Kary Antholis: This is the Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis, where stories of crime and justice are told.
Today’s podcast is a conversation with Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, creators, executive producers and writers of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning limited series, The People v. O.J. Simpson as well as many other award-winning films and television programs.
The conversation was recorded as part of a series of classes that I taught at The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Each week I would host an artist for a discussion that would help us better understand their values and aims as storytellers in the world of crime and justice.
During Part One of our conversation we discussed how they met, their development as storytellers, the evolution of their partnership, how they became known as the “kings of the anti-bio pic,” how they came to write The People v. O.J. Simpson, the writing process on the series, and we began a discussion of how the production itself came together.
And so without further ado, here is my conversation with Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander.
Kary Antholis: So let’s start at the beginning. Where are you guys from? How did you meet? When did you start writing together?
Larry Karaszewski: We were freshmen roommates.
Scott Alexander: We were in Marks Tower.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah.
Scott Alexander: Hey, there we go, yeah.
Larry Karaszewski: Technically, we were not roommates at first, I had a room in Marks Tower that didn’t have a roommate and Scott had a room that had two roommates. We met on a line, getting the lunch card or whatever that was. I found out that he lived in town and he is a cinema major. He was talking about all these kind of cool things and I’m from Indiana and I didn’t know about these things. So we messed with the system a bit and we became roommates.
Kary Antholis: Take us through some of the key mileposts between being freshmen at USC and your first produced script. What were some of the breaks? Who were some of the mentors along the way? Why did you want to be writers?
Scott Alexander: We didn’t choose to be writers, it just kind of happened. Back when we were here, you weren’t supposed to write a feature screenplay and nobody did. You were expected to graduate and this for grad and undergrad with 40 pages. That’s all that was expected of students.
Larry Karaszewski: You would do like an outline and write the first act. That was really what people would do.
Scott Alexander: Yeah, I saw a tragic newspaper story about a kid who’d fallen through a roof and gotten paralyzed. Then I started telling Larry about it and we started talking and then we started joking about it. Sort of by the end of it, we had suddenly turned it into a story about Albert Brooks owning house and Morris Day of The Time falls through his roof and then Walter Matthau lives next door. We had come up with this funny story and we said, “What if we write a script?” We literally did not know one person who had written a screenplay because no one at USC wrote scripts. No one in any film school in the country wrote a whole script.
Larry Karaszewski: Back in those days, you broke in by making a short film. If you think about the people, the giants of USC, Lucas and Zimeckis.
Scott Alexander: Fairbanks.
Larry Karaszewski: They made short films and that’s how they got into the system. This is also early days of actually owning a computer.
Scott Alexander: I actually, I was an early adopter, I had a K-Pro 2X, where you would have to load the floppy disk to put in the hardware. Then load your file and you can only put one act on each disk because the storage, I think was 128 kilobytes.
Larry Karaszewski: So anyway, we were roommates at the time. We basically pounded out this screenplay.
Scott Alexander: Just for fun because I don’t even know if it exists anymore but for many years there was a big spec marketplace. A lot of people, you’d hear about the million-dollar spec sales and all that. That all came after the 1988 Writers Guild strike, where nobody worked for five and a half months, so everybody wrote spec scripts. That invented the spec market in Hollywood. This is back in 1985 when we’re writing that script.
Larry Karaszewski: Right. I want to say, we basically wound up selling two weeks after we graduated. I worked at a record store across the street, which was the University Village, which now is not there anymore.
Scott Alexander: I couldn’t recognize it.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah. He was working on a low-budget horror film and we had managed to get agents. We got agents because I was a TA and someone in that class, he was now an intern at ICM. They got asked a young agent, like who was good at USC? They gave my number and I got a phone call and we had the script. So it was actually one of the things where they say what? Luck is like when opportunity meets preparation. It’s like we actually had something and we gave it to her and about I’ll say a month later, it sold. We had an office at 20 Century Fox and-
Scott Alexander: Sold in a bidding war between four studios.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah. We’ve been writing together ever since.
Kary Antholis: Then what was your first produced script?
