Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter has introduced Lini Anolik’s piece about how the O.J. Simpson murder trial gave birth to reality TV as follows: “[During the relentless media coverage] competition for guests among the cable news channels was fierce, making those with any sort of connection to Simpson or the victims, however tenuous, fair game. Found objects like Kato Kaelin and Faye Resnick became de facto news items. They were the first generation of what we have come to refer to as ‘reality stars.’
“As Anolik writes in “It All Began with O.J.,” the distinction between celebrity and infamy suddenly ceased to be. It was all the same. The doors to the formerly exclusive celebrity club had swung open, even to those with no discernible talent. And especially to those with no shame.
“It was during the trial, in this petri dish full of has-beens and never-weres, washed-up athletes and B-list celebrities, that reality television developed like a mold, and that many of the most recognizable future reality stars were spawned.
“Anolik points to Robert Kardashian — father of those three horsewomen of the apocalypse, Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe — who was a close friend of Simpson’s and part of his ‘Dream Team’ of defense lawyers, as the most obvious example. But peel a few layers deeper and you’ll bump into everyone from Paris Hilton to Bethenny Frankel. What held us hostage culturally for those 36 months in the mid-90s may be nothing more than a faded memory, but it left a stain that has never gone away.”
Full disclosure: I contributed slightly to this phenomenon by interviewing Kato Kaelin and running two pieces about him in Entertainment Weekly. I pitched it, made the calls, interviewed and transcribed, wrote it up, etc. It was all me (I knew EW would want Kaelin and I naturally wanted the assignment) so I can hardly point fingers or join in the condemnation.