Court TV to spend $140 mil on p’gramming

Cabler to commission original scripted movies

NEW YORK — Court TV will spend a record $140 million to buy and produce programming over the next two years.

In an interview in advance of Court TV’s upfront presentation in New York on Thursday, Henry Schleiff, chairman and CEO of Court TV, said the network plans to schedule more than 300 hours of original programming for 2001-02, in addition to Court TV’s ongoing trial coverage during the day.

Schleiff says Court TV’s most visible series is “The System,” which will run every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10 p.m., starting April 10. Hourlong documentary series focuses on the law and the courts.

One-shot specials in the works include a two-hour report on the 1971 uprising at Attica prison, a one-hour piece delivering an inside look at how the U.S. Supreme Court operates (co-produced with ABC News) and a study of the Pioneer Hotel fire in Tucson, Ariz., that killed 28 people (a co-production with CBS News and hosted by Steve Kroft).

For the first time, Schleiff says, Court TV will commission original scripted movies, starting with two in 2001 and as many as four in 2002. They’ll all deal with some aspect of the criminal-justice system.

By scheduling rerun series like “Homicide,” “Wiseguy” and “Profiler” and commissioning branded original series like “Forensic Files,” “Mugshots” and “Hollywood & Crime,” Court TV has driven up its primetime Nielsens by triple-digit percentages since it underwent an overhaul two years ago.

The jacked-up ratings have helped Court TV grow faster than any other cable network in the past year through March 1, Schleiff says, adding 14.8 million subscribers to swell its total to 55 million. Counting rollout clauses in contracts with cable operators, Schleiff projects that Court TV will reach 65 million households by March 2002.

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