Today at 10 AM PT, the largest ever audience for a parole hearing about a botched penny-ante robbery will watch across a multitude of media outlets.
Fox News Channel, MSNBC and HLN will have cameras trained on the hearing to determine the fate of former NFL great O.J. Simpson – even ESPN is getting in on the act. Broadcast networks have planned special live reports and their digital platforms will live-stream the event, as the Nevada Parole Board decides whether The Juice should get parole after just nine years on a 9-33 year sentence.
Technically, TV news legal pundits keep reminding viewers, Simpson is in jail for his stab at robbery, not the 1994 fatal stabbing of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her pal Ron Goldman. O.J. was tried for those murders, and acquitted at a trial that obsessed the nation in ’95; an estimated 100 million people watched or listened to the verdict.
About 13 years after Nicole and Ron were slaughtered outside her Brentwood condo, Orenthal James Simpson took a break in his relentless search for their murderer to lead a botched armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel to retrieve, Simpson insisted, sports memorabilia belonging to him.
But the size of the crowd watching the hearing today will reflect the degree to which viewers ignore legal pundits’ counsel and cling to the notion Simpson’s Nevada sentence was payback for getting away with the grisly murders.
Networks understandably expect viewers to go that route in large numbers, which makes sense, given recent ratings successes of FX’s hit limited series The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, and the Oscar-winning ESPN documentary O.J.: Made In America.
For days, TV news legal pundits have been predicting that Simpsons’ gonna walk, though he wouldn’t actually get out until October 1 and even then may have to go to a halfway house, and check in regularly with a parole officer.
“They’re great,” HLN’s Ashleigh Banfield said of O.J.’s odds. “I know a lot people probably don’t want to hear that, but the truth of the matter is O.J. Simpson has been a model inmate…Also, he already got parole on five of the 12 charges several years ago, from the same people who will be making the call on Thursday.”
ABC’s chief legal analyst Dan Abrams more conservatively estimates there’s a 52% chance Simpson gets parole. “But, if he weren’t O.J. Simpson, I’d say it would be 92%,” added Abrams, whose LawNewz legal news website also will live-stream the hearing.
“He’s done the mandatory minimum and been a model prisoner, and he’s 70 years old. Everything is in his favor,” Fox News Channel’s Geraldo Rivera told Deadline. “The only thing working against him is potential backlash by people who hate him because of the double murder he committed and then escaped responsibility for.”
Rivera hosted a CNBC show during Simpsons’ murder trial, for which he improbably got great notices as the “voice of reason” calming viewers’ overheated reax to the courtroom soap opera, as San Francisco Gate’s TV’s critic said in its rave review at the time.
“If anyone was going to be at the short end of an unfair sentence, better him than almost everyone else on earth.”
Simpson boasts a large flatscreen TV in his prison cell and likely has seen the TV pundits’ parole forecasts, which may help explain why he reportedly has been working hard to slim way down for today’s hearing, like a starlet in training to fit into her couture Oscars gratis gown.
“Everything is surreal about O.J.,” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told Deadline, forecasting today’s hearing will be “in keeping with the general air of excess that has surrounded the case from the beginning.”
“I think of Simpson’s legal drama as one case,” said Toobin, the dean of O.J. crime coverage; his bestselling book, The Run Of His Life, The People Vs. OJ Simpson was the basis for FX’s much-awarded limited series.
“I don’t think you can possibly look at this ridiculous robbery case in isolation,” he added, though he, in step with other pundits, has forecast the parole board will do just that.
“The paradox about this legal saga is that he was acquitted of the crime he was guilty of and found guilty of the crime he was innocent of,” Toobin observed.
“As far as I’m concerned, this could not happen to a nicer guy, but the legal system is not supposed to work this way.”
The Vegas judge repeatedly told the jury this was not a retrial for the murder case, Toobin reminded, describing those instructions as “the perfect example of someone saying ‘Don’t think about pink elephants.’ Because, all anybody could think of was pink elephants.”
Even so, Toobin forecast, Simpson “is such a good candidate for parole under the customary laws of procedure in Nevada that for the parole board to consider a crime he was acquitted of just seems unlikely to me.”
One TV legal talking head notably disagrees with her colleagues. Nancy Grace does not think the board dares award Simpson parole. In a Wednesday Good Morning America skirmish, she played America’s Luther the Anger Translator to one of Abrams’ best looking-through-his-lorgnette performances to date, seen here at the 3:50 mark: