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Alan Pergament: Both bizarre and painful, Simpson interview was difficult to turn off

If any TV market in the country was more likely to watch the 2006 O.J. Simpson interview that Fox ran Sunday night opposite the premiere of ABC's "American Idol," you might have thought it would be Buffalo.

After all, Simpson was a celebrated Bill before his mighty fall in the so-called "Trial of the Century" for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.

But the rating score here was: "American Idol," 6.7 on WKBW-TV (Channel 7), to"O.J. Simpson" The Lost Confession?" 3.8 on WUTV (Channel 29).

The live "Idol" rating here on a weakened ABC affiliate was higher than just about every regularly scheduled ABC primetime series in the last year except episodes of "The Good Doctor" and "Dancing with the Stars." (The second "Idol" didn't do as well Monday night, losing by an almost 2-1 margin to NBC's "The Voice.")

The Simpson special, with Soledad O'Brien as host, also did better here than most Fox primetime series.

Nationally, "Idol" reportedly had 10.3 million viewers to 4.4 million for the Simpson interview.

The interview also got a lot of attention Monday, with the "NBC Nightly News" airing a story asking if Simpson confessed and NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) running a story about another call to remove Simpson from the Bills Wall of Fame at New Era Field.

I can't believe I watched the whole thing Sunday.

I also can't believe there actually was some merit in airing the interview and some regret that it didn't run 12 years ago for a variety of reasons, including the disapproval of the Brown and Goldman families and the unseemliness of paying Simpson.

I've had enough of the Simpson story and hadn't planned to watch, but I had already seen "American Idol" in a preview supplied by ABC, and there is only so much Bracketology you can watch about the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

So I DVRed the Simpson special for later viewing and was alternately bored, disturbed and sickened by what I heard and saw.

Simpson's hypothetical description of the murders had numerous bizarre moments.

They led Christopher Darden, one of the prosecutors in the so-called Trial of the Century, to conclude, "I think he confessed."

It sure seemed like a confession to many viewers — including this one – even if Simpson was hiding behind a "hypothetical."

At times, Simpson seemed confused about what hypothetical means, saying things that sounded like he was recreating what really happened.

You couldn't blame anyone watching for being confused, too.

Simpson's performance – and it was a performance – pretty much was in line with my long-held suspicion that he committed the murders but didn't remember doing them.

There were too many bizarre moments to count in an overblown Fox show that really should have been an hour instead of two hours.

The interview by former publisher Judith Regan was supplemented by a discussion with Darden, Regan, Eve Shakti Chen (a friend of Nicole), some domestic abuse experts and a FBI profiler who took turns noting how self-delusional Simpson was in describing the threatening and controlling behavior and stalking experienced by his ex-wife.

If there was one group I wished Fox had reached out to appear on the program besides those it asked, it would have been the jurors in the criminal case who declared Simpson "not guilty" and let him go free, just to see their reactions.

The domestic abuse experts presumably gave the program an educational reason for airing, besides just the titillating factor the interview also had.

Of course, all Simpson projects have done the same thing, including the award-winning FX series "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" and the award-winning ESPN documentary, "O.J.: Made in America," which both ran two years ago.

But that message can't be delivered enough.

In Simpson's bizarre telling, he was only trying to protect his children against the bad people his ex-wife was hanging around with and he was really the victim.

He also laughed frequently at inappropriate times about his infidelity, suggesting it was the norm for people in his position.

His jokes about attempting to have sex – using the phrase trying to "get some" – were just plain painful, pitiful and disturbing and made it seem like he thought Regan was conducting the interview in a locker room.

But the one self-delusional comment that illustrated how little Simpson understood America was when he said he was surprised by how quickly he lost all his goodwill and added, "It seems that people wanted me to be guilty."

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

People wanted him to be innocent because he was beloved as an American football, TV and commercial idol before they got to know what he was really like in private.

It was almost as painful to watch Sunday's program as it was to first discover during his 1995 criminal trial that people didn't really know Simpson.

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