Court TV drops ‘Confessions’

Critics, civil groups label confessional skein offensive

NEW YORK — Court TV is bucking conventional industry wisdom by canceling a high-rated new show.

Cabler announced Monday that it would no longer air “Confessions,” the half-hour series that featured actual videotaped confessions of criminals, in response to public outcry.

Since announced in August, the series has created controversy among television and social critics, who believe it’s exploitative. A New York Times editorial criticized Court TV for its willingness “to sabotage its reputation for serious legal journalism with a lurid show where tales of murder are offered as a night’s entertainment.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden demanded that the cabler cancel the program, warning that it could spur copycat crimes; victims’ rights groups such as the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children also protested.

Increased ratings

“Confessions” may have been lurid and sensationalist, but it attracted an audience. When “Confessions” premiered on Sept. 10, it earned a 0.6 rating (equivalent to 265,000 households) — a 57% increase in ratings and a 109% jump in households compared to the same time period last year (0.4/127,000).

But despite its promising ratings, Court TV chairman and CEO Henry Schleiff decided to cancel the show because it offended a segment of the cabler’s audience.

“A number of valid concerns and complaints have been raised by a portion of our audience regarding the show. Court TV’s goal is always to inform or to entertain but certainly never to knowingly offend,” Schleiff emphasized.

He said the controversy surrounding “Confessions” overshadowed some of the network’s other programs.

“In the cable business, you need to get attention and to focus on your core audience. Any discomfort that ‘Confessions’ caused exceeded its value to the network,” said Bob Igiel, broadcast division president at Media Edge, who added that “some sensitive advertisers would have issues with the show.”

In an interview with Daily Variety, Schleiff said he hoped that the decision to cancel “Confessions” would serve as an example to businesses such as Firestone Tires. “Here’s an opportunity to act responsibly and to act quickly and to be an example for corporate America,” Schleiff said. “When there’s a mistake, you should admit it quickly and move on.”

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