Scott Alexander: You guys have all these classes now about like how to work in Hollywood and how to navigate the system and how to do a pitch and how to get an agent. SC didn’t have anything like that. So we would write the script, we sell it. Two weeks after graduation, we have an office at 20th Century Fox, we don’t know anything. We literally knew nothing. Then we got assigned these big-shot producers at Imagine Films, it’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. We had this big-shot head of the studio, Scott Rudin. They wanted very different movies. The producers wanted a broad family comedy and then Rudin wanted it to be more like a Billy Wilder, like courtroom comedy. Experienced writers would sort of know how to navigate different points of view. This is what you’re going to spend your lives doing is you’re trying to do a project and it’s something you love. But then you go into a room with people who say, “Hey, maybe I’ll give you money for your project. Maybe I’ll make your project. But we have some notes.” You go, “Okay.” Then a person across the room says, “I’ve got notes.” But that person’s notes aren’t that person’s notes. You have to learn how to make people think they’re happy. That’s the secret.
Scott Alexander: Back then, I was still 22 years old when we sold the script. We didn’t understand this thing that you had to keep all the parties happy or else the project dies. We spent a year doing development and balancing between these different points of view and this little 105-page script turned into like 135 pages. Then after a year, they fired us. Then we didn’t work for six months because that’s Hollywood.
Larry Karaszewski: Our second script was the script that got made. It was a movie called Problem Child. We made Problem Child-
Scott Alexander: John Ritter, come on guys.
Larry Karaszewski: We basically worked on Problem Child One, Problem Child Two, it wasn’t necessarily a happy situation. But they made lots of money and they were really successful. But the problem is that they weren’t really the kind of movies that we wanted to make. It sort of got dumbed down in production. So we kind of thought like maybe we’d started our career the wrong way. That we’d started with these kind of broad comedies and we were quite successful. But we kind of said well, maybe we should do something more independent, more personal. It always talked… Scott even had come up with the treatment while he was at SC about making a movie about a guy named Ed Wood, who was kind of famous for being the worst filmmaker of all time. So we wrote a treatment for that really, really quickly. Through a series of friends, it got on Tim Burton’s desk and he became obsessed with it. That’s really the movie that launched our careers in a big way.
Kary Antholis: Since then you’ve become known as the kings of the anti-biopic. It’s a word that a lot of critics used to describe the kinds of films about real people that you do. What does that mean to you when people say it?
Larry Karaszewski: Well, it’s a little more common now. Back when we did Ed Wood, people like Ed Wood didn’t get movies made about them. That when people made movies based on true story, they were about great people or important people. They were Gandhi, they were Patton. They were movies that were like three hours long and just told some just gigantic… They were boring, they were like these big epic sweep. We thought why can’t you make just biographical movies about the sort of like pop culture people, people that we dug?
Scott Alexander: Who weren’t necessarily good at what they did or successful but they were interesting to us. The first one was Ed Wood. We didn’t have some big agenda like now for the next 30 years, we’re going to write anti-biopics. At the time, Ed Wood was a figure of mockery and there this book called the Golden Turkey Awards and 50 Worst Films of All Times. People would just make fun of him.
Scott Alexander: Then there was this traveling show, where you’d go the Nuart and you’d see the triple feature. They’d come up between the movies and they would make fun of the films and point out all the continuity mistakes. The Problem Child movies got very, very bad reviews. We didn’t set out to write shitty movies. We thought we wrote a pretty good script. But then it got rewritten and dumbed down. I had also worked on these low-budget horror movies and people usually don’t set out to make crap, crap just usually happens. We started feeling kind of sorry for ourselves with like we couldn’t get a job and the bad reviews. Then we started thinking about Ed Wood going what if you don’t make fun of the guy? What if you celebrate him? What if you say he came out to Hollywood with a dream and he directed six feature films and that’s more than most people? So why don’t we go hurray for Ed? Let him have his weird obsessions and his weird passions and that’ll drive the movie and we’re not going to knock him for it.
Scott Alexander: This is a totally weird way of looking at this guy who is in the fringes of the margins. We started doing our research and we loved fringy showbiz. We love the people in the shadows and the people who are normally ignored. Ed and a lot of our biopics are just sort about like little traveling freak shows. It’s a psychic, it’s a vampire, it’s a 400-pound wrestler. It’s a weird collection of people but we’re celebrating them.
Kary Antholis: There are two really significant filmmakers that you worked with on those anti-biopics. Tim Burton and Milos Forman. Can you tell us about what you got from those guys in the process of working with them? What the experiences were like, whether it was a fulfilling experience, gratifying experience?
