Like so many established members of the Los Angeles legal community, Hollywood heavyweights Patricia Glaser, Marty Singer and Ken Ziffren have their own connections to the infamous O.J. Simpson criminal trial. Perhaps most significantly among the power trio, Glaser was at one of the very first meetings Robert Shapiro called in the summer of 1994 as he began to put together a defense team for the Hall of Fame running back – though the two were not partners at the current Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro for almost another two years.
Sitting down with Glaser and the co-founders of Lavely & Singer and Ziffren Brittenham revealed some very strong opinions about both the case and FX’s American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson, which wraps its 10-episode run tonight. Additionally, in Part 2 of Deadline’s discussion with the influential Tinseltown attorneys, two other matters that have been frequent topics around Hollywood were addressed: diversity, and Sean Parker’s The Screening Room. The ultimate insiders have unconventional takes on both.
DEADLINE: The finale of FX’s American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson is almost upon us. Even though the case is more than 20 years old, the series based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book from the 1990s has become a cultural talking point as well as a critical and ratings hit. It has also put a spotlight on Hollywood lawyers. Patty, because of your connection via Bob Shapiro, what’s your take?
GLASER: I haven’t seen it. I am proud of the fact that I haven’t seen it. I am appalled that somebody who purports to be playing somebody who is alive and well, last time I checked, wouldn’t have at least sat down and said, “Let me talk to you, I want to make sure I get the character right.”
ZIFFREN: I agree. I’ve watched the show, I like it, but I agree.
DEADLINE: You’re talking about John Travolta’s portrayal of Robert Shapiro, right Patty?
SINGER: I watch it every week. I really enjoy it. I’ve got some clients that are involved in the show but John Travolta is terrific in the show, I think. I don’t think Patty agrees with that since he’s portraying one of her partners.
GLASER: Let me say this. From what I understand, the only thing that is correct about it so far as Shapiro is concerned are they got the ties and the suits correct. Everything else is completely ridiculous.
ZIFFREN: By the way, I saw the preview of HBO’s Confirmation. For that, Kerry Washington sat down with Anita Hill for a long period of time for her role.
GLASER: Which makes sense. No matter how she portrays it at least she did her work. No work was done here at all.
DEADLINE: How do you think it reflects on Hollywood lawyers, people seeing this show?
GLASER: It’s terrible, in my opinion. I think there was some very good lawyering in that case and there was some really bad lawyering in that case, and I’m not picking on people because I don’t want to do that. That would be, in my judgment, inappropriate. I know enough to be dangerous because Bob was my partner.
I will say to you that there were a lot of lawyers in the real world who Bob included in this band of brothers and sisters, brothers primarily, to defend O.J. Simpson, who were a bunch of the most ungrateful sons of guns known to man. Whether he’s the greatest lawyer in the world is irrelevant, he got together a package that won. That he hasn’t gotten his due for that is shameful, in my opinion.
SINGER: First of all, this happened 21 years ago and this is a new generation watching. A lot of people, like my son, although he’s 30, were not aware of this quite frankly. He’s looking at it for entertainment value.
GLASER: He doesn’t know the story is what you’re saying.
SINGER: A lot of people don’t know the story, but the people who were around, like the three of us, were around during that time — if you’re watching the show I think first of all there’s a lot of things that have come up we don’t know. Obviously, you might have known because you’re Bob’s partner. Myself, I had some periphery involvement. I represented some witnesses at the time, but then I brought in criminal lawyers because it’s not in my bailiwick.
So, my recollection of the case is somewhat a little different but you know how one side had completely out-lawyered the prosecution, including the fact that there was a decision made to prosecute downtown, which has not really been focused on as much in the show. Had it been in Santa Monica, just like the civil case, there likely would have been a different result. I know because I’m very friendly with some of the district attorneys who were involved, and the issue was that Gil Garcetti wanted to make certain that case was downtown so they could have access to the press.
GLASER: Every day.
ZIFFREN: You know, I represented Johnnie after the trial.
GLASER: You represented who?
ZIFFREN: Cochran. After the trial, he was getting offers from everyone, so I made his deal at Court TV. He was there for three, four years as a weekly commentator.
SINGER: Interesting. That’s what I mean, there are things, as a lawyer or someone who just lived it, you don’t know about which are now coming out in and from this show. There was one episode that just dealt with the jurors being sequestered and seeing how difficult it is.
Most people aren’t familiar with that, even most lawyers. Most lawyers practicing law have never even tried. Forget about being a transactional lawyer. Most litigation lawyers have never tried a case, or if they have been, very few and far between to know what goes on in a case. That’s why I think it’s also educational for lawyers to watch the show.
