Inside O.J. Simpson's Bronco With Malcolm-Jamal Warner and His Concern Over Legacy of 'The Cosby Show'

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Before it gets into the story of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson must first address the infamous car chase that took place on June 17, 1994.

While most remember watching the scene unfold live on TV, only two people know what happened inside that white Ford Bronco: O.J. Simpson, who was suspected of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman at the time, and his longtime friend, Al “AC” Cowlings.

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Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who portrays Cowlings opposite Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Simpson on the FX series, says that while the show was heavily fact-checked, they had to take a “creative license” with filming the scenes inside the vehicle. “For us, it was a matter of putting ourselves in that situation,” he tells ETonline, “and putting our take on what went on inside the car.”

The intense two-day shoot, directed by executive producer Ryan Murphy, left both Warner and Gooding drained. “There’s so much emotion and tension going on,” Warner says, adding that Murphy helped both actors from overdoing it on screen. “He was very good about keeping the tension within the context of what was going on.” 

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The intensity of Tuesday’s episode is part of why American Crime Story has become an instant hit for FX. The series, which takes viewers inside Simpson’s infamous murder trial, debuted to record ratings and rave reviews. It also comes at a time when racial tensions are high in the U.S., following the Black Lives Matter movement and several fatal shootings of unarmed black men.

“In terms of time, 20 years is always a good time to review anything,” Warner says of the series’ debut amid growing concerns over police brutality. “These issues have been prevalent in the black community forever. It’s such an ongoing issue that this television show, which is a period piece, still feels very contemporary.”

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American Crime Story also debuts as Bill Cosby faces charges of sexual assault. In the wake of allegations against the 78-year-old comedian, who maintains his complete innocence, The Cosby Show has been pulled from syndication, leading Warner to say that the hit series had been tarnished. Warner played Cosby’s on-screen son, Theodore Huxtable, for eight seasons.

“Because it's been taken off the air, it's not a show we can readily use as an example in terms of how people of color are portrayed on television,” Warner explains. “Where we see stereotypical images perpetuated, we always had The Cosby Show to hold up against that. But, if the show is no longer on the air then we don't have the opportunity to use that as an example.”

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Although The Cosby Show is no longer on the air (the show is still streaming on Hulu), Warner says that its legacy still stands. “Its influence on a generation of young people who went out and sought a higher education because of the show, a generation of people who have gotten married and focused on having loving families because they were influenced by that show, that part cannot be taken away,” he says. “You can't reverse any of that.”

American Crime Story airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET. Watch as the cast recalls what they remember most about watching the trial: