With the O.J. Simpson criminal case over, most television schedules are back to normal without the court coverage and legal experts. But at the cable network Court TV, chief executive Steven Brill is preparing for the network's biggest trial ever.
Controversial, legally complex and important for civil rights worldwide, Court TV's priority assignment is not the civil suit against Simpson but the first United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, which is set for The Hague early next year.
Court TV will cover live the trail of Serb Dusko Tadic, 39, who is charged by the United Nations tribunal with the rape, murder and torture of Muslims and Croats.
The trial will be a landmark case and the first of its kind since the Nuremberg war crimes trials of the 1940s. Indeed, in a warm-up to the Hague trial, Court TV is showing 15 hours of the 1945 Nuremberg war trials starting today.
Meanwhile, Brill is using all his powers to promote the Hague trial to the 23 million homes that Court TV reaches in the United States and to a wider worldwide audience.
"This is compelling stuff, and my desire to cover it came partly from my disgust at the media attention paid to the O.J. Simpson trial," Brill explained in an interview. "I have been saying to anyone who will listen, and every reporter who called me about the Simpson trial, that this trial in the Hague is the real trial of the century."
Disgust may seem a strong reaction from a man whose network covered Simpson gavel to gavel along with CNN and E! Entertainment. But Brill insists that Court TV did not exploit the coverage, as others did, by selling specially packaged advertising, changing its schedules or releasing spinoff videos from its coverage.
"We are talking about making an educational tape from the Simpson case examining the performance of each lawyer, but we would donate the profits to a legal services organization," he said.
The Hague War Crimes trial, originally scheduled for November and now delayed until a date to be determined at a December hearing, should be a showstopper.
Dusan Tadic is the only one of 22 suspects indicted by the Tribunal who is in custody. The evidence is grueling.
But Brill says it is the legal implications that will keep the regular Court TV viewers glued to the coverage. "In this case the issues are whether, on the one hand, the world can enforce basic standards of conduct through a United Nations tribunal, or, on the other hand, whether Tadic is as he asserts, an innocent scapegoat wrongly accused."
In the meantime, Brill is talking to British partners about setting up a Court TV channel in London. Cameras are not currently allowed in British courts, but Brill hopes to gain rights to conduct an experiment in Britain's High Court and combine that footage with Court TV's U.S. cases and some European cases.
"It's not just about covering the Simpson trial. We would have a chance to show them how different most of the cases we cover are. Then they could see that this idea that cameras in court is all about sleaze is wrong."
\o7 * Court TV's Nuremberg Trial coverage will air 2-5 p.m. Monday through Friday this week, with highlights each day during "Prime Time Justice" (5-7 p.m. and 8-10 p.m.)\f7 .