'Frogmen': A look back at the pilot O.J. Simpson made before his murder trial

Will Lerner
Producer, Yahoo Entertainment

In 1994, a two-hour pilot called Frogmen was made by Warner Bros. and ordered by NBC. It could have been the next A-Team, but it never aired. That’s because the lead was played by O.J. Simpson. CNN media critic Brian Lowry wrote about the doomed pilot for the Los Angeles Times in 2000, and now with Simpson’s release from prison, it seems worth taking a look back at one of the most famous television shows to basically never be seen.

Frogmen was about a team of ex-Navy SEALs taking on dangerous missions out of Malibu, Calif.  It starred Simpson as John “Bullfrog” Burke and had a supporting cast including Louis Mandylor (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Todd Allen (Django Unchained), and Evan Handler (Sex and the City, Californication). Handler, it should be noted, would later play Simpson-defense team member Alan Dershowitz in FX’s drama series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.

On Sept. 28, 1995, O.J. Simpson was surrounded by his team of defense attorneys at the close of defense arguments in Los Angeles. (Photo: AP Photo/Sam Mircovich, Pool, File)

By May 1994, principal photography had concluded. Yet it was in June that Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were killed in Los Angeles. After Simpson led police in an infamous car chase and got arrested on suspicion of the killings, the pilot was shelved.

Lowry wrote there was a creepy coincidence between the show and possible real life:

“…a scene in the two-hour movie … features Simpson’s character grabbing what he believes to be an intruder (the young woman turns out to be his daughter) and momentarily holding a knife to her throat.”

The pilot played a minor part in Simpson’s trial. Judge Lance Ito allowed a tape of it to be admitted as evidence, but the prosecution never submitted it. Had it been used as evidence, it might have been to prove Simpson had trained in knife combat.

Ultimately, all tapes of Frogmen were rounded up. Sources told Lowry that it could have been a ratings hit and it could have made at least $14 million if Warner Bros. had sold it on VHS. It was agreed that airing it would have been inappropriate. “That is about the only proof you have that there is some dignity in the advertising and television business,” Handler told Lowry.

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