NEW YORK – Yes, America, there is such a thing as going too far.

Only weeks ago, an imagined confession of murder from O.J. Simpson seemed a parody of tabloid madness, as likely as Elvis turning up for a White House concert. But last week’s announcement of an imminent O.J. book and TV special recalled the same dizzying, conflicting emotions of what started it all: the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, the Bronco chase, the endless trial.

It can’t be true. It is true. Please make it stop. Please tell us everything.

Not this time.

In an astonishing and almost unprecedented development, Simpson’s “If I Did It” project was canceled Monday, after sickening the public as the worst kind of tabloid sensation.

“I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,” said Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns both Fox Broadcasting and publisher HarperCollins. “We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.”

“If I Did It,” in which Simpson was to have described how he would have killed his ex-wife, had been scheduled to air as a two-part interview Nov. 27 and Nov. 29 on Fox. The book was to have followed on Nov. 30.

HarperCollins spokeswoman Erin Crum said some copies had already been shipped to stores but would be recalled, and all copies would be destroyed.

“I think News Corp. finally stepped up, admitted they made a mistake and did the right thing,” said Jonathan Polak, the lawyer for Fred Goldman, Ron’s father. “This is everything we have been asking News Corp. to do for the past two weeks. We want to thank the American people for helping make this happen.”

Simpson’s attorney, Yale Galanter, told The Associated Press: “We had known for three or four days that this was a possibility.”

Galanter said he did not know whether the deal between Simpson and News Corp. was contingent on a TV interview being shown or a book arriving in stores.

“There are only three possible reactions: anger, happiness or indifference. He’s totally indifferent about the fact that it’s been canceled,” said Galanter, adding that he didn’t know if Simpson was paid up front.

Simpson told The Associated Press in a phone interview late Monday he could not comment on the situation “until I know legally where I stand.”

He added, “I would like nothing better than to straighten out some things that have been mischaracterized. But I think I’m legally muzzled at this point.”

Any hopes of commercial reward were quickly overwhelmed by near universal revulsion to last Tuesday’s announcement – from those who knew Goldman and Brown, from booksellers and advertisers, even from Fox News Channel personality Bill O’Reilly.

A dozen Fox network affiliates had already said they would not air the two-part sweeps month special, and numerous stores had either declined to sell the book or had promised to donate any profits to charity.

“I really don’t think there would have been very many advertisers who would have been willing to participate in this show,” said Brad Adgate of the ad buying firm Horizon Media.

With little advertising, Fox would miss the chance to profit from the show. If there were no advertisers, the show wouldn’t even be rated by Nielsen Media Research – so the number of people watching would have done nothing to help Fox’s season average, he said.

The cancellation was a stunning setback for ReganBooks – an imprint of HarperCollins – and Judith Regan, who had labeled the book and interview Simpson’s “confession.” She insisted that she had done it not for money, but as a victim of domestic violence anxious to face down a man she believed got away, literally, with murder.

ReganBooks is known for gossipy best-sellers such as Jose Canseco’s “Juiced” and Jenna Jameson’s “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star.”

The Simpson interview also was a low for Fox, which has long tested viewers with risky reality programming dating back to “When Animals Attack.”

O’Reilly had urged a boycott of any company that advertised on the special.

Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of murder in a case that became its own TV drama. The former football star, announcer and actor was later found liable for the deaths in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the Goldman family.

Numerous books have been withdrawn over the years because of possible plagiarism, most recently Kaavya Viswanathan’s “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” but removal simply for objectionable content is exceptionally rare. In the early 1990s, Simon & Schuster canceled Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Pyscho,” an exceptionally graphic account of a serial killer. The novel was released by Random House Inc., and later made into a feature film.

Sales for “If I Did It” had been strong, but not sensational. It cracked the top 20 of last weekend, but by Monday afternoon, at the time its cancellation was announced, the book had fallen to No. 51.

The TV special was to air on two of the final three nights of the November sweeps, when ratings are watched closely to set local advertising rates. It has been a particularly tough fall for Fox – none of its new shows have caught on, and it’s waiting for the January bows of “American Idol” and “24.”

The closest precedent for such an about-face came when CBS yanked a miniseries about Ronald Reagan from its schedule in 2003 when complaints were raised about its accuracy. It was seen on CBS’ sister premium-cable channel, Showtime, instead.

One Fox affiliate station manager said he wasn’t going to air the special because he was concerned that, whether or not Simpson was guilty, he’d still be profiting from murders.

“I have my own moral compass,” said Bill Lamb, general manager of WDRB in Louisville, “and this was easy.”

AP Television Writer David Bauder and AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed to this report.

AP-ES-11-20-06 2021EST

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