For Larry King, it wasn't even a question.
"If we had God booked and O.J. was available, we'd move God," he said yesterday. "There's nobody who wouldn't take a figure of this magnitude."
Phil Donahue agrees. "I can't imagine anyone who calls himself a journalist standing on false piety and announcing they wouldn't deign to interview O.J. Simpson," he said.
Well, guess again. Just ask Don Imus.
"There is not enough money on this planet -- I don't care if it's a billion dollars, he couldn't get on this program," the syndicated morning man said. "He's a liar and a murderer. I'm not prepared to listen to that bull."
Simpson's startling phone call to "Larry King Live" Wednesday night has the media world buzzing about who might follow the Trial of the Century by landing the Interview of the Century. And who would pay big bucks for it. And whether any media heavyweight would lend his or her presence to the rumored O.J. pay-per-view special that could generate as much as $20 million.
Despite Simpson's acquittal this week on double murder charges, there are those who fervently believe he butchered two people and that they should not help him rehabilitate his image.
Geraldo Rivera challenged Simpson to a face-off but said the former football star would never agree to talk to an aggressive interviewer such as he, who would press him about the bloody glove and bloody footprints.
"I don't believe he has satisfactory answers that would explain away the evidence against him," said Rivera, who has interviewed Nicole Brown Simpson's family a number of times on his CNBC program. "I think he got away with murder. The reason he won't sit down with someone like me is there will be hostile questions that this charismatic, affable man in the midst of trying to rewrite history doesn't want to answer. He'll pick a relatively benign forum like the Larry King show to make a mild statement."
In his brief telephone interview with King, arranged in advance by CNN senior producer Wendy Walker Whitworth, Simpson was able to make a few quick comments and then hang up. It was the talk show equivalent of taking the witness stand without having to undergo cross-examination.
"Would you not take the call?" King asked. "Of course you'd take the call. Obviously he wanted to get a point across, and we're the place he used."
"There were no ground rules," Whitworth said. "I didn't have any idea how long he'd stay on."
Simpson began, like any other caller, by taking issue with a previous caller, who cited testimony about a "shadowy figure" seen running across Simpson's lawn the night of the murder. Simpson said the caller was simply repeating a "misrepresentation" by prosecutor Marcia Clark.
"Would you describe yourself as relieved, angry, what?" King asked.
Simpson said his "basic anger" during the trial was at television "experts," because "what they were reporting on the news, what they were reporting on these various shows, was not what the witnesses were saying." King, who was hosting Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran during the show, tried to ask further questions, but Simpson said he had to go.
Said John Tomlin, executive producer of "A Current Affair," who would love to land Simpson: "He's not a stupid man. He understands the value of publicity. It's clear he has gone on the offensive."
Others were critical of King. "I like Larry, I think he's a nice guy," Imus said. "But I told my wife eight months ago that he was trying to be in this position in case this guy got acquitted. Just disgraceful."
Not everyone is joining the Simpson stampede. Oprah Winfrey has made no attempt to book Simpson, a spokeswoman said. But in an age when Diane Sawyer sits down with Charles Manson, not many media people would pass up the Juice.
Sam Donaldson, while saying that "I think O.J. killed those two people," said he'd eagerly chat up Simpson for "PrimeTime Live." To argue otherwise, he said, "is like someone saying, Would you interview Adolf Hitler?' in 1939. Yes, I would have. Yet I can't think of a more abhorrent individual."
Jeff Zucker, executive producer of "Today," agreed. "I can't think of anybody right now who we'd rather speak with, assuming there were no ground rules," he said. "I don't think the pope is giving interviews." Zucker said news organizations must keep in mind "that he was found not guilty by a jury."
The betting among the media elite was that Simpson, who has spent a fortune on legal bills, would go the pay-per-view route. Rush Limbaugh mockingly suggested the kind of questions King would ask Simpson: "O.J., do you use cream in your coffee? When's the movie and do you want to direct? And can I get a percentage of the gross?"
King told TV Guide for an article next week that if Simpson "wants to go pay-per-view, I would agree. But it would have to be no-holds-barred. Then I'd give the money to battered women."
But CNN officials have rejected the idea, and a spokeswoman said yesterday that King had misunderstood the magazine's question. "A pay-per-view is owned by the person doing the pay-per-view," King said. "Even if they said you could ask anything you want, it's O.J.'s show. It don't ring right to me."
Hugh Panero, president of Request Television, the largest distributor of pay-per-view events, said an O.J. extravaganza "would really be exploiting the brutal deaths of two people. To do it for $39.95 is inappropriate, considering that two people were basically decapitated and two families will never see their children again. To make a quick buck on the deaths of these two people, we can pass on that."
Panero says he has gotten dozens of faxes from both colleagues and customers urging him to steer clear of any pay-per-view.
Most of the Simpson jurors have not spoken publicly, and a bidding war is apparently under way. A cousin of Armanda Cooley, the jury forewoman, told the New York Post that one news outlet had offered Cooley $100,000 and another $500,000. The cousin said Cooley had accepted one offer but did not elaborate.
Donahue, who paid a juror in the Rodney King beating case, sees nothing wrong with such payments. "The jurors in the O.J. case have something of value, and they shouldn't give it to Time Warner, Post-Newsweek or Disney for free," he said.
As for paying Simpson, Donahue said: "If it was something I could afford, I'd pay it and announce I did and let the viewer make his or her judgment about what I say or what O.J. says." Still, he said, "I'm not waiting for the phone to ring."
Would "A Current Affair," which has sworn off paid interviews, break out the old checkbook for Simpson? "Man, you're testing my faith," Tomlin said. "It would be hard to resist. If I did, I'd certainly say we paid him and say how much we paid him." CAPTION: O.J. Simpson's call to "Larry King Live" while the CNN host chatted with Johnnie Cochran set the media world buzzing about the Big Interview.