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NBC ENDS UP LOOKING SILLY; O.J. ENDS UP LOOKING EVASIVE

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In the wake of O.J. Simpson's canceling his much ballyhooed interview on NBC, the Peacock network looks a bit silly.

Not because NBC refused to do the interview under the restrictions proposed by the Simpson camp - that the double murder case couldn't be discussed. NBC News President Andrew Lack quite rightfully maintained on CNN's "Larry King Live" Wednesday that those were the questions that America wanted answered, and anything less would be playing into a P.R. campaign to rehabilitate Simpson's image.But NBC's huge hype of the interview - news as show biz - looks particularly ridiculous.

Without the interview, we don't know whether NBC would have played into Simpson's hands or whether Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric would have asked the tough questions. But, obviously, it was the fear of those tough questions that kept O.J. away.

His lawyers may be perfectly correct in advising Simpson not to do the interview because of pending civil lawsuits. But Simpson agreed to do a no-holds-barred interview and then reneged.

(Which brings into the question the ethics of having Simpson pal Don Ohlmeyer, NBC's West Coast president, facilitate the original agreement. Perhaps because Ohlmeyer has been such a strong Simpson supporter, O.J. expected a cream-puff interview.)

No matter how strong the legal reasons for not doing the interview - and no matter how strong the denials of both Simpson and his attorneys - the entire episode makes O.J. appear unwilling or unable to answer those tough questions. To the public, it would seem that if he had nothing to hide there would be no problem answering those questions.

If this was part of Simpson's plan to refurbish his image, it backfired badly.

LOCAL NEWS: NBC received thousands of calls protesting its plans to broadcast an interview with O.J. Simpson on Wednesday night. Protestors were already outside the network's Burbank studios when the event was canceled.

And those protests extended all the way to Salt Lake City, where local NBC affiliate KSL-Ch. 5 received dozens of calls and at least a couple of threats.

They weren't personal but did threaten to prevent the station from airing the Simpson interview. KSL personnel were looking at tightening their security procedures a bit when the word came that the show was off.

Now lots of us weren't exactly thrilled with NBC's plans to give Simpson an hour of free airtime, but threats like this are just stupid.

BRYANT'S A BABY: Poor, poor Bryant Gumbel. He pitched a fit when his old pal O.J. Simpson didn't want him to be part of the since-canceled interview and NBC News President Lack agreed.

Lack - in a perfectly sound journalistic decision - told Gumbel that his 20-year friendship with Simpson would provide at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Gumbel, in response, called in sick for his "Today Show" gig for the rest of the week.

What an arrogant baby. (Not that this is a revelation.)

And the same goes for "Dateline" anchors Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips, who are unhappy because they weren't scheduled to do the interview themselves.

Apparently, their boss doesn't take them as seriously as they take themselves.