1995: O.J. Simpson Murder Trial

The O.J. Simpson murder trial is commonly known as “The Trial of the Century.” According to the newspaper USA Today, the case has been described as the most publicized criminal trial in history.

Simpson was one of the most celebrated and recognizable figures in the United States. He followed a Heisman Trophy–winning football career as a student-athlete at the University of Southern California with a career in the NFL that led to his being inducted as a member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Simpson’s renown on and off the field helped lead him to a postretirement career as a top-level product endorser and film and television actor.

The shocking murder of Simpson’s ex-wife and a male friend of hers led to Simpson’s being named a prime suspect. When police went in search of him, Simpson fled in a white Ford Bronco driven by former teammate Al Cowlings. The subsequent police chase across Los Angeles, which led to Simpson’s eventually turning himself into police custody, was captured on live TV and watched by millions of people.

Simpson’s celebrity status, racial issues, and the high-profile newspaper and television coverage held national attention on the case. Simpson was found not guilty by the jury. Strong public opinions followed with national surveys showing distinct differences between black and white Americans in their assessment of Simpson’s guilt or innocence.

The unfolding of events on live TV, especially Simpson’s fleeing the police and the following murder trial, could be considered the beginning of what is now called reality TV.