Many of you may be wondering how a documentary produced by ESPN and made as a series for TV, “O.J.: Made in America,” won an Oscar on Sunday night.
As the docuseries’ director Ezra Edelman said during his acceptance speech for best documentary feature, the path to ESPN’s first Oscar nomination and win, and the first ever Oscar win for a TV series, was “untraditional.”
“First of all, ths is incredible,” Edelman said. “I want to thank the Academy for acknowledging this untraditional film. I want to thank ESPN for allowing us the canvas and the time to tell this story. This is the only way it could be told.”
So how does a TV series end up winning an Oscar?
The series had to fulfill the Academy’s requirement that submissions for nominations have a theatrical run. In this case, ESPN combined the five 90-minute episodes for an all-day experience that debuted in movie theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on May 20 for about two weeks, ahead of its June 11 TV premiere on ABC.
The decision was made after a successful premiere during last year’s Sundance Film Festival.
“It was solidified at Sundance, as we saw the audience engaged for almost eight hours, how powerful the experience is,” ESPN Films’ senior vice president and executive producer Connor Schell told Business Insider. “It led us to decide we should really show it in theaters.”
Getting the series as a film into theaters was the first challenge. ESPN also had to make sure that film critics at the New York Times and the LA Times reviewed the movie, and they did. It also had to play four times a day – a tough rule to meet due to the film’s eight-hour duration. Schell told us that ESPN brokered an agreement with the Academy to show it twice a day, with three brief intermissions during each showing in order to stay eligible.
By the way, “O.J.: Made in America” wasn’t the first time ESPN Films has tried to give one of its docs a chance for an Oscar. In 2010, it had an Oscar-qualifying run for “The Two Escobars,” but it didn’t get nominated.
- Kevin Winter/Getty Images
The docuseries follows the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson while also delving into the bubbling, decades-long issues between African-Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, which flared during Simpson’s murder case.
For Edelman, the documentary’s combined movie and TV audiences have clear advantages beyond winning prestigious awards. The extra exposure offers a chance to spread a message of justice to the largest potential viewing audience.
“I wouldn’t be standing here tonight if not for two people who aren’t here with us: Ron Goldman, Nicole Brown,” Edelman said on Sunday of the victims of the 1994 crime for which Simpson was tried. “This is for them and their families. It is also for others, the victims of police violence, police brutality, racially motivated violence, and criminal injustice. This is their story, as well as Ron and Nicole’s. I’m honored to accept this award on all of their behalf.”
Jason Guerrasio contributed to this article.