Fox's O.J. Simpson Dilemma: An $8M Question

Bill O'Reilly makes a strong point in the controversy around O.J: He won't buy the book, watch the show, or "if any company sponsors the TV program, I will not buy anything that company sells--ever."

And, that of course, is the $64 million question. Actually it's an $8 million question, at best. That would be what Fox grosses in advertising sales over the course of two nights at the end of this month should it sell all 40 thirty-second commercials in the two-hour broadcast at some $200,000 a spot.

Can Fox sell any advertising? Analysts speculate that movie companies might take a whack at it, and some Internet companies, who seemingly don't care about content. The Internet domain Web site,, could be one of those, say media executives.

Other media analysts say this has nothing to do with whether Fox can sell advertising or not. Pure and simple, it's about publicity for Fox. Eight million dollars is a drop in the bucket when your network is suffering from some poor fall programming choices, when the Major League Baseball playoffs aren't making money and aren't contributing to any kind of promotional platform for your new TV shows. (Only "American Idol" can provide that.)

There are bigger issues. Perhaps it's telling that not even Fox News would dirty up its hands with O.J. Simpson and his new book, If I Did It. One wonders if Fox indeed tried to get its experienced journalists to attempt an interview with Simpson. Seemingly journalists at Fox News would have rejected this out of hand--as would virtually any reputable reporter.

But one former reporter has taken it on--Judith Regan. Her background is working at that esteemed publication, the National Enquirer. She's also the publisher of the book.

Regan, who now runs ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins owned by News Corp., believes she gets a confession from O.J. in the interview. She says that her own experience as a battered woman pushed her into publishing the book, and hopes that the injured parties will grab some of the money from the proceeds of the book.

So Regan's purpose is to help the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman? If that is the case, what is her allegiance to Simpson, her client?

Not surprisingly, nine Fox affiliates have figured all this out. So they have told Fox they won't be airing the show. "Our company feels very strongly that there is no beneficial interest to the airing of this program except to O.J. Simpson, and we have no desire to benefit O.J. Simpson," Pappas Telecasting Co.'s Mike Angellos told the Washington Post.

"Interest" is the key word here. TV analysts should take careful note of the minute-by-minute ratings. The interview may score big ratings in the first minute--but by minute 23, viewers might be bored and lose interest.

That won't be good news for Fox. With the buzz dying down, the network will have to go into a quiet period again, waiting until late January when "Idol" comes around to save the day.

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