Law in Popular Culture

OJ Simpson: Ads for TV series about my murder trial are too hard on Johnnie Cochran

Johnnie Cochran

Johnnie Cochran in 2003. Everett Collection /

More than 20 years after O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and a male friend in what was billed as the trial of the century, a critically acclaimed cable television series about the Los Angeles courtroom drama is premiering.

Based on a book by former prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin, the FX series, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, is “absorbing, infuriating and, yes, thoroughly entertaining,” says a New York Times (reg. req.) review.

Filled with famous figures from the legal profession, including prosecutor Marcia Clark, Judge Lance Ito and a dream team of defense attorneys including Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz, the series focuses on the lawyers and their work, reports the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.), rather than Simpson, then a celebrity revered for his football accomplishments.

It is, however, too hard on Cochran, according to the real-life Simpson, now 68, who is incarcerated in Nevada after being convicted in an unrelated armed robbery that took place at a Las Vegas casino hotel.

Speaking through his current lawyer, Malcolm LaVergne of Las Vegas, Simpson didn’t complain about his own portrayal in the ads for the series. He of course hasn’t seen any episodes. But Simpson did say that Cochran, an admired trial attorney and civil rights lawyer, was not the ruthless and ambitious character he’s seen on the screen so far, the Associated Press reports.

But actor Courtney Vance, who plays Cochran in the series, said he saw the lawyer as a hero.

“Johnnie Cochran, we see him in the same light as we do Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King because he struck a blow,” Vance told NPR, explaining: “Finally, on the biggest stage, a black man worked the system and got another black man off.”

The Washington Post (reg. req.) also has a story about the legacy of Cochran, who died in 2005.

Cochran is perhaps best-known for his famous statement to the jury, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” based on Simpson’s inability to get a bloodstained glove from the crime scene onto his hand at trial.

Related coverage:

Democrat & Chronicle: “Talking with O.J. Simpson before his life fell apart”

Hollywood Reporter: “The Retrial of O.J. Simpson”

New York Post: “What Marcia Clark thinks of the new OJ show”

See also: “Judge calls evidence against OJ Simpson ‘overwhelming,’ denies bid for new trial in robbery case”

Los Angeles Times (sub. req.): “O.J. Simpson murder case: ‘Bloody glove’ was key for detectives”

Vanity Fair: “Dominick Dunne’s Complete O.J. Simpson Trial Coverage”

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