Larry Karaszewski: For both those guys, it was kind of amazing and they’re both extremely different filmmakers. But they both captured our work really, really well and in sort of a different kind of way. We made two movies with each guy. Where Tim is very stylized and definitely puts his stamp of Tim Burton on everything. But Tim was insanely faithful to both scripts that we wrote with him. We made a movie called Big Eyes with him as well. Tim really took our pieces and filmed them. Filmed them with a little bit of the Burton world in it. They’re probably the least Tim Burton of Tim Burton’s movies because they take place in the real world.
Larry Karaszewski: But Tim is actually just a really good straightforward director. He’s also a great director of actors. Where Milos he’s much more about like trying to find the truth of things. He comes from Czechoslovakia, he comes from naturalism. So he’ll cast a real judge to play a judge or whatever. He’s trying to get what’s it all about. He’s also much more free with the actors in terms of improv and finding the characters and things like that. But we had I think, a magnificent experience on both those guys. We made Man On The Moon with Milos as well.
Scott Alexander: It’s interesting how all four of those movies are very much Scott and Larry movies. But they’re also the two are very much Tim movies and two are very much Milos movies. Milos body of work is actually pretty small. For a guy who’s directed two best pictures, I think he’s only made what? Nine or 10 films. But Milos always makes movies about the iconoclast, the outsider, the guy, whatever. He had Amadeus, he did Cuckoo’s Nest. The guy who’s fighting the system and that’s what Larry Flynt is and that’s what Andy Kaufman is. Milos totally identified with that.
Scott Alexander: Milos also took… We wrote the script for a studio on a pitch and then it was going out to directors. It was going out to all these comedy directors. Comedy with a K because we had told them we had written for Bill Murray. We knew Bill from Ed Wood. All these foreign directors started falling in over the transom, who were asking to direct the movie. We kind of figured out what’s going on was they all came from countries that didn’t have the First Amendment, they didn’t have free speech. So they were all appreciating the message of the film. I’m jumping all over the place here but all of our movies, it’s like what’s it about? It’s a biopic of Larry Flynt. What’s it really about? It’s about free speech. Ed Wood is about the worst filmmaker of all time, what’s it really about? It’s about the relationship between him and Lugosi.
Scott Alexander: So it was really the movie was like this giant civics lesson salute to how you have to draw a hard line in the sand with free speech and you can’t rub it at all. All the foreigners are getting and Milos’s parents were killed by the Nazis. His father was killed because he was a college professor. So, Milos for him, he took the message of the movie really personally. So he was just engaged emotionally on so many levels.
Larry Karaszewski: Also, I’ll say what Tim and Milos have in common with us is that we like to mix tones. That for us, we like to have comedy and tragedy and drama, all mixed in together. You guys just watched two episodes of OJ and OJ goes from being incredibly sad and tragic to really funny at times. You get to see it in a big group of people, I’m sure there were a couple times you think you can’t believe you’re laughing at what’s going on. Both these guys really appreciate the absurdity of things and that’s what we do too.
Larry Karaszewski: But a lot directors, they’re trained to not do that. That you’re supposed to sort of declare major, that this is a drama, this is a comedy. Often when you do mixed tones, you can’t handle it and it floats away. But what both, Tim and us and Milos recognizes that’s kind of what life is all about. That there’s something funny happens and something bad happens on the same day. That’s how we write our scenes.
Kary Antholis: Tell us how you got involved in The People Vs. OJ Simpson?
Scott Alexander: We had an agent for 22 years, which is crazy. Then he got sick of Hollywood, he retired. We bounced around with a few new agents and then we couldn’t really find a good match. Then we finally found a guy who wanted to be our agent. The reason he wanted to be our agent was when he was in college, Ed Wood came out and it convinced him he wanted to work in showbiz. So he was like our superfan. So when we signed with him and he’s a feature agent at CAA. He says, “If you guys sign here, you have to sign with a TV agent.” We’re like we don’t do TV and we’ve never had a TV agent. We don’t care about that stuff. He says, “Well, it’s kind of the deal. Otherwise, you can’t sign here.” We’re like fine. So he mentioned a TV agent, who I actually knew because he was a dad from the elementary school my kids went to. So I knew him from the playground. So it’s like fine, we’ll never talk this guy again.
Scott Alexander: So we signed with CAA. The next day, Joe calls us up saying, “Two producers just came in and they have the rights to a Jeff Toobin book about OJ Simpson’s trial. Do you guys want to do it as a miniseries? We look each other, we go, okay.
Larry Karaszewski: Which is crazy because-
Scott Alexander: It’s insane.
