There’s a lot to look forward to in FX’s 10-episode miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson, Ryan Murphy’s first installment in his Amercian Crime Story anthology. You’ll get to see John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, slimy in his expensive suits and giving what’s arguably his best performance since Tarantino brought him back from the dead. You’ll have the chance to witness Cuba Gooding Jr. do an unnervingly believable take on a potential psychopath with teetering sanity. And you’ll have the opportunity to watch David Schwimmer’s silver-streaked Robert Kardashian counsel his accused friend, then gasp in horror as his offspring realize that sensationalism attracts attention. (The horror! The horror!)
But the most impressive part of Murphy’s newest series may be the way it relies on its source material, Jeffery Toobin’s 1996 tome, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson. That doesn’t mean, however, that the showrunners and writers don’t stretch the truth a bit for drama’s sake. Below, five key points from Episode One, fact-checked and rated on a one-to-five “Glove” scale for accuracy.
Just how were the bodies discovered?
In the series’ very first scene, a dog walker who triggers the investigation because the Simpson-Brown children’s pet Akita (named, wait for it, Kato) was barking near their front gate. The passerby sees that the pooch’s paws are stained with blood, peers his flashlight in the gangway, and discovers the bodies of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman — a Law and Order setup if you’ve ever seen one.
In reality, it took much longer: According to Toobin, a neighbor named Steven Schwab had just finished his a Sunday night ritual — watching The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ended at 10:30pm — when he took his dog out for a walk. He did discover the white Akita barking at the house, and noticed the blood, but he didn’t look much further. Instead, the distraught dog followed him home. Around 11:40pm, as Schwab and his wife gave it a bowl of water and pondered what to do, their neighbor Sukru Boztepe and his wife returned and offered to care for the animal for the night. As Boztepe later told the court, the dog was acting so nervous that they let him out. Kato lead them straight to Nicole Brown’s home, and alerted them to the crime scene. They found two bodies, covered in blood. (3/5 Gloves)
Cochran was already part of the case before he joined the team
If you were to just watch the show, it would seem that the legendary trial lawyer was just waiting around for the Juice’s call. He pontificates on air, and offers the victims’ families his apologies, but otherwise has little contact. According to Toobin’s research, though, Cochran and OJ had been in touch since the beginning of the ordeal. “Though television viewers never knew it,” the author writes, “he was a friend of O.J. Simpson’s — not, in normal circumstances, an intimate confidant, but certainly a long-term acquaintance. Since the day of the murders, Simpson had been on the phone with Cochran talking about his plight and asking the attorney to join in his defense efforts.” ACS has kept them separate, however, at least for now, with Cochran participating in the coverage of the case without ever letting on that he might be offering the star advice. (1/5 Gloves)
O.J. almost killed himself in Kim Kardashian’s bedroom
In the hours before his Bronco-fueled escape, Simpson was hiding out at Robert Kardashian’s Encino home and, as ACS depicts, he was somewhat suicidal. Onscreen, the attorney chases his close friend through the house as the ex-running back holds a pistol to his own head. Kardashian catches up with him in his daughter’s room, replete with a Joey Lawrence poster, and begs him to put the weapon down. “O.J., no … this is where my daughter sleeps,” he begs. “Do not kill yourself in Kimmy’s bedroom.”
According to Lawrence Schiller’s American Tragedy: The Uncensored Story of the O.J. Simpson Defense, these words were uttered, though O.J. seems to be situated in a guest suite, not the childhood bedroom of a future reality star: “‘You can’t. This is my daughter’s bedroom.’ Kardashian is thinking fast. ‘I have my little girl in this room.'” But late last year Schiller clarified his story, revealing that he had an audio recording of O.J.’s goodbyes, recorded in Kim’s bedroom and that it was the location in which he threatened to shoot himself. No word on the veracity of the Tiger Beat centerfolds. (4/5 Gloves)
Despite his history of violence with Nicole, OJ was only arrested once
“Simpson has a prior,” one prosecutor says during the episode. “Five years ago he pled no contest after he beat up Nicole. Never even did his community service. He just got out, celebrity-style. Raised money for camp Ronald McDonald.” Sarah Paulson, as Marcia Clark, sets out his record in starker terms: “Eight 911 calls. The police were called out there eight times. Nicole had a bruised face. Black eye. Bleeding lip. O.J. broke a windshield with a baseball bat. God, the system failed her.”
Unfortunately, that’s the kind way to put it. When the cops showed up at the Simpson-Brown home on January 1, 1989 — the one and only time Simpson was arrested for domestic violence — they had been out there plenty of times before. Simpson was buddies with many of the cops. As Toobin describes it, “O.J. had entertained about 40 officers at his home at various times, and with their silence, the officers may have been repaying his hospitality.” But this time, Nicole was in a bad state. There was the black eye, bleeding lip, red handprint on her neck, and that she was wearing just a bra and jeans as she flung herself in the officer’s arms, declaring O.J. was going to kill her. So they took him in. He pled out to 120 hours of community service, which he completed by organizing a Ronald McDonald benefit — i.e., traveling the country hobnobbing with business contacts, and playing plenty of golf. (5/5 Gloves)
Just how important was the shot of O.J. being handcuffed in his backyard?
According to the minsieries, it was sneaky shot of O.J.’s brief handcuffing that tipped the public off to his status as suspect. While the media probably would have known anyway — there was a full-scale police investigation underway in his driveway — the clip started a conversation that became an integral part of the defense.
Influential African American publication The Los Angeles Sentinal used that detail to illustrate the racist tactics of the LAPD. On the show, it’s depicted as a radio interview with the paper’s star writer, Dennis Schatzman. By paraphrasing his columns, ACS captures the disgust many had for the way he was treated. “He has not been charged with a crime, and yet, they handcuffed him. They put him in chains,” the character says. “The black-white double standard endures.” (4/5 Gloves)