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THE TINY SCREEN: Frontline Takes on OJ, Ten Years Later:

Has it really been ten years? So much has changed, yet nothing has changed. The television landscape was completely altered by it. Our thirst for scandal has grown more intense because of it, and the racial divide is wider than ever in spite of it. We didn’t learn enough from the trial, except that money will buy you a not guilty verdict (unless you’re Martha Stewart). In ten years, though, one thing is certain – anyone who’s ever spoken about it agrees that no one else could have committed that crime and even the black community now agrees, “OJ did it.”

It was the OJ trial that gave birth to a thousand round-the-clock news channels. It was the beginning of a new kind of audience access. It was the evil occasion that eventually forced judges to ban cameras in court rooms.

Here’s why: we watched trial but we weren’t jurors. When the verdict came down, the nation divided along racial lines. Anyone who remembers the trial also remembers what it was like to walk the streets afterwards – everyone was feeling it. Whites were mostly depressed and angry, blacks were elated, vindicated, finally, after decades of seeing the opposite result.

The reverberations from OJ take us up to today, ten years later, with another explosive television event – the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was, once again, a wake-up call for white Americans who are used to having television cater to their skin color, to not show what goes on in parts of the world that don’t look like the set of Desperate Housewives.

Here we are, ten years later, and we still have absolutely no idea why television audiences are only involved in white women disappearing, or why black Americans holding up help signs are ignored, or why most of the nation’s best-rated television programs are crowded by white faces. Here we are ten years later, forced to come to terms with the lack of progress.

The OJ trial can also be blamed for the insatiability of the American public for celebrity dirt – we were given an all-access pass to OJ, Nicole, every aspect of their celebrity life. It isn’t the same thing to know dirt on your average American but to hear tales of expensive cars, Italian leather shoes, golf clubs, mansions, guest houses, maids, and money money money.

Is it any wonder that the gossip magazines and paparazzi have not let up, despite the protestations of celebrities? To enter that world now, post-OJ is to sign a contract with the American public that says, “you belong to us.”

There is no going back, of course. Nothing will take us back to a time when we didn’t crave the next big thing to obsess the too-many news stations and distract a nation that has no ability to cope effectively with real problems like poverty, AIDS, super viruses, war, you name it, we’re avoiding it by watching our latest scandal du jour on television.

The trial had so much impact that it is still relevant now, ten years later, still as topical as it ever was. No, we’re not debating whether the glove was planted or the blood drops were real. But “CSI” remains at the top of the ratings charts – crime scene investigation was a subject most Americans became familiar with watching the OJ trial.

To commemorate the decade since, PBS’ acclaimed series (and, frankly, the only thing really worth watching if you never watch TV) “Frontline” will dedicate an hour to the trail, “The O.J. Verdict” on October 4, at 9 p.m. on KCET. The show will examine the aftershocks of the verdict, and will include interviews with many of those who were involved in one way or another with the trial. For those unable to watch it, PBS will make the show available in its entirety online. Visit www.pbs.org.

Notable TV

This Week

Thursday, September 29

Indecent Proposal (**), 8:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation, 8 p.m., KCET.

Waterworld (*), 8 p.m., BRAVO.

Night Stalker, 9 p.m., ABC.

Friday, September 30

Peace One Day (***), SUNDANCE.

Abe Lincoln in Illinois (***), 9 p.m., TCM.

Casino (**), 8 p.m., BRAVO.

Killer Instinct, 9 p.m., FOX.

Saturday, October 1

American Masters: No Direction Home, Dylan doc, repeats, 8 p.m., KCET.

Ever-After: A Cinderella Story (**), 9 p.m., KVEA.

Pollock (***), 9:15 p.m., IFC.

Commander-in-Chief, 10 p.m., ABC.

Sunday, October 2

The Turning Point (***), 8:30 p.m., FMC.

Mayday, new television movie, 9 p.m., CBS.

Mystery! Foyle’s War, 9 p.m., KCET.

Rambling Rose (***), 8:45 p.m., IFC.

Monday, October 3

Unhook the Stars (**), 8 p.m., IFC.

Haunting Sarah, 9 p.m., LIFETIME.

Just Legal, 9 p.m., NBC.

Leonardo’s Dream Machines, 9 p.m., KCET.

Tuesday, October 4

Amazing Race: Family Edition, 9 p.m., CBS.

Frontline, the OJ trial, 10 years later, 9 p.m., KCET.

Boston Legal, 10 p.m., ABC.

Mystic Iran, 10 p.m., KCET.

Wednesday, October 5

Drumline (**), 8 p.m., TNT.

Storytelling (**), 8 p.m., IFC.

Making Schools Work, 9 p.m., KCET.

Lost, 9 p.m., ABC.

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