In modern-day parlance, my reaction was far more “SMH” (“shaking my head”) than “LOL” (“laughing out loud”) when I read of the recent relaunch of cable channel Court TV.
Court TV was originally launched back in 1991 and rebranded itself in 2008 as TruTV, first with a heavy focus on non-fictional programming and, of late, by shifting its focus to comedy (“Funny because it’s Tru,” is their current on-air slogan.) Their broadcast hours are now filled with a variety of comedy product—both of the “reality” type, “Impratical Jokers,” and of the more traditional sitcom type, for example, Andrea Savage’s “I’m Sorry.”
Before its reinvention, the original Court TV was one of cable TV’s great success stories with their quite literal gavel-to-gavel coverage of such high-profile proceedings as the Menendez Brothers murder trials and, later, of course, they were in the right place at the right time for the O.J. Simpson saga.
It’s interesting…. You know, there was a time—Oh! Not so long ago!—when any sort of camera inside a real-life courtroom was simply unheard of. If court proceedings were discussed on the evening news, TV networks and stations made use with chalky-looking illustrations made by artists that showed stagnant shots of judges and participants.
But now it only seems unusual when we don’t have footage of every single trial that take place anyplace anytime. In fact, long-running TV shows like “48 Hours” and “Dateline NBC” and others all depend on such footage’s wide availability as, pretty much, their bread and butter.
The presence of cameras in the courtroom is so expansive today that it’s hard for people to remember that there was a time they weren’t there. I once worked in a stock footage/news library and people frequently called up wanting inside-the-courtroom footage from such historic trials as the Manson trial, the Scopes trial, or the Lindbergh kidnapping case. I had to leave them disappointed and confused when I had to tell them, not only did we not have that sort of footage, it doesn’t exist. (Tiny fragments of some moments from some of these just-mentioned trials that ended up in newsreels, of course, have only further confused the issue.)
And now comes news that Court TV (in is original incarnation) is coming back. In fact, it’s already on the air having been launched last month. According to one interview given by one of the execs of “new” Court TV, with cable’s all-news channels (like CNN and MSNBC) mainly today focusing on politics and Trump and with true crime tales booming in podcasts and on various smaller cable networks like Investigation Discovery, it is believed that there remains a hungry audience out there eager to satisfy their courtroom addiction above and beyond the daily mini-trials of “Judge Judy” and her ilk.
Depending on the trials that Court TV gets the rights to show and how intriguing they prove to be on a day-to-day basis (real trials can be epically boring with motions and counter-motions and delays and recesses--not “Perry Mason” at all; I mean if court cases were so interesting, why do people work so hard to get out of jury duty?), the new Court TV could probably be a big hit and a true voyeur’s small screen delight.
But I kind of wish it wasn’t.
Though many experts agree that the presence of cameras in the courtroom, for example, during the O.J., impacted the proceedings, causing attorneys on both sides to often indulge in showboating antics—whether impacted the verdict or not is open to debate--the cat is certainly out of the bag now in terms of cameras encroaching into the legal process just as they have to so many other once-sacred spaces.
Despite the now extensive commonality of cameras in the courtroom, there’s a part of me that maintains that there are perhaps some things that occur in so-called “real life” that should not simply be considered fodder for our television viewing enjoyment. That perhaps what happens inside a courtroom should be the concern of only the plaintiff, the defendant and the jury. While traditional news reportage of a case/trial is fine, satellite-ing it out for the world to watch is not. Frankly, maybe it’s just none of our business.
Now, caveats do exist. Any sort of political or government-related trial or hearing is certainly within our purview, as our right as both citizen and taxpayer. It is the necessary niche that C-SPAN has dutifully fulfilled for decades.
And some criminal trials, too--but only to a regional extent. Consider: when an alleged criminal is put on trial they are not being tried on behalf of another person, even their alleged victim(s), they are being charged by the State. For example, the State of California v. O.J. Simpson. It can, therefore, be argued that all citizens of that specific state, again as citizens and taxpayers, have the right to see what their state and their tax monies are doing.
But what about the other 49 states, not to mention the rest of the world?
There was a time when it seemed like, if you planned it right, you could live your entire life on TV, especially via so-called “reality” TV. TLC used to air a show called “A Baby Story,” where audiences could, literally, watch you being born.
Depending then on your disposition, you could spend your youth on “Toddlers & Tiaras” or, if your parents really hated you, on Lifetime’s “Dance Moms.” Maybe, if you were bad, you’d get featured on “Super Nanny” or, if you were good at something, be discovered by Steve Harvey on “Little Big Shots.”
Then, your teen and young adult years could be showcased on MTV’s “Real World.” Or, again, if you were bad, maybe you’d be on “COPS” or “Locked-Up.”
You could meet the love of your life on “The Bachelor/Bachelorette” or “Dating Naked” (though probably not). You could find your bridal gown on “Say Yes to the Dress,” then (at one time) get married on TLC’s “A Wedding Story.”
Maybe, then, the Property Brothers could help you find a house or Ty Pennington could build you one.
Whatever your chosen vocation might be you could go on the air and try to prove your worth in it whether you were: a dancer, a chef, a fashion model, a fashion designer, a tattoo artist, a professional wrestler, a hair dresser, make-up artist, photographer, cake decorator, a boxer, a singer, a songwriter, a bladesmith, or a carpenter or handyman. The History Channel just debuted a program that proposes to find America’s best butcher.
If you had a business and it ever started to go south—well, there’s “Bar Rescue” or “The Profit.”
Even your death can be (or could be at one time) documented on the air. TLC (again!) did “The Best Funeral Ever” back in 2012 and A&E had, from 2004 to 2006, a program called “Family Plots,” set in a real-life funeral home and it often featured footage of real-life funerals.
Of course, you might not get as big of an audience, but you are also completely free today to bypass traditional TV avenues and just Facebook, live cam, Instagram and Tweet out every aspect of your life, if you wish.
And why not? Isn’t everyone doing it?
By the way, later, A&E and “Plots” producers did disclose that they only covered the funerals of those whose families or estates okay-ed them.
And speaking of death, this brings me back to Court TV. That same Court TV executive cited above said that, as of that interview, he wasn’t sure which currently ongoing trials in the country were going to (in his words) “make the cut” and make it onto Court TV’s airwaves. I would assume those that do—like the previous trials of Simpson and the Menendez Brothers—they will be murder trials as those seem to be the ones that draw the biggest numbers of onlookers.
Hence, like cable TV’s long-running “Forensic Files” and the aforementioned “48 Hours,” etc., the appeal and success of the new Court TV is made possible only by a steady stream of—and sorry put it this way—corpses. Yes, flesh-and-blood, real-life people who happened to have had their lives unfairly and brutally cut short.
And whose final moments, and their lives and, in fact, their entire mortal legacy, is now there on cable: produced and packaged and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for our viewing pleasure.
Yeah, maybe not everything should be thought of as suitable for TV.