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O.J. Simpson Case a Ticket to TV Work for Many Participants

November 12, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ It was television’s trial of the century, so it’s no wonder TV is having a hard time saying goodbye to participants in the O.J. Simpson case.

Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. is the latest to parlay his Simpson celebrity into a television job. Court TV announced Tuesday that Cochran would be co-host of a nightly talk show on the law starting in January.

Fellow Dream Team lawyers Robert Shapiro and Barry Scheck have landed commentator jobs on CBS and NBC, respectively.

Simpson defense team member Alan Dershowitz and prosecutor Chris Darden are twice-weekly guests on Geraldo Rivera’s CNBC show.

``We’ve become familiar,″ Cochran said. ``I see people all of the time who say, `You were in my living room.′ It’s really interesting. The power of television is amazing.″

Powerful enough to cause a career change, although Cochran said he will try to hang on to some of his law practice in Los Angeles. He said he had to fend off offers from other networks.

The secret to their success? Even today, all things Simpson can still draw in viewers.

CNBC’s coverage of Simpson’s civil trial scored higher ratings than anything else on the network this year, officials said. Roger Cossack, host of CNN’s daily ``Burden of Proof″ program, whispered that the show’s ratings are ``incredible″ when the Simpson case is discussed.

``Burden of Proof″ itself grew out of the Simpson case, from Cossack and Greta Van Susteren’s commentary on the trial, in much the same way as ABC’s ``Nightline″ started as a daily update on the Iran hostage crisis.

``Everyone is due for their 15 minutes of fame _ and they’ve all become very famous,″ said Steven Sternberg, television analyst for Bozell Inc. ``Johnnie Cochran is a personality. He’s become more than just O.J.’s lawyer. He’s become a personality and TV likes personalities.″

Shapiro is expected to begin commentary on Simpson’s civil trial for CBS News as early as Friday. Scheck was hired by NBC News as a legal analyst for the Simpson trial, yet will also contribute to reports on ``Dateline NBC″ about people who may have been wrongly convicted.

Shapiro’s hiring has caused some problems within CBS, where on-air legal consultant Laurie Levenson publicly questioned the ethics of hiring attorneys who worked for Simpson’s prosecution or defense.

Cochran said that he won’t criticize anyone in particular but that he turned down offers to comment on the Simpson trial because he saw the potential for conflict.

``Would I answer a question based on what I knew as an advocate for Mr. Simpson, or an opinion based upon that moment?″ Cochran said. ``That would be a tough problem, and I decided I wouldn’t have anything to do with it.″

Andrew Heyward, CBS News president, said he considered and rejected the arguments against hiring Shapiro.

``There’s no question that anybody involved in the original case is potentially a controversial character,″ he said. ``The standard for me is, can we contribute to the public understanding of the story and the issues involved, and obviously I’m confident that all our contributors meet that test.″

The staying power of the Simpson stars is still an open question. CNN’s show, for one, seems to have transcended the connection and established itself. Cochran’s success will depend on the chemistry with co-star Nancy Grace, an Atlanta prosecutor, and the supply of newsworthy legal stories.

``The notion that people are going to watch lawyers talk to each other seems real foreign to me,″ Cossack said. ``In fact, that’s what happened.″

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