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O.J. and Vegas -- a match made in TV heaven

September 20, 2007|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Like Pete Rose signing autographs in a mall at Caesars, or "Spamalot" in repertory at the Wynn starring Mr. Peterman from "Seinfeld," O.J. Simpson is now officially a Vegas sideshow.

His next court date is the week of Oct. 22. Seating is limited, even for high-roller comps, but TV coverage will be, in a word, insane -- broadcast news breathing in the fetishistic fumes of O.J. ratings like Dennis Hopper sucking in nitrous oxide in "Blue Velvet."

As TV spectacle, everything about Simpson's bail hearing Wednesday felt like a Las Vegas karaoke version of the 1995 "Trial of the Century," which is to say kind of faux. In the role of Judge Lance A. Ito was a justice of the peace with a ponytail and goatee.

Meanwhile, Johnnie Cochran is dead -- replaced by Simpson counsel Yale Galanter, who neatly decried the reckless extemporizing of TV lawyers and commentators while appearing in no hurry to duck the cameras himself in a post-hearing news conference.

Simpson himself was in prison darks, thicker and dull-eyed, a kind of later-stage-Elvis version of his earlier trial self. His perp walk, played ritualistically, featured him being hustled down a flight of stairs in blue shirt and jeans, a medium-speed walk to a car.

Puff it up as they would -- "O.J. Misunderstood" was the tease to Headline News' "Glenn Beck" on Tuesday -- the broadcast news business was being wagged by the more intrepid, 24-hour bottom-feeding operation known as TMZ.com.

They are the purveyors of "the infamous audiotape," as "Good Morning America's" Chris Cuomo referred to it Wednesday, in which a belligerent-sounding Simpson is evidently heard confronting the men who have his stuff.

"Infamous" seemed a vast overstatement. The cameras that followed Simpson after his release (he's going back to his hotel!) were meanwhile a forced homage to the slow-speed chase. This time, Simpson wasn't fleeing the scene, he was fleeing the story, and you could feel the cable networks' panic even with technological advancements like the wireless camera streaming images from a car behind him.

For the story, it seems, is this time about another ex-great athlete meeting a Dante-like fate in Vegas.

"The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" on Tuesday night made fun of all the news outlets that led their "O.J. Arrested" reports by riffing on the "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" tourism catchphrase. But like Rose's gambling habit, Simpson's alleged crimes, evidently committed in the course of recovering the suit he wore when he was acquitted in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, are more about another kind of cultural shorthand: ghoulish celebrity.

Which happens to be a product Vegas produces best, bar none, while marketing higher-end, corporate-sponsored entertainments to a flow of global tourists. In that sense, "O.J. in Vegas" isn't a gleaming production of Cirque du Soleil, it's more a downtown and down-market version of commedia dell'arte.

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paul.brownfield@latimes.com

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