×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadcast Nets Poised to Pounce on Zimmerman Verdict

ABC News plans special report when verdict comes down

ABC News is preparing to air a special report when jurors in the much –covered George Zimmerman trial reach a verdict, a signal that a story that has primarily been considered one more platelet in the lifeblood of the cable-news cycle is about to become something of a national event.

ABC News said Friday it will air a special report on the network when the Zimmerman verdict is reached. ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams and correspondent Matt Gutman, both who have been covering this case from the start, will offer reporting and analysis. The two staffers will report on the verdict for all ABC News platforms including “World News with Diane Sawyer,” “Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.”

The other broadcast networks have yet to disclose their plans, but could do so if it seems clear the jury in the trial is likely to move quickly toward a decision.

The event is a potentially explosive one. The Zimmerman case, in which a 29-year-old one-time volunteer for a neighborhood watch in Sanford, Florida has been charged with the shooting death of a teenager, Trayvon Martin, has been closely followed. “This is about more than just the crime itself,” said Scot M. Safon, an executive vice president at CNN Worldwide who oversees HLN. “There are questions about gun control and race relations, racial profiling and the proper role of a neighborhood watch” that make coverage compelling to more viewers than those tune in for trial coverage, he said.

On late Friday morning, eastern time, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, HLN and CNN were all providing live coverage of the defense’s closing arguments. An MSNBC spokeswoman said the network planned ”rolling” coverage of the event. At the broadcast-network newscasts, the trial has been covered gradually, but has rarely been the lead of “CBS Evening News,” “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” or “NBC Nightly News,” according to the Tyndall Report, a service that tracks the content of the broadcast-network evening newscasts,

Between July 1 and July 5, all three network newscasts covered the trail, but the lead of each telecast was given to coverage of Arizona wildfires or unrest in Egypt, according to Tyndall. CBS led with coverage of the Zimmerman trail on July 5, Tyndall said.

“On the nightly newscasts,  ABC and NBC are filing on a daily basis,” with correspondents  Gutman and Ron Mott, respectively, Andrew Tyndall, who oversees the service, said in an interview, while CBS has used correspondent Mark Strassman “sporadically,” he said, or five times out of the first 14 weekdays of the trail. “By my reckoning, CBS makes the right call here. Zimmerman is rarely rated newsworthy enough to qualify as the nightly news lead item: gay marriage, the hotshot firefighters, the coup in Egypt, the Asiana Airlines crash have all preempted it from the top spot.”

Whether an actual verdict in the trial changes that sentiment remains to be seen.

At one Orlando station,  coverage of the Zimmerman case and trial has usurped the airwaves. WESH, an Orlando, Fla. NBC affiliate owned by Hearst Corp., is “wall to wall,” said Bob Longo, news director at the station. “If the trial is starting at 8:30 a.m., we’re going on at 8:30 a.m. If the trial goes at 9 a.m., we anchor coverage of the trial itself. We’ve got three analysts that we are using” at a studio built near the courthouse with a satellite truck at the ready.  “We’ve got a special set of graphics just for this,” said Longo, who added he was in danger of losing his voice. “”We are pretty intensive in our Zimmerman coverage.”

Trial coverage has garnered upswings in viewership. HLN has posted triple-digit increases in both total viewers as well as audiences between the ages of 25 and 54, the demographic advertisers covet most in news programming.

The gambit among those covering the trial closely is that a verdict will intensify audience interest. HLN’s Safon said the network has about 50 employees at the ready, prepared to mobilize when a verdict is reached. And even when the immediate furor subsides, he said, HLN is likely to continue focusing on the topic.  HLN normally relies on pre-taped programming on weekend nights, he said, “but that is not the case tonight and that is very likely not the case tomorrow.”

At WESH, local interest is enough to fuel justification for extended coverage, said Longo, the news director, who doesn’t feel TV-news treatment of the event has grown sordid. He has seen no more than  few protesters outside the court building, he said. “Local folks seem to have their heads on straight, and justice is being served with the trial.” Even so, WESH has plans to add context and perspective to its coverage of the event. “We will cover the verdict and we will be prepared to offer commentary and conversation based on that.”

WESH viewers want to see the trial to its conclusion, he added. Whether the nation does may be a matter for others to decide.

“This was a real event, a tragic event,” said Longo, ” and “this is giving it closure. Whether CNN and the cable shows should be devoting the amount of time to it instead of stories like Egypt or the plane crash in  San Francisco is probably a question for other folks.”

More TV

  • Channing DungeyVariety's Power of Women, Los

    Netflix Talk Heats Up as Channing Dungey Plots Post-ABC Move

    When Channing Dungey closes a door, a bunch of other doors open. Dungey’s next move has become a subject of speculation in Hollywood’s creative community. Sources tell Variety that the departing ABC Entertainment president is already being pursued by a number of potential suitors for what could be her next big job — Netflix among [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    ABC Seeks $2 Million to $3 Million for Oscars Ads (EXCLUSIVE)

    Kevin Hart won’t be showing up for the Oscars, but advertisers will. Walt Disney’s ABC has sold more than three-quarters of its commercial inventory for its February 24 broadcast of the glitzy awards fest, according to Jerry Daniello, senior vice president, entertainment brand solutions, for Disney ad sales, pacing ahead of its progress at this time [...]

  • TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and

    Kathie Lee Gifford to Leave NBC’s ‘Today’

    Kathie Lee Gifford will leave “Today” after more than a decade co-hosting the fourth hour of the NBC morning franchise. Gifford wants to spend more time focused on a variety of media projects, and said during Monday’s broadcast that her decision was “bittersweet, as these things are.” She expects to stay with the program through [...]

  • CBS HEADQUARTERS

    Protests Outside But No Fireworks Inside CBS' Annual Shareholders Meeting

    A small group of protestors chanted “No money for Les” outside of CBS Corp.’s annual shareholders meeting in New York on Tuesday, but inside there were no questions from shareholders about the sexual misconduct scandal that has enveloped the company and former chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves. The meeting held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was [...]

  • Fox Reshapes Ad-Sales Unit as Disney

    Fox Reshapes Ad-Sales Unit as Disney Deal Nears (EXCLUSIVE)

    Some of 21st Century Fox’s best-known ad-sales executives will leave the company when it closes a large sale of its assets to Walt Disney in 2019. Bruce Lefkowitz, executive vice president of ad sales at Fox; Mike Denby, a senior vice president of ad sales; and Jake Piasecki, another senior vice president, are slated to [...]

  • Chris McCarthy on Reinventing MTV, Moving

    Chris McCarthy on Reinventing MTV, Moving From 'Buy to Build Mentality'

    As goes MTV, so goes Viacom. For the industry, there is no stronger measure of the health of Viacom than the state of MTV. Chris McCarthy, a 15-year Viacom veteran, has been leading the effort to revive the brand since October 2016, when he added oversight of MTV to his portfolio that already included VH1 [...]

  • Bob Bakish Variety Cover Story

    Inside Bob Bakish's Aggressive Turnaround Plan for Viacom

    Bob Bakish was days into his job as CEO of Viacom in late 2016 when he began convening meetings with senior executives to execute a triage effort to save the once-mighty media giant. Paramount Pictures had just posted a $445 million annual loss. Viacom’s cable networks were in danger of being dropped by major distributors [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content