'Mug Shots' features notorious criminals

NEW YORK — Court TV has given the go-ahead to one of the most ambitious projects in its history, “Mug Shots,” a nightly hourlong biographical docu on a notorious criminal.

That’s the word from Henry Schleiff, who revealed Court TV’s plans for “Mug Shots” the same day the network promoted him from president to chairman and CEO. Chief operating officer Dick Beahrs takes over the president’s title.

A Court TV spokeswoman declined to discuss the production costs of “Mug Shots,” but one source said the network has commissioned an initial 13 episodes at a cost of about $130,000 each. Series kicks off Jan. 17 and will run Monday through Thursday at 7 p.m. The first subjects will include cult leader David Koresh, corrupt financier Martin Frankel and serial killer Aileen Wournos. The host is still to be announced.

H’wood crime skein

For the 7 p.m. Friday timeslot, Court TV has greenlit a weekly one-hour series called “Hollywood & Crime,” which will detail the legal entanglements of celebrities like Tim Allen, Robert Downey Jr., Hugh Grant, Kim Basinger and Dennis Rodman.

Court TV has also signed docu producer Arnold Shapiro (“Scared Straight”) to exec produce a primetime special called “Sworn Enemies,” which will focus on law enforcement officials and their single-minded pursuit of criminals. Schleiff said “Sworn Enemies” will serve as the pilot for a potential series.

Three more one-hour shows under the umbrella title “Boardwalk Babylon” have started pre-production, with Robert Stone as exec producer. The first of the three will deal with a day in the life of an Atlantic City detective in cinema verite fashion.

Off-netters pump numbers

Schleiff said these are only a few of the firstrun series Court TV is planning to commission for its primetime schedule. But he also gave lots of credit to two off-network series, “Homicide” and “Cops,” which have funneled record numbers of subscribers to Court TV and helped to provide sturdy promotional platforms for its original programming, such as the 10 p.m. fact-based, five-a-weeker “Crime Stories.”

“We’ve got some real momentum going,” Schleiff said, pointing to the November Nielsen books. These numbers show that Court TV has catapulted from a 0.1 primetime rating in cable homes during November 1998 (before the advent of “Homicide” and “Cops”) to a 0.6 rating this November. In actual number of households, Court TV has rocketed by 386% year to year, from an average of 44,000 homes last November to 214,000 in November 1999.

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