Larry Karaszewski: Here’s the thing, we never take a job like that.
Scott Alexander: We pass on everything.
Larry Karaszewski: We pass on everything and also even the things we wind up taking, we argue about for two months before we decide to do it. The second, there was a young producer named Brad Simpson who went to a used bookstore and he found Jeffrey Toobin’s book and the most just sort of this… Basically, he asked himself well, it’s about 20 years has gone by, maybe somebody should do something. So there wasn’t like a take, it wasn’t like there was something set up. But it was-
Scott Alexander: Actually, it’s so cockamamey. He was in Vancouver, shooting Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He was up there alone without his family, on weekends he’s just bored out of his mind. So that’s why he was just like looking for books to kill time with.
Larry Karaszewski: But here’s the thing, the second Joe said, “OJ Simpson as a miniseries.” We were looking at each other and say yes. We just knew instantly, that’s how you tell that story. We were always fascinated by what happened in Los Angeles. We were here at the time, what happened in Los Angeles during that time period. But as a movie, it would simply be the stuff you already know. It would literally have been the Bronco chase would happen on page 10. It would be hitting those greatest hits. What’s so fascinating about that trial was all the crazy freaking places it went to.
Larry Karaszewski: So we realized that by having 10 hours, you could actually do it justice. You could embrace what made it such an important and special time in the city. We really looked at it as a TV show about the city.
Kary Antholis: So take us through the process from Joe reaching out to you and asking and then—
Scott Alexander: In hindsight, it was very belabored for a TV show. The reason is because Larry and I had never done TV and our producers had never done TV. So nobody understood that you’re supposed to do TV quickly. Larry and I ended up spending three years on the show, which is not cost-efficient, by the way, because they only pay by the episode. So it was paid for 10 episodes over three years. So it wasn’t smart. But I think the reason why the show turned out really great was we put so much thought into it. We packed so much detail. The more time we spend on it, we would have what call salons with Brad Simpson and Nina Jacobson. We were just talk about the idea of gender politics, which is like it never came up in ’94 or ’95. In terms of the Marcia issues and obviously, the LAPD history with blacks in the city. Then we started talking about how celebrities get different treatment than civilians.
Scott Alexander: Some of this would come from little details in Jeff Toobin’s book that we’d really pick up on and we’d say, “Isn’t it easier to be a private attorney than in the DA’s office?” Then you start talking about well, they have lots of worker bees in the private sector and they can afford a lot more assistance. As opposed to Marcia, who’s taking her homework home with her every night. Then you start trying to visualize these ideas. You go okay, so when we write Shapiro scenes and Cochran scenes, we go in their offices. It’s going to be carpeting, it’s going to be sconces on the walls and soft lighting. When we go into Marcia’s office and Darden’s office, it’s going to be fluorescence and it’s going to be linoleum. I think about this and these are all visual cues to the audience. That it’s easier to be on that side than on that side.
Scott Alexander: Then, Kardashian, which was like this gold mine that fell on us. The fact, the Kardashian was part of the trial and he had this crazy character arc. Then we started saying we can use Kardashian and sort of this metaphor for the beginning of reality TV. Then how the OJ trial invented reality TV and then the 24-hour news cycle began in that time with CNN. So like there’s all this stuff going on, in addition to the fact that it divided the country racially. But we were finding all this other stuff to think about. Then we had Toobin’s book and then everybody else had written a book. So we read everybody else’s book and we just fell into this black hole. Nobody was pressuring us to turn in anything. So we spent a year before we turned in the pilot.
Kary Antholis: Did Nina and Brad have it set up at FX or did you-
Larry Karaszewski: It was not at FX, it was at Big Fox at the time. It was just going to be a miniseries, Ryan Murphy was not involved.
Kary Antholis: That happened relatively quickly after you came on or was it already set it up at Fox?
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah, they had a deal for television at Fox. We had come in there and sort of like tell them what we wanted to do. But it was pretty minimal what we had to do and then they got set up. We worked with Nina and Brad for a while.
Scott Alexander: The pitch was kind of bullshit. The pitch was only 15 minutes long because we actually had nothing. But everything we pitched in that 15 minutes ended up being what the show was.
Larry Karaszewski: Right. I wouldn’t say it was bullshit.
Scott Alexander: Okay, fine.
Larry Karaszewski: It was a choice 15 minutes.
