"I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project," said the News Corp. chairman. Mr. Murdoch, of course, was talking about O.J. Simpson's "If I Did It." In his infinite business wisdom, he decided that both the book, to be published by News Corp.'s HarperCollins, and the two TV specials, to be aired on Fox, should be dropped.
Of course, despite all the screaming and yelling by Americans and pundits of every stripe, the show likely would have pulled in huge numbers for a network that desperately needs them. Chances are anyone old enough to remember the made-for-tabloids double homicide of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, the chase of the white Bronco and the ensuing "trial of the century" would have tuned in. Fox undoubtedly assumed the viewing audience would go against its own better judgment and deliver, if not Super Bowl numbers, then something akin to "American Idol" ratings.
We're under no illusion, however, that it was really common decency that won out. While it would be nice to think that someone turned up a box of scruples at News Corp. HQ, the likely reason is that it was starting to look as if the spectacle would damage the overall brand in the eyes of both marketers and the public.
Already News Corp. was having problems with its troops. A number of local affiliate managers refused to air the specials, sweeps week be damned. More important, it was having problems with the officers in its Fox News stable. Bill O'Reilly, for one, went on record as saying, "If any company sponsors the TV program, I will not buy anything that company sells-ever."
We agree with Scott Donaton (see P. 14) that no sane advertisers were going to touch this project directly, thus negating boycott threats. But O'Reilly, who once bullied Pepsi to drop Ludacris as an endorser, may have signaled an alarm that the Fox News audience would revolt. Add to that the threat of litigation from the families of the victims, and suddenly winning sweeps week seems like a Pyrrhic victory.