In a throwback to Fox's tabloid past, the network has scheduled a two-hour special, "O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession?," in what appears to be a transparent move to undermine the premiere of "American Idol" on ABC.
The program -- like "Idol," scheduled for 8 p.m. on March 11 -- is being culled from videotapes that were to be used for the 2006 special "If I Did It," based on a book that featured O.J. Simpson discussing the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Faced with criticism, Fox withdrew the book deal and canceled plans for the special, with News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch apologizing to the families of Brown and Goldman for what he described at the time as "an ill-considered project."
The 2006 interview -- billed as a 'shocking hypothetical account" of the murders -- was conducted by Judith Regan, who was then the publisher at News Corp.-owned HarperCollins. Regan was subsequently fired, filing a $100-million defamation lawsuit against the company that was eventually settled.
The big difference this time is that the former football star won't profit from the telecast, which will use the tapes to assemble a special that will also feature experts discussing the case. Soledad O'Brien will host the show, which Fox will air with limited commercial interruptions as well as public-service announcements about domestic abuse. (O'Brien is a former CNN anchor and left company in 2013)
Fox executives haven't hidden their disappointment over the return of "American Idol," with ABC making a deal for the show after the network decided to end it, citing a decline in its ratings relative to the cost.
In August, Fox executive Dana Walden said the network felt it would be "fraudulent" to viewers to bring the show back so soon after its much-ballyhooed finale, admitting that the network had been knocked "a little bit back on our heels" at the prospect of it returning so soon.
In its earlier days, Fox had a reputation of ordering provocative unscripted specials, some of which never saw the light of day, including plans to crash an airplane in the desert. The network's press release promotes "The Lost Confession?" as a "explosive television event."
Simpson was paroled in October, after serving nine years in prison for kidnapping and armed robbery.
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