By Frazier Moore | Associated Press
Though the fog of time may have clouded certain details, a parade of past scandals that each seized the public’s attention ring familiar to this day.
There’s Lyle and Erik Menendez, privileged sons who offed their parents in their Beverly Hills, California, home in 1989. There’s Jean Harris, the girls’ school headmistress whose lover, celebrity diet doctor Herman Tarnower, was found shot dead after she visited him in 1980, landing her in prison with a murder conviction. There’s televangelist Jim Bakker, who, with his wife Tammy Faye, built a faith-based empire before sexual and financial misdeeds wrecked their “PTL Club” money-machine and put him in the slammer.
Barbara Walters was there to cover these and other shocking events.
Now the veteran newswoman is bringing them up-to-date on “American Scandals,” a nine-segment series that premieres on Investigation Discovery at 9 p.m. Monday (Chicago time).
“We had thousands of past ABC News ’20/20’ stories to choose from, and we brought some of them up-to-date by talking with subjects we could get to, as well as the people around them,” Walters said. “We’re exploring: What is their life like now? What have they learned? And what can we learn from them?”
Fresh interviews supplement archival footage — some never before aired — which, viewed from a distance of as much as 30 years, often takes on new significance.
“Footage from the past can look very different when viewed in the present,” Walters noted.
The series begins with the still-unsolved murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, whose lifeless body was found in the basement of her Colorado home in 1996, placing her parents, John and Patsy, under instant suspicion. Walters now talks with John, whose daughter would today be 25, about the lingering mystery and scrutiny that have plagued him ever since and that haunted his wife to her grave in 2006.
In its second episode, “Scandals” revisits perhaps the most galvanizing murder case of modern times — those vicious 1994 stabbings of Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson, the ex-wife of O.J. Simpson, who would stand trial as the world watched, spellbound, during months of TV coverage. Walters interviews Simpson houseguest Kato Kaelin, 56, who now pronounces his host (acquitted in that trial but currently serving time on an unrelated robbery conviction) guilty of the murders.
Walters also takes a new, perhaps gratuitous, look at one of the era’s most despised figures, Mark David Chapman, who at age 60 is remembered all too well for gunning down the man who called for giving peace a chance. Walters interviewed John Lennon’s assassin in 1992, and now for “Scandals” has landed what she says is the first-ever interview with Chapman’s longtime wife, Gloria.
“I didn’t know he was still married,” Walters marveled. “He sees his wife twice a year for conjugal visits.”
Another enduring couple: Mary Kay Letourneau, the former schoolteacher and married mother of four who was twice jailed for her affair with a sixth-grade student. Now 53, Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, 32, have been married for a decade with two teenage daughters of their own.
“My God, they’re still together!” said Walters, who interviewed the pair a few months ago. “They’re an old married couple!”
Though reigning for decades as one of ABC News’ biggest stars, Walters said she’s glad to find a berth on niche-cable network Investigation Discovery, which affords her room for weekly hourlong explorations.
“We don’t have a newsmagazine anymore,” she said, meaning ABC. “We have ’20/20,’ but — they’re gonna mind my saying this — it’s changed,” having narrowed the general-interest format Walters presided over. And major interviews — whether Walters’ or other correspondents’ — are typically splintered across the network’s portfolio of news programs, she added.
“What Investigation Discovery gives me is the opportunity to present a whole interview, and bring it up-to-date,” she said.
Other episodes include a look at actor Robert Blake, who was tried and acquitted of the 2001 murder of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley.
And on yet another edition she sits down with Kimberly Mays, who was switched at birth in 1978 at a Florida hospital with another newborn, resulting in a notorious custody battle between her biological parents and Robert Mays, who raised her.
“We searched all over and found her living in poverty in Clearwater, Florida,” said Walters.
That points to the effort required to produce “American Scandals,” she added proudly. “They’re difficult to do. You can’t just pull out an old interview and throw it on the air.”