Scott Alexander: Yeah, but you and I sort of felt like we’ve barely got anything here but we’re a little cocky. It’s like we need a tone of People vs. Larry Flynt, we knew that. But we made a decision and when I mentioned Ed Wood, I said it was about a guy who’s passionate. All of our biopics are about people who are passionate, that is like the core of all of our movies. It’s about somebody who really wants something and they’re just willing to swim upstream. They make no sense and they’re probably wrong but they won’t back down. That’s the charm of the stories. We said, “Who are the passionate characters and the OJ trial? It’s Marcia, It’s Darden and it’s Johnnie.” Those are the three-
Larry Karaszewski: That actually surprised them because it wasn’t OJ. When we came in to pitch them an OJ Simpson tale in which OJ was definitely a supporting person.
Scott Alexander: Our pitch basically was saying it’s those three characters. Here’s the story of Marcia, here’s a story of Chris and here’s the story of Johnnie. And we said, “We’re going to open with the Rodney King beating.” The execs said, “What?” We go, “We’re going to open with Rodney King and then we’re going to cut to the riots.” She says, “Isn’t that a different year?” We go, “Yeah, the riots are ’92, the murders are ’94.” “But why are you doing that?” We go, “That’s the umbrella for the story. That’s what it’s all about, dummy. At the end of the day, that’s what the story is about. The story is about how the LAPD treats blacks in LA.”
Scott Alexander: She was a little like… She didn’t know quite how to react to that. “This isn’t what I thought you were coming to sell me but I wasn’t expecting to hear about Rodney King today but okay.” Then we said, “It’s Rodney King, it’s the riots. It’s those three characters and there’s the story.” And that ended up being the show.
Larry Karaszewski: We spent a while with just ourselves and working with Nina and Brad. We came up with sort of an outline for, at the time was going to be 11 episodes. We talked initially about making, I think you guys saw one and nine tonight. So the first like 15 minutes of one, initially was going to be a full hour. The idea of doing a procedural just based on what happened the first night. That was it was sort of came to us like having a conversation about are we making 10 one-hour movies or one 10-hour movie? One 10-hour movie idea that was sort of like the first-10 pages of the movie or whatever. But we realized that’s not really what television is. That if you just did the first night as the first episode, you’re not meeting Johnnie Cochran, you’re not meeting Chris Darden, you’re not meeting a lot of the characters that take us through this all. There’s certainly an hour worth of material that happens that first night but it wasn’t what the rest of the show was going to be.
Larry Karaszewski: So we pretty early on abandoned the idea and just brought it down to 10 episodes and have that just be the opening. So we get on to… Made the first episode of the first week as opposed to the first day.
Scott Alexander: FX was totally supportive and their nose tends to be very minimal. John Landgraf who’s a brilliant, very choice and it sort of came down to, “Guys, we got to be on that freeway the end of the first night. You figure it out, I don’t really care how you do it. If the episode runs sloppy long, we’re very forgiving around here. Every other network, you get 42 minutes, you come in FX, you come in at an hour and eight, we’ll look the other way.” They were great but that Broncos got to be on the freeway. So we sort of had to back into that.
Larry Karaszewski: We talked a lot about movies in the 1970s when we’re writing it. Initially, we talked a lot about the films of Robert Altman because what we noticed about the whole OJ Simpson trial was that every person involved thought that they were the star. Most of the time, a television show will have one protagonist. We thought here that everybody, it was one of the craziest things about, everybody is an alpha character. Everybody when they’re in the scene, they think it’s the-
Scott Alexander: Especially Shapiro.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah, the Shapiro movie-
Scott Alexander: Shapiro thinks he’s the star of that miniseries.
Larry Karaszewski: Well, Cochran certainly does, everybody kind of did. So we thought this idea that were it says Robert Altman was a director in ’70s, who was our pioneer. He put a microphone on every single character and will sometimes have multiple cameras running. Would be basically treating every actor in the movie as if they were the star of the film.
Scott Alexander: Now, Larry’s a bigger fan of Altman than I am so…
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah. But—
Scott Alexander: I wouldn’t have gone so far but that’s okay.
Larry Karaszewski: We also talked a lot about certain true-life movies in the ’70s. Like All The President’s Men, which is about Watergate. That plays like a thriller, even though you know the end of the movie. You know that Nixon’s going to resign and be taken down. We knew here that people would have that problem. Where like, there’s so many jokes on Twitter when we first started this show saying, “I know how it ends.” But that didn’t matter, you were still compelled to watch it and we’re treating it like a thriller.
