and blasted the critics for what he said was their reckless reporting, which he said assumed Simpson was guilty.

When asked if Ohlmeyer played a role in landing the interview, Comstock said, "It's my understanding that, in the initial stages, he [Ohlmeyer] understood that O. J. Simpson was interested in some sort of participation with us, so Don had a conversation with NBC President Bob Wright."

Wright decided that NBC would not pay for the interview and would not air commercials during it, so as not to seem as if the network was seeking to unduly profit.

Wright then turned the matter over to NBC News to see if that division wanted to pursue it, according to Comstock.

"And, so, we did," said Comstock.

After the interview, NBC will seek "reaction to the interview and explore the larger issues brought to light by the trial," according to a statement issued last night. Commercials will air during that portion, which is scheduled to run from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., but Comstock said the number of commercials will be fewer than normal.

An indication of the initial reaction by NBC affiliates came from David Roberts, news director at WBAL (Channel 11) in Baltimore: "That's an incredible coup by NBC News."

But the interview and the role of payments on Simpson's contract with NBC Sports, as well as Simpson's relationship with Ohlmeyer, are sure to be hotly debated in coming days.

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