Aside from O.J. Simpson’s “Dream Team” of lawyers, nobody is profiting more from his murder case than the cable channels covering his trial gavel-to-gavel.
Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you that viewer interest in the Simpson trial is waning. Five-year-old E! is reaping the highest ratings in its history. Ratings are at near-record levels on 15-year-old CNN, surpassed on a consistent basis only by its coverage of the Persian Gulf War.
As a matter of policy, Court TV refuses to release its ratings, but they are also believed to be up.
When Nielsen Media Research recently released a list of the top 15 programs on basic cable for the week of Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, every high-rated program involved a portion of CNN’s Simpson coverage, ranging from a high of 5.15 million homes tuned in to a low of 3.82 million.
CNN posted its highest Simpson rating so far, totaling 6.5 million homes, on Feb. 6, a day of wrenching testimony by Denise Brown, the sister of Nicole Brown Simpson. CNN public relations manager David Talley said that, except for the gulf war, this was the third-highest rating in the channel’s history. The only two higher were the NAFTA debate between Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot on “Larry King Live” in 1993 and - perhaps you guessed - Simpson’s slow-motion Bronco chase on June 17, 1994, five days after the murders of his ex-wife and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.
The audience for Simpson’s real-life soap opera has grown so large that it is rivaling the viewership of the fictional soaps on the broadcast networks. For the week of Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, Nielsen said the No. 1 soap, CBS’ “The Young and the Restless,” averaged 5,978,000 viewers each afternoon. That was bigger than CNN’s Simpson crowd that week, but smaller than the fat figure CNN posted on Feb. 6.