Scott Alexander: I don’t think you mentioned the movie I remember talking about, which is Dog Day Afternoon. Have you guys seen Dog Day Afternoon? I hope you’ve all seen this is a perfect film and you better all go see it as soon as you go home tonight. It’s based on a true-life event and it’s hilariously funny. It’s tragic, it’s dramatic, it’s thrilling, it’s gripping, it’s real. It’s got a lot of broad jokes but that walk right up the edge of always being straight and believable. We talked constantly about Dog Day Afternoon. Sometimes the other producers would talk about Network. Obviously, there’s a lot of TV stick in OJ. But Network is broader and it probably crosses the line that we were trying not to cross. That we did get our Domino’s Pizza joke.
Scott Alexander: So we sold it to Big Fox and Fox at the time because these companies hire and fire people every week. Had a special events division, whatever that means. The special events division would then farm out production to FX Studios, which is a subdivision of FX Network. So we were working with FX Studios as the producers to produce the miniseries for Big Fox, Channel 11 Fox. Some point during that the president of Fox got fired. So now we’re developing this series but there’s nobody actually in charge of us. We turned in our pilot and John Landgraf, who runs FX, read it because he oversees the division and that was our studio. He’s like I’m going to steal this thing, this is good.
Scott Alexander: So he basically called up the suits at Fox saying, “You know what? Let’s just move this over to FX.” Everyone FX was totally supportive, so that was good for us.
Larry Karaszewski: We brought in the writing staff. We’d outlined the 10 episodes.
Kary Antholis: So did he green-light it? At that point, was it-
Larry Karaszewski: Green-lighting is a hard thing to say until you’re actually shooting. People use that term really loosely. We were technically green-lit on a movie a month ago and now we’re not green-lit.
Scott Alexander: We were on it for two years before it started shooting,
Larry Karaszewski: We had outline 10 things.
Scott Alexander: Writing and writing.
Larry Karaszewski: We’d written the first two, we knew where everything was going. But we brought in… Remember in television people said you got to have the writers room for television. So we brought in a small writers room, which we use more as a… We kind of knew what the episodes were going to be. We use it more like a think tank. We use it more as like hey, we’d assign people things like read every book done by the jurors. We’re going to do is jury episodes. So you come back with 10 facts about the jury.
Scott Alexander: There are three books written by jurors, there’s so much stuff out there.
Larry Karaszewski: We had about six episodes written and FX was basically, we were in the line for production. But we also realized that we’ve done the one thing in television you can’t make money off. Which is we created a miniseries that had a beginning and an end. So we were sort of curious how this could be an ongoing thing. That’s when Ryan Murphy came in. He was doing American Horror Story and he thought what about doing American Crime Story? So that’s how that happened.
Kary Antholis: So you get cast and you got a start date. Tell us about your ongoing involvement. Were scripts caught up to production? Did you start with 10 scripts?
Scott Alexander: No, that was really annoying because we were so ahead of the game. At certain point, it just turned into the Indiana Jones that the big rock rolling after him. Where it just somehow the rock was getting closer to us, which we couldn’t figure out why. We had almost all the scripts done and then it seemed like we had nothing finished. Ryan was the only TV professional, the only person who’s ever done a series before. He was sort of saying, “You got to get everybody into episode one.” Suddenly, we’re like really? He’s like, “Yeah.” So then it’s like okay, well, let’s go back and figure out how to move up Johnnie, how to give Darden more scenes in it.
Larry Karaszewski: It was more Darden because Johnnie was actually in episode one but Darden was not. So the scene where Darden and Johnnie had that face-off, you saw it tonight. That was one of the last scenes we wrote for it.
Scott Alexander: Then, Cuba got cast. Most people got cast were everybody’s first choice. As soon as we got Cuba… OJ was barely in our outline. We were taking our lead a lot from Toobin’s book and Toobin was very dismissive of OJ. Saying, “OJ had nothing to do with his defense. OJ had the most expensive lawyers in the country, they were running the show. He was just this—”
Larry Karaszewski: Part of the problem is that OJ is in jail, so there’s nothing he really can do in a sense.
Scott Alexander: He’s not active. But when we got Cuba, we’re saying the guy has an Oscar, don’t we have to give him a bunch of good scenes? So then we had to kind of take a step back and say all right. OJ was never going to be the star of the miniseries, we just had to kind of reverse engineer it, to figure out okay, how can we give the guy playing OJ a lot more to do?
