Vinnie Politan returns home to Court TV as the lead anchor/host starting May 8, 2019. Here he is in the studio on Friday, May 3, 2019.
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Court TV returns May 8 after 11 years off air: getting the band back together again

Originally posted Tuesday, May 7, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Sometimes, you really can go home again.

For many former employees of the beloved Court TV and its subsequent truTV and HLN incarnations, Atlanta-based Katz Networks is giving them a home base again to air gavel-to-gavel coverage of interesting and/or consequential criminal trials.

The 24-hour network, which has 70 employees at its new Buckhead offices at inception, returns after an 11-year absence at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 8. It will be available via live streaming on www.courttv.com, a new app and cable and broadcast channels. 

“This is something I’ve dreamt about for a long time,” said John Alleva, a vice president and managing editor for the revamped Court TV. He spent 15 years at the original version. “It’s not only an iconic brand and incredible network but it’s been such an important part of my life. Getting to lead this new version into the 21st century is really exciting.” 

Vinnie Politan had just quit Atlanta NBC affiliate 11Alive as an evening anchor last fall when Alleva and former CNN producer Scott Tufts called to offer him the top on-air job on the rebooted network.

“It was the worst negotiation of my life!” Politan said. “They knew they had me at hello!” 

Politan, a former New Jersey prosecutor who spent many years parsing cases for Court TV, truTV and HLN, will host his own weekday show from 6 to 9 p.m. He will recap and analyze trials of the day. 

Court TV, which launched in 1991, was a staple on cable television through that decade into the 2000s, covering every major scandalous criminal trial from the Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson to JonBenet Ramsey and Phil Spector

But Court TV faced a dilemma over the years: ratings would fall off when there wasn’t a “hot” crime trial to air. And its audience skewed older during a period when networks were chasing younger viewers.

Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting took full control of the network in 2006 but killed off the name Court TV two years later. The network morphed into the much younger-focused comedy channel called truTV, now known for prank shows such as “Impractical Jokers” and “The Carbonaro Effect.”

In 2009, Turner moved daytime court coverage (dubbed “In Session”) from truTV to sister station HLN, where it survived until 2013. Since then, no traditional TV network has offered regular gavel-to-gavel live trial coverage. 

Cheryl Harris, a 49-year-old Woodstock customer care employee, said she misses live coverage of trials though the most notable ones she cited (Jodi AriasCasey Anthony) aired on HLN. 

“I can have my bowl of popcorn and just watch,” she said. “You can’t do that in an actual courtroom.” 

For Harris, great court trials “are as close to reality TV as you can possibly get. I think there’s a place for Court TV.”

Cynthia Glozier, an Atlanta native and former supervising producer for Court TV from 1993 to 1996, said she feels both journalism and rule of law are being threatened and a network like this will help people understand the legal system better.

“I’m so happy this is happening,” said Glozier, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor. “It’s good for our country. It’s good for democracy on every level.”

Kevin Kitchen, a 61-year-old Powder Springs technical specialist, is more skeptical: “Unless it is a celebrity on trial, I doubt it will be watched that much outside the legal community. Court trials are basically boring as hell.” (He still watches daytime judge shows like the perennially popular “Judge Judy.”)

Jonathan Katz, who launched Katz Networks in 2014 and sold to E.W. Scripps in 2017 (remaining a wholly-owned subsidiary), said his business concept was to fill holes in the new free digital channel space. It’s where older audiences unwilling or unable to spend money on a cable or satellite subscription tend to reside. 

Katz’s other channels target black audiences (Bounce TV), comedy seekers (LAFF), drama and Western lovers (Grit) and true crime and mystery fans (Escape).

With the success of channels like Escape, ID and Oxygen, Katz wondered about the dormant state of Court TV, a brand left in a musty attic at Turner, which is now part of WarnerMedia. 
Since he still had connections at Turner, where he worked from 1997 to 2009, he was able to open the right doors there and convince Turner execs that this was a mutually beneficial deal. Last year, Turner received cash for something it wasn’t using and Katz was able to bring Court TV back to life.

And while companies are starting streaming services left and right, it seems almost quaint that Katz is starting a more traditional network from scratch in almost a throwback to the 1980s and 1990s. Katz is not deterred. 

“We want to be the gold standard for legal journalism,” Katz said. 

And since it’s 2019, he said the network will be available free online as well as traditional outlets. In Atlanta, it will be available on the 17.2 digital channel for Peachtree TV, which is now owned by Meredith but used to be Ted Turner’s original local TBS channel decades ago. “I have a special place in my heart for Peachtree TV,” Katz said. 

In fact, Katz’s company has become a repository for former Turner employees:  “About 95% of our 260 employees have Turner ties. We’ve been a huge beneficiary of Turner’s contraction.”

The first case they are planning to focus on Wednesday coincidentally is just 50 miles east of headquarters: Newton County. It’s a classic Court TV case with echos of Casey Anthony: parents on trial for allegedly killing their newborn baby

Next week, Court TV plans to cover a case that hits the nexus of fame, athletics and crime: Kellen Winslow Jr., a former NFL player accused of being a serial rapist.

And the network is planning wall-to-wall coverage of the Harvey Weinstein rape trial in New York later this year. 

For those thirsting to watch past trials again, the network is planning to open up the Court TV archives and place them online for on-demand viewing. 

Katz said based on research, the Court TV brand name remains robust. In fact, 25 percent of those they polled still thought Court TV was around.

While Katz is proud of his opening on-air lineup, one key player from Court TV and HLN is notably missing: Nancy Grace. Grace, who left HLN in 2016, is already committed to Oxygen and is currently shooting a show for that network called “Injustice with Nancy Grace” set to debut in the fall of 2019. 

Dan Abrams, ABC News chief legal correspondent and host of A&E’s popular “Live PD,” started his own New York-based streaming service Law & Crime which since 2017 has provided nine hours of daily trial coverage and some analysis-related shows as well. Abrams pooh-poohed Court TV in a statement today:

“We always anticipated that after seeing our success re-inventing the old Court TV for the new multi-platform era with Law & Crime Network, that others would try to imitate our model. It seems they spent big money for an outdated name that we actually passed on. Despite my nostalgia, it really has no value to a modern audience." 

“We’ve seen success on the OTT [streaming only] platform with viewers who are sticking around for a long time,” said Law & Crime president Rachel Stockman, who worked in Atlanta as a reporter at Channel 2 Action News from 2012 to 2015. They are mostly watched on connected smart TVs and web-enabled devices. 

“We see Court TV as followers,” she added. 

How to watch Court TV in Atlanta:

smartphone/tablet: Court TV app

online: www.courttv.com

Broadcast TV: Peachtree TV 17.2

Comcast: (launching May 30, channel TBA)

Former CNN/HLN producer Scott Tufts (left) and former CourtTV producer John Alleva are running Court TV 2.0, based in Buckhead.
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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