Each weekday at 2 p.m., Dan Abrams talks to America for an hour about the law, politics and media. He’s been working steadily to expand the conversation.
Abrams hosts an afternoon show on satellite-broadcaster SiriusXM, where he holds forth on the Mueller Report (if you haven’t read it, don’t try to debate him on what it says on the air) and other topics that cross over from the legal world to the one we live in every day. He’s often spotted on “Good Morning America,” owing to a chief legal analyst role he has with ABC News. He’s making the literary rounds as well, with a book about a crucial law case involving Theodore Roosevelt. He continues to run his company, Abrams Media, which publishes the media-news web site Mediaite, and is leading a project that its namesake calls “the big enchilada”: Law & Crime, a live trial network that delivers courtroom cases of great interest via broadband and other venues and counts A&E as an investor.
“It is, to some degree, different lives,” notes Abrams, sitting behind an adjustable desk in his company’s Manhattan offices. “I have the life of running a growing company, and everything has to be done economically, and I have to be monitoring how may coffee refills we get. And yet I live a very different life as an on-air guy, where the coffee is plentiful.”
Abrams may at times portray himself as a small-business owner, but his influence is growing. In addition to his other duties, he hosts “Live P.D.” a law-enforcement-as-it-happens documentary series on A&E that is fast becoming the medium’s hottest format. Both Fox and AT&T’s WarnerMedia have been working to launch similar concepts.
Figuring out how to connect the dots of his various enterprises might be difficult, but George Stephanopoulos, the ABC News anchor, can do it: Abrams is working on a way to keep up with the nation’s increasing fascination with the overlap of law, media and politics. “He can play in all of these different arenas,” says Stephanopoulos, in a brief phone interview.
Abrams offers up a case study for TV journalists, who often work long hours and skirt the line between adrenaline rush and burnout: It’s possible to keep more than one thing spinning. ABC News’ Dan Harris recently announced he would step away from his duties on “Nightline” to devote more attention to the business around his “10% Happier” podcast and book, which tell people how to achieve better life balance. Abrams doesn’t deny he’s busy, but notes that “everything I’m doing right now I have a passion for in a different way.”
His work on “Live P.D.” is giving him a profile beyond New York media circles, where he’s long been known for his time with NBC News and ABC News as well as his ownership stakes in a few trendy restaurants. The A&E series has a direct line to “Cops,” the long-running Fox program that let viewers watch law-enforcement officials on patrol. Abrams’ series takes things a step further. Viewers understand they are seeing images of events that took place just minutes ago (the show has a delay, for obvious reasons).
“‘Live P.D.’ is not a show primarily for Manhattan, Los Angeles, Washington or Miami folks. It’s a show for the rest of the country,” says Abrams, 53 years old. “I think that’s because the people who watch the show, I think a lot of them have some connection to law enforcement. That doesn’t mean they are in law enforcement, but they’ve got a relative, they’ve got a friend, they’ve got a child who’s been in law enforcement, who has been in the military, and there is a level of appreciation we are documenting what these officers do every day.”
Hosting duties on the program are not for the meek. Abrams each week comes under scrutiny from an active social-media fan base, who like to poke fun at his dad jokes and his wardrobe, notes Elaine Frontain Bryant, executive vice president and head of programming for A&E. “There is a brand and taste decision that happens in every moment,” she says.
Abrams, his co-hosts Tom Morris Jr. and Sgt. Sean ‘Sticks’ Larkin and the crew have 32 feeds coming in from across the nation, and need to quickly determine whether they can show the footage or need to keep something off the air until they know how the situation unfolds. During one broadcast, Abrams recalls, police chased a car that flipped over and a suspect emerged from the vehicle with a child in front of him. Things looked as if he was shielding himself from police with a young girl. Producers waited until they knew the kid was safe. “He’s monitoring all that. He’s hearing the control room and knows where we should go, and then has the legal credibility and understanding to analyze it, and ask his co-hosts to help viewers understand how law enforcement might have handled the situation,” she says.
Fox launched a similar series, “First Responders Live,” hosted by Josh Elliott and led by procedural impresario Dick Wolf, earlier this month. WarnerMedia’s TBS and TNT are slated in August to launch “Chasing The Cure,” a series that will chronicle a real-time response from viewers and experts to depictions of people suffering mystery medical maladies. Kim Bondy, a veteran news producer, will serve as showrunner.
Developing another “Live P.D.,” which has generated spin-off series for A&E since launching in 2016, is not guaranteed, Abrams suggests. “I think there are a lot of places that are now trying to do live,” he says, but his show needed time to find its footing. “It took us a while to figure out the balance of the storytelling that we do. I think it’s going to be very hard for some of these other places to do that in a quick way.”
If people are surprised that this law-school graduate turned away from a legal career and instead talks to viewers about hot court cases and cop conflicts, they should not be. Abrams has been zigging in unexpected directions for years.
His company recently helped strike a business deal among media outlets that no outsider would bet on getting along. Abrams Media’s Law & Crime joined with The Daily Caller, Raw Story, Alternet, and the Washington Free Beacon to launch the Digital News Alliance, a group of media properties offering a place for advertising packages tilted toward the 2020 political advertising cycle. “In a world of internet behemoths, it can be tough to compete for ad dollars as a mid-sized web property. So with the 2020 election around the corner, we thought the best way for us to get some of the political advertising that will be flooding the internet was to join with other similarly sized sites and offer larger packages together,” says Abrams, adding: “Since the announcement we have had a number of other sites inquire about joining the coalition as well.”
He has been making unorthodox moves since the early days of his career, when he asked the prestigious law firm Wilkie Farr & Gallagher to put an offer on hold – a potentially surprising turn for the son of famed First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams. Instead, he bet on a job at Court TV in the mid-1990s, which led him to a stint as NBC News’ chief legal correspondent and an MSNBC host. In 2006, Abrams convinced NBC executives to make him general manager of the cable-news network, a post he hoped would let him devise programming concepts and other ideas. It was not to be. At the time, Abrams said, MSNBC was being run by top NBC executives like former NBCU Chairman Jeff Zucker, former NBC News President Steve Capus as well as Phil Griffin, the network’s current president. Abrams found himself working on human-resources issues, among other duties. “When I had pitched myself to do the job, I had not been pitching myself to be a high mid-level administrator,” he says.
The role helped him figure out he wanted to run his own business, though he has continued to maintain on-air roles for himself, moving to ABC News in 2011 and doing a stint as a co-host on “Nightline.”
Abrams says he has more to do. Mediaite has after many years become a must-read for many TV-news anchors. He thinks the business opportunity for Law & Crime is quite large. And he is working on at least two more books.
When people want to insult him, Abrams says, they tell him “that I’m not a real lawyer, which is true. It’s not an unfair criticism.” Even so, he says, “This has kind of worked out.”