Why the Kardashians Won’t Be Part of ESPN’s OJ Simpson Documentary

by Stacy Lambe 11:05 AM PDT, April 06, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

For better or worse, part of what made American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson interesting to watch was the inclusion of the Kardashian family, which at the time was only famous for its connection to the Simpson murder trial. They were not the stars of Keeping Up With the Kardashians or members of a growing fashion and business empire.

Robert Kardashian -- played by David Schwimmer on the FX anthology series -- was an undying supporter of Simpson, despite the evidence stacked against him, and served on his all-star, legal defense team. Meanwhile, Kardashian's ex-wife, Kris Jenner -- a friend of Nicole Brown Simpson played by Selma Blair -- and their four kids together (Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, and Rob) were merely props, highlighting the celebrity allegory of FX’s recount of events.

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At one point, early in the show, the children were shown cheering as their father reads a letter from Simpson live on the news. Later, the patriarch attempts to warn his kids about fame. “We are Kardashians,” he tells them during a dinner scene at a local buffet chain, “and in this family, being a good person and a loyal friend is more important than being famous. Fame is fleeting. It's hollow. It means nothing at all without a virtuous heart.”

Whether or not the moment happened in real life, it made for good television. However, don’t expect to see them share such stories in ESPN’s upcoming 30 for 30 documentary, O.J.: Made in America, which premieres in June.

Director Ezra Edelman at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Photo: Getty Images

Director Ezra Edelman tells ET the Kardashians would have distracted from the story he’s trying to tell. “They would have potentially taken away from the focus and the seriousness of the topics the documentary tries to convey,” he says, clarifying that he did reach out to Jenner for an interview. “She said no.”

For Edelman, his documentary is not a tabloid. He would have been interested in including the celebrity angle, if he had time. But there were many other sides of Simpson’s story to tell -- including how Simpson became Simpson.

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“He’s a much more complex human being than I think people give him credit for,” he says. “What the documentary allows people to do is take a deep dive into who O.J. was to inform everything that came later.”

But unlike the FX series or the wave of true-crime stories on TV -- The Jinx, Killing Fields, or Making a Murderer -- Edelman doesn’t consider Made in America a true-crime documentary. “I don’t have a label for it,” Edelman says, adding: “The question of guilt or innocence is not primary to the execution of telling this story.” 

Admittedly though, that element is a large part of the documentary’s appeal, especially in what could be considered a peak nostalgia moment for the Simpson trial. In addition to the FX series and the ESPN documentary, the Esquire Network recently aired a 12-hour special, The Real O.J. Simpson Trial, which included footage from the trial.

Edelman says the story is still appealing to fans because that crime was never resolved. “We don’t know the truth,” he says, “because none of us were there that night. We maintain this fascination.”

Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor in the murder trial (and portrayed by Sarah Paulson on the FX series), concurs. “When they’re televised like this, especially when you have these multi-part series, there’s time to really invest and be a sleuth yourself,” she says. “You get to watch the case unfold and decide what you think.”

While Clark’s story in particular has been a big focus of the series -- and she’ll receive even more attention in Edelman’s documentary. “Marcia’s pretty fierce,” he teases. 

The first part of O.J.: Made in America premieres on June 11 on ABC. The remaining episodes will roll out on ESPN June 13-18. The 7 1/2-hour documentary will premiere in its entirety on April 23 at the Tribeca Film Festival.