More than a few critics are calling it the best show on television. The guys on The Hardline, which I use to escape rush-hour traffic thanks to The Ticket, are among the most ardent viewers of "The People v. O. J. Simpson."
So, at the moment, the O. J. show is how my boys and I spend an hour on Tuesday night (thanks to the increasingly mighty cable network FX, which also gives us the best show on television that isn't a miniseries, The Americans).
And then all day Monday, at least for two more weeks, Hulu doubles our viewing indulgence by showcasing 11.22.63, whose location filming has zeroed in on Dealey Plaza and even Oak Cliff, where Lee Harvey Oswald was living on the day President John F. Kennedy was gunned down on Elm Street. This show has gotten nowhere near the rave reviews of the O. J. show, but I find it intoxicatingly entertaining, largely for the love story unfolding between its charismatic leads, James Franco and Sarah Gadon.
I find myself reveling in both series for the common thread of memory they've given me by helping me free-associate conversations I shared with a man I came to know as a friend I will always admire.
Vincent Bugliosi, who died last June, was among the most interesting people I've ever met, much less interviewed. I wrote a profile of Vince, which he asked me to call him, after he'd published Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He began scribbling out the manuscript no fewer than 20 years before its release by sitting down with a legal pad and pencil. By the time he finished, he had written more than 1,600 pages.
My memory has gone into overdrive recalling conversations with Vince, whom I contend also wrote the best book about the O.J. Simpson case, Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away with Murder. For that matter, he also wrote a terrific book about the 2000 Supreme Court verdict that settled the presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. As with the O. J. and JFK books, the Supreme Court book carries with it the same ferocity of spirit and the analytical hubris of an author who dug deeper than any I've ever met.
How cool it would be to call up Vince right now and ask what he thinks about these TV miniseries. Vince may have been the most opinionated person I ever met, so I'm sure he would happily carry on about both. I should note that the Kennedy book is based, not on Vince's book, but on Stephen King's time-travel novel, 11.22.63. The O.J. series is based on Jeffrey Toobin's The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson. These were competitors; I never knew Vince to be a cheering section for any author who dared tackle the same subject he had.
Each series has provided insightful looks at crimes that occurred in 1963 and 1994 but which continue to have an enormous impact on American memory and culture. The two series combined have forced me to re-read neither King's nor Toobin's book but rather Vince's inspections of two of the most memorable cases in American crime history.
Bugliosi burrows into each case by picking apart the mythology surrounding the crimes, one against John F. Kennedy, the other against Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. The former L. A. prosecutor shows in chilling detail how the families of the latter two were done an outrageous disservice by prosecutors, whom he contends thoroughly and outrageously bungled an otherwise winnable case.
At the conclusion of the O. J. book, one wonders why the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office for which Bugliosi once worked simply didn't pull him out of retirement to try its case. I dare say the outcome would have been different. During Bugliosi's legal career, he successfully prosecuted 105 out of 106 felony jury trials, which included 21 murder convictions without a single loss.
The notches on his prosecutorial belt included Charles Manson and his infamous "family," who killed, among others, actress Sharon Tate in a terrifying series of homicides in 1969. Fort Worth author Jeff Guinn wrote a terrific about the Manson case, which you can read about in this story.
Manson's villainy inspired Bugliosi to co-author the bestselling Helter Skelter, which in turn gave him his new career.
The most controversial subject of the many he has tackled is of course, the murder of JFK. Over the span of those 1,600 pages, Vince employs the skills of the premier prosecutor he was to dismantle every conceivable conspiracy theory and in his words "prove beyond a shadow of doubt" that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed the president.
On the day I interviewed Vince in Dallas, he told me with the confidence he always possessed that he would settle "all questions about the assassination once and for all."
"No reasonable, rational person -- and let's italicize those words -- can possibly read this book and not be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that Oswald killed Kennedy and acted alone," he told me over lunch at a Dallas restaurant. "So, the vast majority of reasonable conspiracy theorists are going to be swayed by this book. But those on the jagged margins of the conspiracy community are allergic to the truth, and they will not agree with this book."
On that point, I fear he was right. Bugliosi optioned his JFK book to Tom Hanks' production team. The result was the movie Parkland, which failed to elicit great reviews, though I admire it for easily being the most factual feature film yet to be made about the Kennedy assassination.
As for the O. J. case, Bugliosi wrote in Outrage:
"This book sets forth five reasons why the case was lost. But even these five can be distilled down to two: the jury could hardly have been any worse, and neither could the prosecution." (The most recent episode of the O. J. series focused entirely, and in a fascinating way, on the jury that acquitted Simpson.)
Had the prosecution given what he called an A-plus performance rather than one hovering close to an F, "the verdict most likely would have been different." Had the prosecution done its job, "I'm very confident," Vince wrote, that "this jury would have responded with a guilty verdict, or at an absolute minimum a hung jury. Even before I saw any of the jurors or heard or read what they had to say, I felt this way."
So, I'm giving you an assignment: Do yourself a favor and handle the inevitable withdrawal of each series ending by reading both Bugliosi books.
By the time you finish, you will, I contend, have a far better understanding of both crimes and how, in many ways, by so many people, both have been wrongly perceived.
Here's the official trailer for The People v. O. J. Simpson:
Here's the official trailer for 11.22.63: