At a time when AOL/Time Warner appears to be cutting (most notably with the withdrawal of its stand from MIPTV) the decision by one of its related services – Court TV – to up its spending is a hopeful (albeit curious) sign.
Henry Schleiff, chairman and ceo of the crime and justice cablecaster, recently announced a commitment to spend US$140 million on programming over the next couple of years, an increase of $20 million from the previous two-year budget. He also noted that the 2001/2002 development slate includes more than 300 hours of new original programming, including a healthy proportion of non-fiction material.
‘We really see the documentary strands ['The System' and 'Mugshots'] as a way to brand ourselves,’ says Lynne Kirby, Court TV’s VP of development. ‘['The System'] is really an umbrella title for a strand of programs that are essentially stories of crime and justice, and most of those are one-offs. What they have in common is that they tend to be either topic-driven or story-driven. We’re very interested in what producers have to offer by way of stories that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise – really great crime stories, and within that we particularly like compelling murder mysteries.’
Kirby notes that the increase in spending will generally go towards more content rather than higher budgets. Peter Schnall, founder of New York-based Partisan Pictures, acknowledges that the cablecaster’s contributions are at the low end of the scale, but believes in sticking with them. ‘[Court TV wants] a very different kind of story than National Geographic or Discovery or PBS,’ he says. Partisan is currently working on Secret Service: In the Line of Fire (w/t) and a one-hour episode of a series called The Wrong Man for Court TV.
Some of the other non-fiction programs in development for ‘The System’ are: Final Appeal: The United States Supreme Court (w/t), a one-hour copro with ABC News about the inner working of America’s highest court; and Murder or Tragedy? The Pioneer Hotel Fire (w/t) a special that revisits individuals involved in the tragic 1970 incident, produced by CBS News.