While all channels rely on the same feed, that image is being packaged with real diversity. Turn to cable for the obsessive outlook. Court TV, which nearly cooked its own goose on day one by inadvertently showing the face of an alternate juror, offers the most intense and intensive view—gavel-to-gavel coverage, along with in-depth analysis. Inexplicably, the showbiz channel E! is also showing the entire trial, anchored by weight-loss pitchwoman Kathleen Sullivan. CNN provides its usual fastidious, albeit faceless, perspective.
Among the networks, the early winner is NBC. The peacock network has combined the most devoted and aggressive coverage of the trial with the deepest bench of expert correspondents. The most articulate network analysts have been a pair of Court TV fugitives: ABC's Cynthia McFadden (see box) and NBC's Jack Ford. Even they slip up. For instance, during one segment, McFadden repeatedly referred to footballer Marcus Allen as Marcus Garvey.
For the casual follower of this legal spectacle, any channel will do. For the hardcore armchair jurist, Court TV is the way to go. Me, I'll stick with CNN and (believe it or not) Fox, which among all the TV alternatives offer the plainest courtroom feeds with the least intrusive cross talk. As a serious O.J. junkie, I like my trial unfiltered.
CBS (Sun., Feb. 5, 9 p.m. ET)
Re-creating the Broadway triumph that launched his career, Roc's Charles Dutton plays Boy Willie, who travels in 1936 from the cotton fields of Mississippi to Pittsburgh to inveigle his sister (Alfre Woodard) into selling the family heirloom, a decorative stand-up piano. Boy Willie is desperate for money to buy the land his family once worked as slaves. Carl Gordon, Courtney B. Vance and Lou Myers costar in this Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
This tale—much like the piano that sits at its center—is archaic but resonant. The film is beautifully acted, particularly by the irrepressibly rambunctious Dutton.
NBC (Mon., Feb. 6, 9 p.m. ET)
Here's the first of the month's big-ticket sweeps events: a biopic starring Glenn Close and produced by Close and Barbra Streisand.
The Norwegian-born Cammermeyer is a divorced mother of four boys, a highly decorated nurse, an Army colonel who unexpectedly in her mid-40s finds herself strongly attracted to another woman (Judy Davis of A Passage to India). During a security clearance interview, Cammermeyer admits to breaking this military taboo and becomes in 1992 the highest ranking officer ever discharged for homosexuality. (Last year she was reinstated, a ruling now under appeal by the Justice Department.)
Close delivers a fascinating performance, delicately shading the woman's martial bearing and Nordic stoicism with tender qualities. She establishes a lack of self-pity that makes her character's ordeal all the more wrenching. Her relationship with Davis is the most subtle, satisfying same-sex liaison yet presented on television.
>TUBE: Glenn Close and Judy Davis humanize the issue of lesbianism in the military in Serving in Silence; Charles Dutton powers a resonant Piano Lesson
SCREEN: Murder in the First is often a trial to watch; Laurence Fishburne is one of the few good things about Bad Company; the performances in Tom and Viv are pure poetry
SONG: Van Halen tries to strike a perfect Balance; Melissa Manchester's If My Heart Had Wings doesn't quite get off the ground
PAGES: Gary Warner celebrates 25 soap-filled years with All My Children: The Complete Family Scrapbook; Pauline Kael plays For Keeps; Dick Francis tames Wild Horses
NOTES FROM CAMP O.J.
At this point we're not sure if O.J. Simpson's is the Trial of the Century or if it merely seems to be lasting that long. But at least we have a beginning. And Cynthia McFadden, ABC's adroit legal affairs correspondent, says the end is nigh. "The prosecution's case should take about six weeks," she estimates. "The defense case will take a month or less. Within four months there should be a verdict. Of course, I'm in the minority view. I've heard people here talk about it going on through the summer."
Checking in from the network's bustling set in a parking lot behind L.A.'s Hall of Justice, McFadden offers this preview: "I expect Marcia Clark to present a very precise, tightly orchestrated prosecution scenario, relying heavily on professional witnesses and scientific testimony. The state's real challenge will be to surround the technical evidence with a story. What Marcia Clark and her colleagues have to do before this is over is make the case of why."
Expect bombshells. "I do think Marcia Clark has kept a few surprises for the trial," says McFadden, the Court TV veteran. "The defense theory of the case will be that the cops were so eager to solve this crime that they recklessly and wantonly picked Mr. Simpson as the Fall Guy and made everything point in his direction. They will use the splatter approach: you raise as much reasonable doubt, as many questions as you possibly can. The defense doesn't have to present an alternate theory of how this crime occurred, although I've heard they intend do that—to use what trial lawyers call the SOMDI defense: Some Other Dude Did It."
Not long ago people with McFadden's specialized credentials were obscure functionaries at the networks. Now, after a string of garish televised trials, they occupy center ring in the media circus, a prominence that still surprises Cynthia. "Who could have imagined," she wonders. "I went to law school because I grew up watching [legal reporter] Fred Graham cover Watergate for CBS News, and I thought he had the best job in America."
Ah, Watergate. How quaint! Unindicted coconspirators. No Kato.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ADJUST YOUR SET. You have entered the O.J. omniverse, the court of first, last and only resort. Settle in. You're not leaving, unless Judge Ito—He Who Must Be Obeyed—decides to pull the plug on TV for good.