Court TV: Justice, no Liberty?

NEW YORK — Corporate infighting at Court TV is generating as much drama as the trials the network has covered recently.

Court TV’s three owners — Time Warner, NBC and John Malone’s Liberty Media — have failed to agree on the direction of the network. Sources say negotiations are under way in which Liberty Media would sell its one-third stake to operations partner TW and NBC for somewhere around $100 million.

Late last year, Steve Brill, who founded the network in July 1991, allied himself with NBC (Daily Variety, March 3), which agreed with his strategy to regionalize trial coverage during the daytime as an attempt to boost the network’s anemic 0.1-rating average in cable homes.

TW rejected that idea, wanting instead to buy out its partners, and — in one scenario that Turner vigorously denied — merge Court with CNN/FN.

Brill then resigned, selling out his minority interest in Court TV to TW six months ago. TW, which has served as operations partner of the network since its inception, installed one of its veteran executives, Thayer Bigelow, as CEO of Court in March. Sources say Bigelow has functioned as a caretaker, unable to give the go-ahead to programming initiatives like covering sports law in a weekly series.

“Right now we’re paralyzed in terms of making any decisions,” says Erik Sorenson, executive VP of programming for Court TV. “But I’m confident it’ll get straightened out.”

Other Court TV observers say the best-case scenario would be for TW and NBC to buy Liberty’s third and then somehow work together on a programming and marketing strategy that could pump some oxygen in a network that’s barely registering a pulse.

Court TV is 32nd out of the 34 cable networks that subscribe to Nielsen. The only lower-rated networks are Travel Channel and Fox News Channel.

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