Court TV

Legal-eagle cable TV channel that melds the American appetite for judicial drama, celebrity spectacle, and remote-control democracy. Court TV was formed in 1991 by Steven Brill (b. 1950), a former journalist and founder of American Lawyer magazine.

Brill ignored focus group recommendations that a network devoted to live court coverage would fail, but a spate of sensational trials in the network’s early years confounded naysayers, as millions of armchair barristers ingested this meatier variety of daytime drama, following with intense scrutiny the legal theater of Rodney King, the Menendez Brothers, Lorena Bobbitt, Jeffrey Dahmer, and of course, O.J. Simpson.

The latter provided the largest audiences (136,000 homes) and, later, a new host in defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran.     While some legal commentators have criticized Court TV for highlighting tabloid subjects, the network insists that only a small percentage is devoted to the splashy stuff.

Available in 32 million homes by mid-1997, Court TV has expanded its focus internationally, presenting the war crimes tribunal of Bosnia Serb Dusko Tadic as well as the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial at The Hague. While nearly all states now allow television cameras in courtrooms, federal cases are still taboo–a decision dating from the publicity-wracked Lindbergh trial of 1935–leaving Court TV locked out of trials such as that of Timothy McVeigh.

In February 1997 Time-Warner bought out Brill’s stake for a reported $20 million (NBC and TCI remain as co-owners); in September Brill floated his idea for a kind of consumer’s-guide magazine to the news, called Content.

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