For Court TV, its most significant public-interest initiatives involve the seamier side of things: the long-running Choices and Consequences and fledgling Forensics in the Classroom.
But if you want to reach teenagers, to get them to sit up and pay attention, then a little drama certainly helps.
Choices started eight years ago as Court TV's first major initiative, teaching students that "aggressive behavior or a decision made in an instant can have lasting consequences," says Lee Tenebruso, vice president of public affairs and education.
The most recent initiatives in this program were Teen Pranks, aimed at middle schools, and Homicide: Life on the Street: Lessons in Law for high schools. The former uses actual cases, and the latter takes teen-oriented episodes from the acclaimed drama. "These are very pertinent to teenagers," Tenebruso says. In both cases, the network, in conjunction with its education partners, has developed a detailed program to teach about both the emotional and legal consequences to choices made.
Forensics in the Classroom doesn't hit as close to home but manages perhaps a more impressive feat—it makes science seem fun and relevant, while keeping on track with a standards-based curriculum.
"We're always looking for creative ways to extend our brand," says Linda Finney, vice president of marketing. "America's students rank toward the bottom in math and science, and we found that teachers were hungry for something that would get kids out of their seats and engaged with science."
The students are given lab coats and meet with real crime-scene investigators or forensic scientists as they use science to solve mysteries such as The Cafeteria Caper, in which someone trashed a school cafeteria. "Kids like to solve puzzles, to see the pieces fall together," Finney says. "This motivates kids, and they see how science works in the real world."
In response to feedback from teachers and students, future Forensics capers will use more technology, perhaps utilizing Court TV's Web site to have kids learn to analyze voice recordings. "We want to add more-sophisticated evidence and ways of collecting it," Finney says.
For both programs, Court TV makes all the curriculum material available for free on its Web site; more than 17,000 teachers have downloaded the Forensics program since it began in 2002. "The Internet is very important to us in reaching people," Tenebruso says. "We can reach more people in an impactful way."
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Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.