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Court TV to try scripts, irony and John Waters

October 20, 2005|Scott Martelle | Times staff writer

TAKING a half-step from real courtrooms to "Law and Order"-style dramas, Court TV plans to air a new half-hour series this winter about true-crime domestic murder mysteries hosted by iconoclastic film director John Waters.

The series, called "Til Death Do Us Part," will focus on a single spousal murder in each episode, beginning with a reenactment of the wedding. Waters will serve as the "groom reaper," walking the viewer through each story.

"It has a little bit of irony to it, especially to start at the wedding," said Marc Juris, Court TV's general manager of programming and marketing. "Every bad marriage does have a happy wedding."

Envision Elvira and her "Movie Macabre" shows from the early 1980s. Or Vincent Price.

"I've always been jealous of Vincent Price's career," Waters said in a prepared statement. "Maybe now that he's dead, I can hijack it."

The series was conceived by low-budget horror film director Jeff Lieberman and will adopt an "over the top" tone, a Court TV press release said. It's unclear how that might play with the relatives of the victims, given that each of the episodes will be based on a real murder.

"I'm groaning already," Cheryl Guidry Tyiska, deputy communications director for the National Organization for Victim Assistance, said after hearing Court TV's description of the program. "While domestic violence and domestic homicide can be very dramatic stories, it sounds like this is designed for prurient entertainment.... My gut reaction is: Yuck."

Juris said the network would strive to balance storytelling with the sensitivities of the victims' families.

"The show features real accounts of actual events," he said. "Our goal is to tell compelling stories that illustrate human nature at an extreme, the investigative process and the power of our system of justice. We are always sensitive to those affected by these stories."

Juris said the half-hour episodes will unfold like a murder mystery, and the viewer won't know who the victim is until more than midway through. The first episode, based on a Michigan ax murder, begins shooting soon.

Court TV plans to commit to another 12 episodes after it assesses how the first episode works out.

"I hesitate to call it a pilot," Juris said. "We're in a different place in the decision-making process -- let's get the first one right, then let's do it."

The show will be scripted from court records, police reports, news accounts of the crimes and Court TV's film archives of trials. Court TV is promoting the show as the first scripted series it has commissioned.

"We think the real beauty of this series is ... it's a real story," Juris said. "We love to tell stories that involve an investigation and a mystery and a solution -- sort of justice being served. The trick is: How do you tell these stories differently?"

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