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October 11, 1995

None of them were household names when they began appearing every night on television to explain the O.J. Simpson trial. By the end, they'd become friendly faces in living rooms across the globe.

Now, the legal analysts who were swept up in the maelstrom of the Simpson case are cashing in on their newfound fame as celebrity pundits. One already is starring in a television news show. Others are pondering book deals and career changes. A sample of the new opportunities for this elite handful of talking heads:


"People began to see I am not always a mad dog."

Leslie Abramson, who provided running commentary for ABC's "Nightline," is under contract with Twentieth Television to produce a pilot for a half-hour syndicated news commentary show that would run five days a week.

"This would not be just about the legal world but whatever we find worthy of talking about," said Abramson, a respected Los Angeles defense lawyer who gained prominence for helping Erik and Lyle Menendez avoid conviction in their murder trial. "It would have reported pieces and interviews with newsmakers. It would be more opinionated and confrontational than 'Nightline.' The hope is to creep out from beneath bogus objectivity so people can know where you stand."

If all goes well, the show will begin airing next September, after the conclusion of the Menendez retrial. Although Abramson is refusing to take on any other legal cases, she says she intends to complete the Menendez case.

Abramson said television interest in her began before the Simpson case but "what Simpson did was it changed what I was marketable for. . . .After Simpson I was a regular on 'Nightline' and people began to see that I'm not always a mad dog and that on occasion I can actually become a more credible figure as a newsperson.

"Definitely that exposure made me attractive to people in serious television. It's just amazing to me."

She said she was looking for a career change, and Simpson provided one.

"I was looking long before," she said. "Then O.J. happened and I was getting all these calls to comment. . . .The whole thing was just bizarre from the beginning, the whole notion that a case would get that kind of attention and that I could make a living by talking about someone else's case, it was just amazing. It was something I never anticipated."

Abramson hopes that her autobiography, which she began long before Simpson, also will be completed and in bookstores at about the time the new show airs.


"I hit the lottery"

Roger Cossack already has started his new career in television.

Cossack, a onetime Los Angeles County deputy district attorney and a former assistant dean of the UCLA School of Law, is co-hosting "Burden of Proof" on CNN. The week-old show covers the legal ramifications of news stories and courtroom issues.

Cossack said his arrival at CNN was completely unexpected. Soon after the opening of the Simpson trial, several news organizations--including CNN--saw him quoted about the proceedings in a newspaper article. The media outlets were impressed and sought him as an analyst.

Cossack decided to cover Simpson's preliminary hearing for CNN, a stint he figured would last about three weeks and allow him to benefit from CNN's global reach. "I thought, for my 15 minutes of fame, I'm going to go all over the world. I was one of those lawyers who was picked from relative obscurity. I hit the lottery."

Cossack stayed on as a CNN analyst for the duration of the trial, which he covered with veteran CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren. Last week, CNN quickly launched "Burden of Proof" with Cossack and Van Susteren anchoring the half-hour show. Cossack left his Los Angeles law practice and moved to Washington to work on the show.

Among the first guests: Lead Simpson attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and Robert Tourtelot, Mark Fuhrman's former lawyer.

Cossack said the Simpson case has provided rich material for the program. "I see this trial as not only this incredible legal event but also this historical and cultural event," he said. "I see this story as a description of how we view each other, of racism in America, of the way blacks and whites view police departments and what happens in the criminal justice system."

In their debut program, both Cossack and Van Susteren seemed less comfortable asking questions than answering them, as they did while analysts. Cossack says he is still learning the ropes.

"I'm a real newcomer," he said. "It is an incredible opportunity, a brand new learning process. If I have to be on television, better that I should be discussing law than doing a cooking show.

"God damn," he added with a laugh, "it's tough to be interesting five days a week."


"I don't think the world needs another book on the Simpson trial"

Not all the pundits have lined up media work. Some are taking a more reserved approach, returning to their old jobs and waiting to see what offers come their way.

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