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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'O.J. Players' Offer Trial As Real-Life Soap Opera

LOS ANGELES -- "O.J. Simpson" dutifully looked solemn as he sat next to his "attorney, Robert C. Baker," listening to testimony against him in the double murder trial.


When "court" adjourned, "Simpson" grabbed his shirt bag and rushed off. He had to get to an acting audition, plus prepare for a jazz singing gig later that night.


In a high-rise miles away from where former actor O.J. Simpson sits uncomfortably in a Santa Monica courtroom during his second trial in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, a group of actors posing as Simpson, his defense team, prosecutors and witnesses stage their abbreviated version of the real-life drama for broadcast across the nation.


It's not O.J. It's "Faux" J.


Since the start of testimony last month in Simpson's civil trial, the "O.J. Players," armed with trial transcripts, have been gathering weekday mornings to re-enact verbatim highlights for E! Entertainment Television. The scenes, which cover proceedings of the previous day, are shown that evening during the cable network's one-hour recap, "The O.J. Civil Trial."


The featured members of the troupe are from local stage productions or have had small parts in movies and television. Some look like their real-life counterparts. Some don't.


Actor Stephen Wayne Eskridge, 1.88 meters tall, has an uncanny resemblance at times to the athletically built Simpson. Actor Howard Miller is more likely to be mistaken for Simpson friend Robert Kardashian, the role he was originally submitted for, than lead prosecutor Daniel Petrocelli. The jet-black hair of actor Calvin Jung has to be whitened for him to look more like Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki.


Executives at E!, an entertainment-oriented channel more known for covering movie premieres and developing celebrity-friendly shows such as "Talk Soup" and "The Gossip Show" than for its news operation, say they are doing the re-enactments to satisfy the insatiable public appetite surrounding Simpson, and as a service to interested viewers unhappy about the banning of cameras in the courtroom by Judge Fujisaki.


"People want to be inside that courtroom, and this is the best way for them to be there," said John Rieber, vice president of programming for E!, adding that being accurate in the re-enactments is the network's "highest priority."


Rieber said he is encouraged with viewer response to the re-enactments, and ratings have jumped substantially. "The O.J. Civil Trial" has increased viewership by 94 percent over the various programs that appeared in those time periods during the last quarter of 1995.


But E!, which reaches 41 million households, declined to release exact viewership numbers. Cable channels typically draw only a fraction of the audience of broadcast networks.


E! executive Rieber said that when dealing with the re-enactments, the network is standing on the highest ethical ground.


"We're honestly saying at all times that this is a re-enactment, and we don't distort the proceedings in any way," he said. "We're bringing viewers the trial exactly the way newspapers bring the story to their readers."