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Court TV takes off its suit

Network adds reality shows to court younger viewers
/ Source: The Associated Press

Court TV is acting like a buttoned-down lawyer who prowls the clubs at night.

A serious news network that focuses on trials by day, Court TV is aggressively seeking young viewers at night with a mixture of nonfiction entertainment programming and reality shows with colorful lawyers such as Bruce Cutler.

Court TV’s programming mix has been successfully moving in this direction for the past few years, but now the cable channel is trying harder to be hip at night.

“The trick in growing a network’s revenue is to look at your audience and bring in more of the younger demographic that advertisers are trying to reach,” Henry Schleiff, Court TV’s chief executive, said Wednesday.

Court TV averages 868,000 viewers each night and has grown steadily since its average of 171,000 in 1999, when Schleiff took over. Its most popular series are “Forensic Files,” a nonfiction version of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” and “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice,” about crime among the wealthy.

Schleiff recently hired Marc Juris, a well-regarded programming executive from the Fuse music network, and this week they announced new programs for the next year.

Juris has given Court TV the motto of “Seriously Entertaining” for its prime-time programming. To further distinguish it, the daytime fare is being shown under the “Court TV News” banner.

Court TV will work as partner with NBC News on a new series, “Under Investigation,” with John Siegenthaler talking about unsolved crimes in the news. (NBC is also a partner in

Betting on realityAmong the network’s new reality series: “Get Me Bruce Cutler!” with John Gotti’s former lawyer going to small-town America to work on some small-time cases; “Las Vegas Law,” in which lawyer Bucky Buchanan is followed as he defends people who have run afoul of the law; and “Parco, PI,” about a dysfunctional family of New York private eyes.

The network also promises “High Stakes with Ben Mezrich,” where the author explores the “underground world” of young millionaires; and “Casino Takedown,” about former con men testing casino security.

The danger in doing different things at different times is muddying the public image. CNBC has struggled for years to establish a prime-time lineup when it’s so clearly identified as a financial network during the day. However, Nickelodeon successfully switches from children’s fare to nostalgic programming when the kids go to bed.

“Those who watch us at night are saying, ‘We get it. We understand what you’re doing,”’ Schleiff said.

Jack Myers, a cable industry analyst, said Schleiff has skillfully expanded Court TV’s reach beyond the courtroom; the network’s prime-time lineup before his arrival essentially rehashed the day’s court activities.

The prime-time focus on investigations complements the daytime brand, instead of seeming like a jarring change, he said.

“I think he’s gotten tremendous validation from the marketplace for his investigative programming,” Myers said. “They’ve really found their niche. The shift to ‘Seriously Entertaining,’ as much as it is targeted to the viewer, is targeted to the advertisers who may not have been watching.”