Although the idea of televising jury proceedings once yielded howls about subverting the judicial system, TV has already traveled so far down that road as to make such concerns seem quaint. Think of it as a fitting companion to "Dateline NBC's" periodic Court TV "exclusives" and unscripted "Law & Order" spinoff "Crime & Punishment."
Although the idea of televising jury proceedings once yielded howls about subverting the judicial system, TV has already traveled so far down that road — becoming so pervasive and intrusive — as to make such concerns seem quaint. So weeks after Fox crapped out with summer drama “The Jury,” ABC News kicks the scripted world in the gut again with this compelling glimpse into real-life jury deliberations that logically extends the “State v.” franchise. Think of it as a fitting companion to “Dateline NBC’s” periodic Court TV “exclusives” and unscripted “Law & Order” spinoff “Crime & Punishment.”
Coming on the heels of “NYPD 24/7,” which sat in for “NYPD Blue,” the news division’s latest bid to demonstrate its potential as a profit center seems to toss down a gauntlet to its entertainment brethren. In essence, the message reads, “Anything you can do, we can do cheaper” — and in some instances, better.
There’s nothing flashy about “In the Jury Room,” which sparingly lays out a case in each episode, concluding with the jury wrangling over the verdict in the last act. Soberly narrated by correspondent Cynthia McFadden, the program falls under the aegis of producer Michael Bicks, who previously oversaw “State v.”
Coming out with big guns blazing, the series opens with a death-penalty case in the two-part premiere — focusing on the trial of Mark Ducic, a pock-faced loser accused of a double homicide — segueing to the disturbing slaying of a toddler in the third installment.
Granted, protecting jurors’ identities has until recent times been deemed semi-sacred. Yet with reality TV making everyone a potential star, jurors in the Simpson case touring the talk-show circuit and a Tyco trial juror causing a furor with her alleged “thumb’s up” signal to the defense, those concerns have diminished, for good or (mostly) ill.
Moreover, the “fly on the wall” view of deliberations provides a fascinating perspective both on the interpersonal dynamics that influence jury proceedings as well as the emotional toll they exact.
Crime and punishment translate especially well to the longform news and documentary realm, thanks to the inherent drama within high-stakes trials and the natural theatricality of attorneys. By slowly unveiling the evidence, the producers tacitly inject a play-along element into each episode — namely, what would the viewer do presented with a similar set of facts, interacting with the same makeup of fellow jurors?
The deliberations, meanwhile, capture the disparate values, emotion and ultimately horse-trading that go into reaching a verdict — the pressure to compromise that tempers decisions but, arguably, doesn’t always best serve the pursuit of justice.
ABC has noted that the full video will be made available to legal scholars for its “educational value,” but let’s face it, this is about entertainment value, and on that level, the show delivers.
ABC News has demonstrated it can assist the struggling network by providing dramatic programming during the summer to fill gaps left by serialized hours that don’t repeat well. The question now is whether ABC Entertainment can cobble together enough scripted drama to keep such alternatives on the bench, at least until after next Memorial Day.