Diller dials digital

USA Nets topper plans to make Crime net pay

NEW YORK — Barry Diller plans to give Court TV a run for its money with a digital network called Crime.

As part of his blueprint, Diller, chairman of USA Networks, which owns USA, Sci Fi Channel, Trio and Newsworld Intl., has bought the Web site Crime.com run by John Langley, creator of “Cops” and co-founder of the Crime network. “Cops” is in its 12th season on Fox.

The net, to kick off later this year on a date to be determined, will include original series that provide, for example, a daily inside look at how cops investigate crime scenes and a weekly talkshow about crime and its effect on society, featuring “defense attorneys, law-enforcement officers, crime victims, convicted criminals, filmmakers, writers and outspoken activists,” according to the network.

Besides the original series, USA will funnel theatrical pics from its library of acquired titles, including “Carlito’s Way,” “Arlington Road,” “2 Days in the Valley,” “Dead Man Walking” and “Con Air.” The web would also buy reruns of older fictional crime series to fill out some of its schedule.

“I’m convinced that the rollout of digital boxes is inevitable,” said Stephen Chao, prexy of USA Cable. Chao declined to talk about how much money USA plans to spend on Crime, saying only that the network’s expenditures will depend on how fast cable operators are able to get the digital boxes into people’s homes.

Henry Schleiff, chairman and CEO of Court TV, said he’s flattered that USA Cable is creating Crime, because “it proves that there’s strong appeal to the genre covered by crime and justice programming.”

If the public continues to resist the digital boxes, however, Crime would likely cut back on its plans to produce firstrun programming because the network would reach such a small fraction of cable homes that advertisers would have minimal interest in buying spots on the schedule.

Gaveler net a hit

Court TV gets into 55 million homes and is considered one of cable’s major success stories of the past two years.

But Chao said crime shows have proved their popularity, not just on Court TV but all over the dial, both on the broadcast networks and on cable networks such as Discovery and A&E.

Doug Lee, CEO of Crime.com, will serve as general manager of the Crime channel. Crime is also under the auspices of Patrick Vien, president of emerging networks for USA Cable.

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