DEADLINE: Pivoting off American Crime Story, another topic that has received a lot of attention is diversity in Hollywood. Obviously it has been a massive topic this year, but what is the state of diversity in legal Hollywood?
GLASER: I’m glad to address that. There are not enough African Americans and Latinos at my law firm. I’m just going to put it out there. It’s certainly not a function of us not looking but it’s we’re not getting applications. Maybe we’re not doing enough and I acknowledge that. There are some wonderfully qualified people out there who are not applying. I’d love to have them apply and work at our firm. I’d like somebody to help me with that.
DEADLINE: What about women?
SINGER: Women at Patty’s firm have had a tremendous impact in that firm. There’s a lot more traditional firms where women do not have what they have in your firm.
GLASER: To be fair, my law firm, I think is relatively unique because when…
ZIFFREN: Largely unique is correct.
SINGER: I agree with that.
GLASER: When I first joined my first firm, there was a woman who just passed away recently, Mariana Pfaelzer, who was a senior partner. I wish I could tell you she was a rabble-rouser. She wasn’t. I wish I could tell you I was a rabble-rouser. I wasn’t. But Mariana Pfaelzer had scared the bejesus out of the generation of men between the two of us, so by the time I came along it wasn’t an issue at that law firm.
DEADLINE: What about you guys?
ZIFFREN: I can speak to this in two ways. One is on a law firm level. The other is as a law professor. At the law school level, we are still having problems getting Latinos interested in entertainment law.
GLASER: You’re saying there’s plenty of Latino law students they just aren’t interested in the entertainment business?
SINGER: They prefer different fields.
ZIFFREN: At the firm we reach out for meritocracy.
GLASER: As you should. Your clients deserve it.
SINGER: That’s my practice as well.
ZIFFREN: That decides everything.
GLASER: Everybody agrees with that. But having said that, there are plenty of people of color who are not working in our law firms that are very, very talented people.
DEADLINE: Marty, you mentioned it too. What can be done to increase the diversity in legal Hollywood?
GLASER: You didn’t answer the question. Are there any people of color in your firm?
SINGER: Yes, there was and there have been, there are. I have a small firm and I have to say it’s a question of who applies to the firm. We try to keep people with our firm. I have found, practicing for a while, that there’s been a significant increase at least when it comes to litigation, of diversity with respect to the lawyers we go against and the lawyers we deal with. But, still, it’s a function of what Ken pointed out and Patty said too, it’s who wants to get into entertainment litigation.
It’s much more lucrative to have a personal injury practice sometimes where you could be making crazy type of recoveries and it’s a question of where do these individuals want to practice? We have found, whether it’s Latino or African American, significant increase in diversification with respect to the counsel we deal with — at least the ones I deal with at our firm. So there is a change happening.
DEADLINE: Let’s look at a different change or at least a potential change to the movie biz, or at least the way people see movies. Sean Parker’s day-and-date streaming servicing proposal The Screening Room has gotten a lot of attention, some of it contentious, as a potential pivotal disruptor to the way people see movies. As a consummate deal-maker, Ken, you’re heard the voices that are for it and the ones that are against it. From your perspective, at $50 or so a pop to watch a new movie at home on opening weekend, can The Screening Room work or is it cinema cold fusion?
ZIFFREN: If the studios want to engage and the exhibitors want to engage then it’ll work. If they don’t, it won’t.
GLASER: But the right question is, if the chains don’t want to change they’re going to have a problem.
ZIFFREN: There are other vehicles that people within the industry are working on that try to move in what I’ll call the right direction. That is more dollars in the pot, which is really what this is all about. Where the real problem I think with Screening Room is the day-and-date issue, because it basically keeps you out of the theaters. In the long run, if that works then the theaters are gone and we have a different world.
The target audience for Screening Room is people $100,000 and up who have essentially $500, $600 a year that they’re willing to spend in their home who are not now going into the movies. Most of them are on the coasts. It’s not going to be in Iowa. So that’s your target.
SINGER: Not in the red states.
ZIFFREN: I’ll give you some startling numbers. In the United States, one-third of the populace does not see one movie in a theater in a year. One-third.
DEADLINE: I’ve heard that figure before and I always find it hard to believe.
SINGER: You think it’s too high?
DEADLINE: I think it’s too low.
SINGER: I agree with that. I think it’s more than a third.
GLASER: It’s high.
ZIFFREN: The next step is of the remaining two-thirds, there are roughly more than half of the remainder who go to one to five movies a year. Eleven percent of the populous buys 52% of the tickets.
GLASER: That’s interesting.
SINGER: That’s amazing.
ZIFFREN: Here is the real problem. The problem is those are not the 18 to 24 year olds. They’re older. So we’re losing the core audience. That’s the problem with the movie business.