Twenty years after O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder, what new insight could a TV drama have to offer?
As it turned out, a lot. FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” which premiered in February 2016, brilliantly dissected what the case said about the country’s racial divisions. An all-star cast gave sobering portrayals of some of the trial’s most misunderstood players — including, most memorably, besieged prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson).
The success of “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” coupled with pop culture’s increasing obsession with true crime, has given way to a slew of series offering fresh perspectives on stories that dominated headlines, particularly in the 1980s and ’90s. Ryan Murphy, the veteran producer behind “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” is leading the charge with several installments of “American Crime Story” slated to debut on FX over the next few years.
Murphy is also continuing “Feud,” which launched this year with “Bette and Joan,” a delicious exploration of the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
Other networks are getting into the game as well. Discovery recently premiered an eight-episode series about the FBI’s hunt for Ted Kaczynski, while Showtime recently acquired the rights to “Secure and Hold: The Last Days of Roger Ailes,” which is based on the reporting of Gabriel Sherman.
Here is a guide to the slate of TV shows based on real-life events.
Premiered: Aug. 1 (Discovery)
The real story: In April 1996, the FBI apprehended Theodore J. Kaczynski at his remote Montana cabin. The Harvard graduate had become known in the news media as the Unabomber, an anonymous terrorist known for mailing and planting explosive-filled packages that had killed three people and injured 23. Kaczynski had eluded authorities for so long — 17 years — that in 1995, at the FBI’s recommendation, The Washington Post published his 35,000 word manifesto.
The cast: Paul Bettany plays Kaczynski. Sam Worthington (“Avatar”) portrays Jim Fitzgerald, the police officer turned FBI profiler who used language analysis to help nab Kaczynski. Jane Lynch (“Glee”) takes a brief turn as Attorney General Janet Reno.
“Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders”
Premieres: Sept. 26 at 10 p.m. (NBC)
The real story: In August 1989, entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife, Kitty, were found brutally murdered in their Beverly Hills, Calif., mansion. Their 22-year-old son, Lyle, made a hysterical call to 911, telling an operator that he and his 19-year-old brother, Erik, had come home from a movie to find their parents dead.
Police thought it was a mafia hit. But the brothers — sole heirs to their parents’ $14 million estate — quickly aroused suspicion through lavish spending sprees and bizarre interviews with detectives. They were arrested in March 1990 and later sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The cast: Edie Falco (“The Sopranos”) plays Erik’s defense attorney, Leslie Abramson, who argued that the brothers had endured years of sexual and psychological abuse from their father. Anthony Edwards (“ER”) portrays trial judge Stanley Weisberg, and Gus Halper (“Power”) and Miles Gaston Villanueva (“The Young and the Restless”) star as Erik and Lyle Menendez. Josh Charles (“The Good Wife”) plays the brothers’ psychologist, L. Jerome Oziel, whose audio recordings of their therapy sessions played a pivotal role in the case.
Premieres: January 2018 (FX)
The real story: In 1973, 16-year-old J. Paul Getty III, the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty Sr., was kidnapped in Rome. His captors demanded $17 million, but Getty’s father was unable to pay the hefty ransom. His grandfather refused, saying, “If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” It wasn’t until months later, when the captors sent a lock of Getty’s hair and his severed ear to an Italian newspaper, that his grandfather agreed to pay the kidnappers a renegotiated amount of $3 million.
The cast: Harris Dickinson as Getty III; Hilary Swank as his mother, Gail Getty; Donald Sutherland as his grandfather; and Brendan Fraser as Getty Sr.’s private investigator, James Fletcher Chace.
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
Premieres: Early 2018 (FX)
The real story: Famed Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot and killed on July 15, 1997, while returning to his Miami Beach mansion after an early-morning errand. The 50-year-old was the fifth alleged victim of serial killer Andrew Cunanan, whom police found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound just over a week later.
The cast: Édgar Ramírez will play Versace, and Darren Criss (“Glee”) will play Cunanan. Penélope Cruz is set to play Versace’s sister Donatella, who took over the fashion empire. Ricky Martin landed the role of Versace’s longtime partner, Antonio D’Amico, who (along with Versace’s butler) found the slain designer’s body.
“Feud: Charles and Diana”
Premieres: 2018 (FX)
The real story: Countless headlines and documentaries have explored the messy, public divorce between Princess Diana and Prince Charles, who married in 1981. There were affairs on both sides — most infamously, Charles’s not-so-secret one with Camilla Parker-Bowles, now his wife.
“Charles and Diana’s story literally begins with filing the divorce papers. It’s about that pain of the dissolving of a fairy tale, particularly for Diana,” Murphy said at an event for Emmy voters in April.
The cast: Nothing official, but Murphy told E! that he was looking at both “very famous” and unknown actresses to play Diana.
“Katrina: American Crime Story”
Premieres: Late 2018 (FX)
The real story: In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina left a trail of destruction along the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,600 people and displacing thousands. President George W. Bush and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D. Brown faced harsh criticism for what many saw as a slow and inadequate federal response.
“I want this show to be a socially conscious, socially aware examination of different types of crime around the world,” Murphy told the Hollywood Reporter last year. “And in my opinion, Katrina was . . . a crime against a lot of people who didn’t have a strong voice, and we’re going to treat it as a crime.”
The cast: Dennis Quaid as Bush; Annette Benning as Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco; and Matthew Broderick as Brown.
Monica Lewinsky “American Crime Story” series
Premieres: Not yet announced (FX)
The real story: In 1998, President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, accused of lying under oath about his affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. The scandal left an indelible mark on his presidential legacy — and Lewinsky’s reputation.
“When news of my affair with Bill Clinton broke, I was arguably the most humiliated person in the world,” she wrote in a 2014 Vanity Fair essay. As “The People v. O.J. Simpson” did for Marcia Clark, we can expect “American Crime Story” to examine the sexism behind Lewinsky’s public shaming.
The cast: No official word yet. But Murphy did tell Bravo’s Andy Cohen that he had a role in mind for longtime collaborator Sarah Paulson: Linda Tripp, the former White House employee who secretly recorded conversations in which Lewinsky detailed her relationship with the president.
Untitled Oliver North miniseries
Premieres: Not yet announced (Amazon)
The real story: Marine veteran Oliver North was a central figure in the Iran-contra affair and its televised hearings. In the 1980s, he was working as a National Security Council staffer when an investigation revealed his involvement in a scheme to sell arms to Iran and divert the funds to rebels in Nicaragua. (Charges were eventually dropped.)
The cast: Colin Farrell as North.