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E! Entertainment Recreating Simpson Trial for TV

October 24, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ It’s not the real O.J. Simpson trial _ just virtual reality from E! Entertainment Television.

Beginning tonight, E!-employed actors will recreate testimony from Simpson’s civil trial in prime time, blurring the lines between real life, journalism and drama.

``It is kind of a daily made-for-TV movie,″ said Erik Sorenson, an executive producer at Court TV, which has two reporters at the trial.

Portraying Simpson is actor Stephen Eskridge, whose credits include roles in the movies ``Personal Best″ and ``The Seduction.″

The cable network claims no trickery is involved in its shadow trial, part of its planned nightly coverage of the court action. Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki has barred cameras from covering the real trial.

The nightly dramatic reading will clearly be labeled a simulation and the words taken directly from transcripts of the proceedings, the network said. The time needed to get the transcripts will cause a one-day lag. Tonight’s show, for example, will feature Wednesday’s opening statements.

``Our goal has always been to make sure it’s honest and fair, without editorializing and without sensationalizing,″ said John Rieber, the network’s vice president of programming.

E!’s Simpson programming will also include analysis from former Simpson lawyer Alan Dershowitz and former Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Charles Manson.

Critics note that journalists have gotten in trouble recreating news _ most notably when ``Dateline NBC″ was caught faking a fiery crash in a 1993 report on pickup trucks _ and this can’t help.

``It makes broadcast journalism look worse and worse and worse at a time when it really doesn’t need that,″ said Barry McNeil, a Dallas lawyer and chairman of the American Bar Association’s litigation section.

Even with the best of intentions, E! will be hard-pressed to maintain its coverage is an accurate representation of the trial, said Roger Cossack, co-host of CNN’s daily ``Burden of Proof″ program on the law.

``Just like you get Oliver Stone’s interpretation of Nixon, you’re going to get their interpretation of the trial,″ Cossack said.

Through facial expressions and vocal inflections, actors can give an entirely different interpretation of testimony than what actually took place in court, said Neal Sonnett, a Miami defense lawyer who once represented Manuel Noriega.

E! representatives, however, will attend the real trial to brief the actors on how the day went, Rieber said.

E!’s coverage of the criminal trial included telephone polls on Judge Lance Ito’s performance, a handwriting analysis of Simpson’s letters to ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and comedy from a Los Angeles troupe that specialized in satire.

Judges who don’t like cameras in the courtroom argue that the media only wants them for entertainment value _ and E!’s recreations only give them more ammunition, said Jane Kirtley of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, an agency that offers legal defense to journalists.

``I’m truly sorry to hear about it,″ she said.

But David Bartlett, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said recreations can be a ``useful tool″ in telling a story.

E!’s coverage may help convince judges that cameras recording a real trial is preferable to recreations, he said.

Court TV’s Sorenson said he believed viewers understand the difference between a network whose goal is entertainment instead of news.

``It’s certainly not what we would do,″ he said. ``We’re a news network and we have credibility. We worry about our credibility and if we did something like that, it would clobber our credibility.″

CNN also wouldn’t dream of recreating the trial, Cossack said. But he hedged on whether E!’s recreations will be trend-setting.

``Truthfully, I suppose it depends on what the ratings are,″ he said.

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