So take, for instance, the name "O.J. Simpson."
If you've even half-been paying attention to pop culture lately, you can't escape all the hubbub surrounding FX's hit miniseries, "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson." It's the definition of a water-cooler show: It's only 10 episodes so it's not a super long commitment; everyone appears to be watching it; the performances are amazing (Sarah Paulson! Courtney B. Vance!); and you don't have to worry about spoilers because all of the events on the show already took place in the (very) public eye 21 years ago.
But just because the news and trial surrounding the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman murders were plastered all over television in 1994 doesn't mean that the viewing audience remembers the full extent of events.
If you track the searches for Simpson's name from 2004 to the present — the most amount of time that Google Trends allows — interest has been minimal, until a huge spike in February 2016. That's because FX's show debuted on Feb. 2. (Those few small bumps between 2007 and 2009 can mostly be attributed to Simpson's arrest, indictment and sentencing for a robbery and kidnapping case.)
Since then, according to Google Trends, viewers have been clamoring for more information about the courtroom characters who are once again back in the media spotlight. In a culture where second-screen viewing has become the typical way to consume media — how does anyone know you're watching a show if you're not tweeting about it? — viewers are yearning to learn more about the real-life stories and problems of the characters they are tuning in to watch on television. Searches for phrases like "Nicole Brown Simpson decapitated" and "O.J. Simpson kids" spiked after the show's first episode, which depicted both.
Vance's spot-on portrayal of lawyer Johnnie Cochran has been a talking point of the entire series of "The People v. O.J.," but the spike in his name as a search term was the week between Feb. 28 and March 5. That was the time period surrounding the fifth episode, "The Race Card," a Cochran-centric episode that dealt largely with the trial's use of the n-word. Cochran's character even called Christopher Darden the racial slur, and the episode delved a bit into Cochran's backstory with the police.
Similarly, the sixth episode, which aired March 8, focused on prosecutor Marcia Clark's troubled times during the trial. The chart below shows a large trend upward of searches on Clark's name between March 6 and March 12.
Even more noteworthy? People were really, really interested about what exactly happened with her hairdo.
These types of spikes occurred throughout the series during parts of the show that focus on specific courtroom players: Both former detective Mark Fuhrman and then-judge Lance Ito, two characters heavily featured in the ninth episode that aired March 29, saw their search traffic exponentially grow between March 27 and April 2.
These Google searches also got incredibly specific — viewers had lots of questions about Fuhrman's alleged racism…
…and Ito's wife, who was mentioned in two episodes (hence the two bumps).
While Google is the most comprehensive site for tracking this kind of data, many viewers of the FX series also seem to be going on YouTube to search for related archival footage.
For instance, an Associated Press video of Simpson trying on the "murder gloves" in 1995 was uploaded in July 2015. But a quick look at the comments shows the video has been watched a lot recently.
What event happened two weeks ago to spur such interest in an old video? The March 15 episode of "The People v. O.J.," which showed Simpson trying on the gloves, a horrific moment for the prosecution when they realized the gloves would not fit. And yes, Google showed the same spike in searches:
Pop culture often alters the way historical moments are perceived. It is much more likely that people will remember Leonardo DiCaprio from "The Revenant" before frontiersman Hugh Glass, whom he portrays.
But the O.J. trial is unique in that it's about a well-known celebrity, and was already covered so much at the time — and yet the FX miniseries has made us want to learn even more about it. By reinvigorating our interest in the case — and even changing our perceptions of heavily critiqued figures like Clark — "The People v. O.J. Simpson" shows how strong the power of TV can be.