Larry Karaszewski: We never quite got caught up because the later episodes, we just tinkered with for a longer time. Then, I referred to it earlier, is episode eight, which is we always thought of is going to be a special episode. That we tell it from the jury’s point of view and everyone loved that idea. We knew there was so many great stories from the jurors point of view. But what happened with that was it was almost because the quality of the show episodes one through seven had such a narrative momentum that when you got to script in for eight, it was 24 new characters because there’s all the alternate jurors. And all of the sudden, it just never quite seemed to be working right. I think actually looking back now, it was always working right, it was always totally fine. It was always going to be a thing. So we just wound up like rewriting and working with Joe Cole on it. Just working it over and over and over and over and over again. So that sort of like wound up eating an insane amount of time, just because it didn’t have the same characters as the rest of show did. So we started putting more and more of our characters into that episode. That was probably the hardest one to actually get right.
Scott Alexander: Also, how did we get behind when we were kind of like two years ahead was current events. Black Lives Matter movement started. You had Eric Garner, you had all of these black Americans who were shot by police departments around the country. It started becoming something that everyone was talking about. We had had a theory going in, its sort of like you arc out your story and you figure out, all right, who’s the character here in page one? Then how they’re going to change and where they’re going to be at the end? For us, for Johnnie was all going to be about perception. So our original battle plan, you guys are too young. But Johnnie was very divisive back in ’94, ’95. Basically, black Americans loved him and white Americans just thought he was putting on a show. It was even a character on Seinfeld, who was a Johnnie look-alike who would sort of make fun of Johnnie. Our idea was that Johnnie was going to enter the show in episodes one, two, three, four, five, six or so, as the showboat, as the guy in the lime green suits. He’s putting on a show and we just think he’s just in it for the cameras and for the glory and for the showbiz.
Scott Alexander: Then you start to realize, oh my God, he’s totally sincere. Then you start to learn episodes six, seven, eight, nine, oh my God, he’s been doing this for 30 years. He was doing civil rights cases back in the ’60s. You start learning all this and then by episode 10, you sort of see the beating… Actually, episode nine, the one you guys just saw would reveal the beating heart of Johnnie Cochran. That’s how we described it. When all this stuff started happening in the country, which I guess was like, 2014, we got calls from FX saying, “You guys aren’t doing a period piece, you guys are doing a show about today.” Nobody on any of our other biopics ever given us this mandate, which is like all right, we’re doing Man On The Moon. Man On The Moon it’s about the ’70s and early ’80s. We’re going to have fun in that time period. FX was saying, “You have to make it relevant to today and you got to make it about today.” No one had ever put this conceit in our heads.
Scott Alexander: So at that point, we said, “All right, you’re right. You guys are right. It’s too important what’s going on in the country right now. So the show has to reflect what is happening in America.” Something that made us go we have to completely change our concept of Johnnie. So the Johnnie saw episode one defines himself from his opening scene.
Larry Karaszewski: Well, actually, no. I would say I’m sure you know, I was just thinking about it. That you guys get the arc almost immediately. In the sense that the opening scene is more the original conception of the peacock. It’s sort of the where’s my Hugo Boss. But by the second scene, which was the last one inserted in that episode, which was the scene with him and Darden. Which is really where you find out that Johnnie has been trying to get justice for the family of this person who was killed by the LAPD. It was true, Darden was the person on that case and Darden thought he was trying to do the right thing but was actually not really pleasing anybody.
Scott Alexander: But it’s more than just adding that scene. In terms of why are we so far ahead and how did we get so far behind? Is we started rethinking what’s Johnnie going through. Suddenly, Johnnie’s wife became a big character. Then we started writing all these scenes with Johnnie at home sort of like grappling with the issues.
Kary Antholis: One of the things that really strikes me having read the Toobin book back when it first came out, is that you guys really humanized these characters way more than he ever could.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah, I loved Toobin, but Toobin’s it’s more me and looks down at these people at times. He always has his news pundit thing going on. Where, it goes back to a little bit where I was talking about Altman. Everybody, we want you to understand them and we thought that was part of the problem back in the ’90s. That people didn’t give these characters, these real people there proper due. We wanted people who think that if you thought you hated Marcia Clark, we wanted to make you understand what she went through. If you were a person who hated Johnnie Cochran, we wanted you to understand how sincere he was in this battle.
Scott Alexander: We made the audience feel compassion for Judge Ito of all people. Where suddenly, his wife becomes part of the trial and he’s just completely tortured.
