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THE SIMPSON VERDICTS : News Media Send in Stars to Seek Exclusives : Coverage: Celebrities cause a stir as they arrive to contend with trial reporters for interviews. But main network anchors stay put back East.

October 04, 1995|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The massive media gantlet in front of the Criminal Courts Building Tuesday morning was patiently waiting for Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and the O.J. Simpson defense team when a soft murmur went through the crowd.

No, it wasn't the arrival of Cochran, or Robert L. Shapiro, or other celebrities that stirred the regular news people. It was Katie Couric of the "Today Show" who caused the brief commotion as she was escorted down the corridor into the courtroom. Soon afterward, NBC's Maria Shriver, one of the network's principal anchors, also walked into the courtroom.

NBC sent some of its biggest names to Los Angeles to cover the verdict--and to try to land exclusives. Along with the principals in the Simpson case, these news celebrities formidably contended with trial reporters for interviews in the aftermath of the celebrated trial.

Couric, pregnant and apparently nursing a cough and a slight cold, caught the Tuesday redeye from New York to be in Los Angeles on Wednesday to hook up with "Today" co-host Bryant Gumbel, who had been in town since the weekend. Paula Zahn arrived Monday night to anchor "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday and Wednesday.

However, despite the massive media coverage, none of the networks sent their major evening news anchors from back East to Los Angeles. NBC's Tom Brokaw, ABC's Peter Jennings and CBS's Dan Rather were all staying put.

All day, the big media stars, along with the local TV types, schemed to try to score the most treasured interview of all, O.J. Simpson, while rumors of a pay-per-view event in which Simpson would be interviewed began to dwindle.

Almost upon arrival, the news celebrities stood out. Outside the courtroom after the verdict, Couric warmly embraced defense attorney Shapiro. NBC "Dateline" anchor Stone Phillips was obvious as he patiently waited in line with the local media for access to the courtroom. Shriver ate a bran muffin and exchanged war stories with ABC correspondent Cynthia McFadden.

A few hours later, Couric, who raised some eyebrows around the courtroom recently when she sent Judge Lance A. Ito a birthday cake, sat in a tall chair on the ninth floor where most of the other TV media were stationed, doing a live remote interview with NBC anchor Tom Brokaw in New York.

"Yes, Tom, a big civil suit probably looms ahead for O.J. Simpson," she said, staring into the camera, as Shriver stood nearby. Hours later, Shriver filed a report for the NBC Evening News from outside Simpson's Brentwood estate.

By the end of the day, Couric had scored a "Dateline NBC" interview with Cochran, while Phillips hooked up with Robert Kardashian, Simpson's friend and a member of the defense team, for the same show.

NBC spokeswoman Beth Comstock said the heavy guns at the network were interested in getting interviews "with all the principals" in the trial, saying that Couric and Gumbel would be aggressively pursuing them for the rest of the week.

Ted Koppel of ABC's "Nightline" made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles on Monday, but will not be pursuing stories. Koppel was scheduled to host a series of town meetings to be broadcast nationally. Barbara Walters of ABC landed an interview with Shapiro that aired Tuesday night. Brokaw scored an interview in New York with defense attorney Barry Scheck.

Of course, the ultimate post-trial interview, with Simpson, was what everybody craved.

"The big question now is when will O.J. speak and to whom," said one network news producer. "Each network and interviewer will be arguing that they're the ones to give O.J. the legitimate, sympathetic news forum he needs."

There have been persistent rumors that Simpson and his representatives are negotiating for a pay-per-view interview. Although the details are unclear, sources said some discussion has taken place.

But executives with HBO, CNN, Larry King and Request TV, the largest pay-per-view network, indicated that they would not be interested in such an event.

"With two people decapitated," said Hugh Panero, president of Request TV, "I think it's inappropriate to talk about it."

The news media were not the only ones beating the bushes for interviews. The talk shows were also out in full force on Tuesday. Leeza Gibbons, host of NBC's daytime show "Leeza," taped a segment with attorney Gloria Allred, representing the family of Nicole Brown Simpson. Allred also was approached by representatives of Oprah Winfrey's show.

A representative of talk show host Jenny Jones was traveling to jurors' homes in a rented Lincoln. ABC's "Good Morning America" showed up at jurors' houses with baskets of fruit and cookies and candy.

Meanwhile, as the case reached its climax, television industry insiders were analyzing how much the coverage of the verdict may have cost the networks. They said that although the coverage attracted a large national audience, it probably was not a revenue bonanza.

Media buyers said daytime advertising revenue probably was down Tuesday because the networks aired fewer spots than on a typical day and failed to get a premium for some of the spots that did air. ABC, NBC and CBS had been seeking a premium of 10% to 15% over usual prices for commercials that ran during verdict coverage, but many advertisers were skittish about airing spots during the emotionally charged event.

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