Originally posted Monday, June 24, 2019 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Dan Abrams, host of A&E’s runaway hit “Live P.D.,” stopped by the Atlanta History Center earlier this week to discuss his book about a mostly forgotten libel trial featuring Teddy Roosevelt more than a century ago.
I spoke with Abrams by phone about “Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy” and the appeal of watching cops do their jobs.
How the book came about: “My co author [David Fisher] and I were working on the Lincoln book using a transcript of a case he did nine months before his nomination as president.” When they heard about the Roosevelt trial, they knew a transcript would help make that a book as well. They found the only one available in Syracuse. It was 4,000 pages long.
Why the book makes good reading: The trial was a monstrous deal for the press at the time in 1915 - and for Roosevelt, who was six years removed from his presidency.
“He was trying to clear his name. He also wanted to make a broader point about his legacy,” Abrams said after the Atlanta event.
The case focuses on Roosevelt accusing a former New York Republican leader William Barnes Jr. of being a corrupt party boss working in cahoots with the Democrats. Barnes sued for libel.
Abrams said some of the trial was supremely boring and they had to get through much of that to get to the meat of the matter: Roosevelt’s eight days on the stand providing testimony. And the charismatic politician provided no shortage of fireworks.
“I hope it reads more like a crime thriller than a libel trial,” Abrams said.
Reaction so far: The book landed on the New York Times bestseller list. It has received four out of five stars among Amazon readers. Reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, NPR and Kirkus were all positive.
“Theodore Roosevelt IV came up to me at a stop during the tour,” Abrams said. “He didn’t know much about this trial. I hope we did this trial justice and did Roosevelt justice in how we portrayed it.”
Why the trial is hardly remember now: “It’s probably because he won. If he’d lost, the downside to him was potentially far great than any potential upside. When he prevailed, it was more of a relief. I think he and his team expected to lose the trial.”
On O.J. Simpson joining Twitter: “He needs to be careful. Not that he seems to care about getting sued again. And he could.”
Why “Live P.D.” is working: “People want to see real. And police work is inherently interesting. It’s certainly a hot topic right now. I think that people enjoy being able to see the every-day aspects of what police officers do. It’s not ‘Cops,” which is a cut-up highlight reel. You see how they’re seeing it. There’s uncertainty every time they pull you over. Most of the time, there isn’t a pursuit or guns drawn. But it’s still incredibly interesting.”
Technology and cost: Abrams said “Live P.D.” may not have been cost effective or even feasible 10 or 15 years ago. “We have 32 live feeds coming into the control room from around the country in a lot of vehicles on the move, sometimes in fairly remote areas,” he noted.
Promoting his own network: He has his own “Law & Crime” network airing multiple trials around the country in a relatively inexpensive way. “When I was on Court TV in the early days, we couldn’t do that,” he said.
Dissing Court TV - again: Abrams said he considered buying the Court TV name before Atlanta’s Katz Media did. “We passed on it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any value for a modern-day audience. They’re really irrelevant to me.”
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