Larry Karaszewski: The craziest thing was discovering Kardashian was sort of one of the only people involved in this trial who was actually there for the right reason. Kardashian one was the only person on the Dream Team who wasn’t famous back in ’94. Now he’s famous for something completely different. But he was the only guy there for the right reason. He was there because his best friend looked him in the eye and said he didn’t do it. So we were able to make this sort of sincerity of an art for Kardashian, where he comes to not believe his friend. He comes to realize his friend was a killer.
Scott Alexander: We loved to do our research and then we’d love to sort of like define all these little moments and then turn it into drama. The moment of the verdict and you guys can look it up on YouTube. You can watch the moment the clerk says not guilty, you see Kardashian’s face drop. You see on the tape, he’s rooting against OJ in that moment and we thought—
Larry Karaszewski: My God, what have I done?
Scott Alexander: Yeah, what have I done? We thought that was amazing. We said that’s his story. It’s a story about a guy who’s completely loyal and he keeps saying to him, “But, Juice you didn’t do it, you didn’t do it.” “No, I didn’t do it.” Then around episode seven or eight, he’s going, oh my God, he did it. But because I’m a loyal person, I will stick it out as I promised to. The minute it’s over, I’m out of here.
Kary Antholis: Tell us about putting the team together, the collaborations? Not only with Ryan and with the writers but with Anthony Hemingway and the directors that came in.
Larry Karaszewski: The directors who came in, Anthony directed five of the episodes.
Scott Alexander: Anthony had done a lot of horror stories.
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah, and he was just terrific. We loved Anthony and we met with him and Ryan had worked with him before. He just seemed to really get it. We were very, very pleased. Episode five was directed by John Singleton, who—
Scott Alexander: Went to USC.
Larry Karaszewski: Went to USC and we knew a little bit. It was kind of we always wanted to work with John and that happened, I think that we felt great about working with John.
Scott Alexander: Actually, another SC guy, our DP, Nelson Craig, who was wonderful. I really went to bat for him because a friend runs Homeland, he’d worked on Homeland. He did this weird show I liked Halt and Catch Fire, which I thought had a really distinctive like color palette. It was really clever. Our other producers had no idea who Nelson was and I really went to bat for him.
Larry Karaszewski: What was funny, though, in terms of the cast was initially, I don’t think we were going for this kind of like all-star thing. In fact, it wound up just kind of snowballing. Sometimes what happens is you get a couple actors who say yes and then instead of like having to search out for other actors, you get a lot of incoming.
Scott Alexander: It started with Travolta, didn’t it?
Larry Karaszewski: Yeah, it was Cuba and Travolta. Cuba and Travolta were the first few people cast. After that, it was just like you kind of have whatever you wanted. But the weird thing we wanted to be careful about and we’d have a bunch of arguments about, was, “Is this becoming The Love Boat,” I would say. It’s just becoming the star of the week and I would always counter.
Larry Karaszewski: But going back to once again the Altman and it was that like no, this is totally fine. All these people do think they’re stars, they should be stars.
Scott Alexander: You’re so obsessed with Altman.
Larry Karaszewski: But I think it works with those projects.
Scott Alexander: He just keep talking about it.
Larry Karaszewski: But what happened though is that someone would come involved like Barry Scheck. All these actors want to be part of the Dream Team. The Dream Team is they were the Dream Team. What these actors didn’t really realize is they would have these great opening scenes and they would have a big dramatic moment in a couple places. But for the most part, they’ll be sitting at that table, while Johnnie gives speeches. Even John Travolta realized at some point wait a second, I’m sitting here—
Scott Alexander: Nathan Lane, it was like the ultimate bait and switch. He’s like F. Lee Bailey. He goes, “F. Lee Bailey’s famous for all his speeches. Then I’m going to be sitting at the table for five months.”
Larry Karaszewski: So he wound up being a little bit of a revolt at one point, where we had to balance out the actors. All right, fine, we just need one or two of them. Not everyone’s there every day.
Scott Alexander: Okay, John, you can leave today, we’re going to have Nathan and Schwimmer.
Larry Karaszewski: Right.
Kary Antholis: That concludes part one of my interview with Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander. Today’s podcast was produced and edited by Tristan Friedberg Rodman. For more crime and justice storytelling news and narrative analysis head on over to crimestory.com. Thank you for joining us and we hope you will come back for the next Crime Story podcast.