News

If O.J. show is unfit, the channel we must quit

David Hinckley
New York Daily News

Let's all agree on this up-front: The upcoming Fox special in which O.J. Simpson discusses how he would have killed his wife, Nicole, and her friend Ronald Goldman, "if he had done it," could be the most offensive idea in television history.

There is no sense in which it is not tasteless and exploitative.

More than that, it's cynical.

It's Fox, Simpson and producer Judith Regan laughing at their own audience, fully confident that even though we know their project is off-the-charts offensive, we will watch it anyway.

So that's the challenge for us, the audience. We can't stop Regan and Simpson from making it, we can't stop Fox from broadcasting it. What we can control is whether we watch it.

The issue of offensive television content has been a constant in our lives the last few years, along with the inevitable followup question of how to respond.

While some argue for stricter regulatory controls, forcing the FCC into the futile exercise of continually drawing and redrawing lines, the truth is that the most effective content-control device is the one we hold in our own hands: the remote clicker.

It has buttons that change the channel and buttons that turn the TV off. Either is 100 percent effective in removing offensive content from the screen.

This larger debate has some subtleties, like how to control what the kids watch when you're not home. But none of those apply to the O.J. interviews, which are scheduled to run Nov. 27 and 29. This is a straight up-or-down call.

You watch it or you don't.

Yes or no. On or off.

It's probably worth noting that no matter what O.J. says, this won't be the most horrible thing to appear on TV.

It's not in a league with, to cite the obvious example, 9-11.

But that was a news event. Television had to show it. This special, featuring a man who had faded into the twilight of minor macabre celebrity, springs from nothing more than an expectation it will make money.

All networks have that goal, of course. It's just that Fox often seems less concerned with how.

Fox has been your go-to network, for instance, if your idea of entertainment is alligator bites. Fox once considered crashing a plane, just for fun.

Giving anyone a couple of hours of prime time to spell out a murder fantasy - in which the fantasy victims were really murdered in real life - may not strike most viewers as the noblest use of public airwaves.

But it is consistent with the concept of "anything for a buck" and oh yeah, did we mention the TV special cross-promotes a book coming out that week?

So a lot of resources went into this project, while those of us on the receiving end have just one: the clicker.

It will be interesting to see how we wield it.

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