As The People v. O.J. Simpson ends with high ratings and ESPN prepares its lauded documentary series on the fallen NFL icon, interest in Simpson’s murder case has peaked once again. In response to that demand, Investigation Discovery is putting together a new event series, Hard Evidence: O.J. Is Innocent, set to debut early next year.
Hard Evidence, which already has Martin Sheen aboard as an executive producer and narrator, pulls from the work of Dallas-based investigator William C. Dear, who has no official connection to the case.
As Hard Evidence prepares for production, EW spoke with Henry S. Schleiff, group president for Investigation Discovery and other Discovery channels, about the sure-to-be-controversial series.
How much did FX’s miniseries factor in the greenlight decision?
Obviously, the research that goes into it, the collection of some of the people you’ll see in it depicted, some of the witnesses. It just happens to be a moment in time where the Juice has gotten a tremendous amount of focus. I guess in part it’s because of the FX 10-part series and to some extent, you’ve got ESPN’s Made in America coming up, but it’s a very interesting time for this case.
What were the initial conversations that sparked the project?
The author of the book Bill Dear, was interested in seeing the visual portrayal, along with some of the other things that he’s found since the publication of his book, Hard Evidence. So it came in that way. The reason that he came to our production company was in part that we are, ID is the most associated network with mystery and crime in America. We are the number one network for that genre in America.
The show’s announcement mentioned Martin Sheen would narrate and serve as an executive producer. How did he get involved?
He is very involved in it. He’s been quite impressed, I think, with the research and tenacity of the author. He will also be involved in terms of a voice over. I don’t know if he will appear on camera, but he has very much been swayed, if you will, by the fact that — I think like most of us perhaps initially felt that O.J. was unquestionably guilty. It certainly has raised real questions in his mind as to O.J.’s guilt or innocence.
Is the series a different perspective on the existing evidence, or is it the assertion of a new narrative?
It’s a good question. It’s actually both. It’s a look at the existing evidence that was actually introduced in court, with perhaps a different perspective to it, along with the fact that there is new evidence here — new hard evidence. Bill Dear claims to have found the actual weapon. He claims to have an eye witness, who was never interviewed or appeared in the case. He has different and not presented forensic evidence. To answer your question, it’s a look at both what was introduced in court and new evidence and witnesses. In that respect, it’s a new story.
Is this knife something Bill has already written about?
No one has actually seen the knife. He has described it, and it is referred to in his book.
Is this a hypothetical knife or a specific, physical knife?
It’s a physical knife.
So what is the overall objective of OJ is Innocent?
I think there’s a real feeling in this environment to take another look. Especially in the 20 years that have passed, you have technological advances and you have someone who has essentially devoted his life to this. Most people feel like it’s worth taking another look. It may convince you. It may not. But is it worthy of another look — a true, real scrutiny, putting it under the microscope? Absolutely.
Well, thank you for getting on the phone.
As you mentioned Martin Sheen, I was thinking in an odd kind of way art imitating life imitating art. It’s kind of interesting of all those who might have gotten involved in this, that it would be Martin Sheen [famous for his role as president on The West Wing]. The question is now, knowing his familiarity with this case and his feelings about it, would Martin Sheen as president in West Wing pardon O.J., given what he now knows?
Is that a question? Or just a thought?
I just think it’s an interesting take on it from an EW point of view. Here’s a guy who played the president of the United States for year and had the opportunity — I’m not sure if he actually had a case where he pardoned anybody, but questioned if this was being written into one of the most beautifully done series of all time, West Wing, and he was president, would he, knowing what he now knows, would he pardon O.J.?