There were two crime-related "current event" mini-series on television this week, The People vs O.J. Simpson, on the f/X Channel and Madoff on ABC. Oddly, I had connections with both of them -- only indirectly (basically anecdotaly) for the latter, though more directly for the former. .
I have little to no interest in watching the f/X series -- having worked on the Naked Gun films. I have never found anything particularly amusing or even entertaining about the whole Brown-Simpson tragedy. There are some social and legal aspects that are interesting, and I certainly understand why so many others were riveted and even "entertained," but the trial was never something I paid almost any attention to. Having briefly known the figure at the center of it all, my overlap was only distantly tangential, but it hasn't allowed me to look at events as the lively, engrossing circus so many others see it as. There is pretty much nothing that touches the case that isn't heart-breaking anguish. As the films' publicist, I did deal with O.J.'s long-time assistant a whole lot over the course of the movies, to coordinate press requests and schedules and such, and she was an absolutely lovely person. After enough time had passed, I did reach out to offer her a word of support -- there was only a recording at the office, so I left a detailed message. I never got a reply back, nor did I expect to. The movies were among the most wonderful work experiences I've had, and pretty much all I can see in the dust is the left-over devastation of so many lives. So, watching the mini-series just doesn't strike me personally as a fun way to spend my time. Beside which I have a feeling based on the ads (rightly or wrongly) that it looks to be more pop-culture fizz than fact-based. I might tune in briefly to see how some of the portrayals are, but that's about it.
On the other hand, I did watch Madoff. And I was impressed how thoughtfully and low-key it was done. Smart writing and direction, and the acting was generally underplayed. Helping out was not only that Richard Dreyfuss did a very good job, but eerily looked so much like Bernie Madoff. Blythe Danner was excellent, too, as his wife Ruth, especially after the fraud is revealed, and her family is torn apart, yet another (apparently) innocent victim, yet one based on far more emotional trust.
How accurate it was, I have no idea, though I got the sense that they were at least trying for accuracy, not sensationalism. There is a disclaimer at the beginning about shifting some events around, so this is not without at least some fudging. Also, it has a voiceover narration that runs throughout from Madoff, where we hear what supposedly was in his mind. Whether any of that was taken from interviews, I don't know. But at least some is clearly "best-guess" trying to get into his head. In the end, this is not a documentary, nor is it intended to be.
The show does something fascinating at the very end. When discussing Madoff's victims, they have a half-dozen or so talking heads explaining how their lives were impacted -- and if I had to bet, it would be that they weren't actors, but actual victims.
Though a lot of the story is so public, some of the information is well-known, but the mini-series has a great deal of inside information that will come as a surprise. Further, at the end of the mini-series, there is an update on what happened to many of the people involved which I found quite interesting, some of which came as a surprise to me, perhaps since I didn't really follow the aftermath all that closely.
The production might be available On Demand, but if not, ABC has the full show on its website, broken into the four parts. You can get to it here.
After the final episode, ABC News ran a follow-up special on what's happened since. I missed most of it, having recorded the mini-series and fast-forwarded through the ads, so I didn't realize it was on. But I did catch the last 10 minutes, and I was glad I did. The mentioned that only with the past two weeks there has been a major break in tracking down the lost money, and that a huge amount of it has now been recovered, $11 billion out of $17 billion. Apparently, there was another con man involved, who had set up the Ponzi Scheme for Madoff to run, and he'd made $7 billion. As the Feds moved on his house in Florida, the man was found dead in his pool -- apparently of natural causes. But as soon as his wife found out the situation, she immediately turned over the full $7 billion to the authorities. (Within the movie, the figure $50 billion is referenced, not $17 billion, though my understanding is that that's related to all the money that was raised, around half of which got returned to investors as part of the scheme, to make it all seem legit.)
As it happens, I had a couple of good friends who had invested money with Bernie Madoff, a married couple. Not surprisingly, it did very well them. But it did so well, so consistently, for so long even through downturns in the market that something just didn't smell right to his wife. She was adamant that they take their investment out And so they did. And fortunately didn't lose a penny. The moral of the story? Guys, listen to your wife.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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