You know that feeling when you know you should be surprised but you’re not? It’s a feeling you may get when learning new statistics about racial inequality or while reading Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. And it’s a feeling I got when I read recent news that Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson are in talks to star in a joint reality show about “living with the horrible crimes they were ultimately acquitted of,” according to an unnamed source who spoke with InTouch magazine. Simpson, who is currently in prison for armed robbery, is up for parole in October. And the possibility of his release has shameless opportunists dreaming up ways to make a buck off the former football star turned acquitted murder suspect. A TV show is an obvious choice of cash cow. Throw Anthony, the Florida woman ultimately found not guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter, into the mix and you have the makings of a natural extension of America’s love of reality shows and true-crime programming. It’s an awful idea for a show that capitalizes on the brutal murders of three people. And if it ever gets made, it’ll fit right in with the host of other grim, exploitative content that is already on the air.
Anthony reportedly asked the obvious question about her potential reality show herself in a message to an InTouch editor: “Who would watch it anyway?” The answer: potentially millions of viewers. From a producer or network’s perspective, there’s a big market in the 5.2 million people who watched Anthony get acquitted live on HLN in 2011. That market’s even larger when you add in the 150 million people who tuned in to watch the Simpson trial verdict in 1995 and the 12.7 million who re-lived the case for 10 weeks in 2016 via the massively successful FX miniseries The People vs. O.J. Simpson. And ESPN’s Academy Award-winning five-part 30 for 30 documentary O.J.: Made in America proved that there was enough room for not one but two programs about Simpson last year. Why do TV industry folks think we would watch a show about Casey Anthony or O.J. Simpson? Because we’ve already done so multiple times. And our nation’s appetite for shows featuring alleged murderers is especially strong as of late. Two of the most popular programs of the past couple of years were Making a Murderer and The Jinx, not to mention the related but less-acclaimed CBS miniseries The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey and Netflix documentary Amanda Knox.
Aside from the new wave of true-crime shows, a Simpson/Anthony production would tap into the schadenfreude reality shows have been profiting off of for decades. The show Cops has been capitalizing on American TV audiences’ thirst for “crime” and “justice” stories for the past 28 years, all the while demonizing people of color and valorizing law enforcement officers. A&E shows Hoarders and Intervention cloak mental illness and addiction into supposed redemption stories, with the redemption part taking up the least amount of airtime during each episode. The list of the types of exploitative shows that TV audiences not only tolerate but support goes on and on and shows no signs of slowing down or stopping.
When it comes to Simpson and Anthony, though, there is some fear that a show not only featuring but potentially paying them may cross the thin morality line the American public enforces on the TV airwaves. A 2006 Simpson interview special that was supposed to air in conjunction with the release of his book If I Did It was pulled after several Fox affiliates refused to air it. And the former football star even filmed a number of episodes of a Punk’d-style show called Juiced that was shown on Pay-Per-View but never became a hit. But that doesn’t mean the attempts are over. TMZ reports that the TV producers behind the reported Simpson/Anthony show, who of course wanted to remain nameless, are considering the Pay-Per-View model. They believe there’s a potential audience that would want to tune in without being “judged.” And they may very well be right.
Reality TV shows have been the bread and butter of “bad celebrities” for a long time. TV shows seem to be the most natural way for them to make some money off of their strange type of fame. Elsewhere, real-life villains, such as Robert Durst and Charles Manson, are as recognizable and obsessed over as many well-known musicians and movie stars. There’s little doubt that the proposed Simpson/Anthony show would represent a new low in U.S. television history. But considering all of the other shows that millions of us are already pointing our faces at, a program featuring the infamous two is not as far-fetched as we may like to think it is. It’s okay to be outraged that a program like that is even being conceived. But before you explore all the reasons it feels disgusting, ask yourself, are you really that surprised?