Court TV Pulls the Plug on Confessions

Courtroom Television Network, quickly responding to a backlash from critics and victims' rights groups, last week canceled the controversial new reality seriesConfessions.

The weekly show, which debuted on Sept. 10 and aired twice, had averaged a respectable 0.6 rating. But it generated a firestorm of complaints by airing real videotaped confessions of criminals from the public archives of law-enforcement officials and district attorneys. Court TV chairman Henry Schleiff's decision to dropConfessions, after he had vigorously defended the show against its many critics, came as a surprise. But Schleiff said he wanted to be sensitive to the concerns of the families of crime victims, who were particularly upset about the series.

"I'm happy to raise controversy," Schleiff said. "But our job is to inform and entertain, and not offend even a small part of a audience."

Newspapers, notablyThe New York Times, and victims'-rights groups complained the show was exploitative and provided no context for the vivid, explicit confessions shown. Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden publicly lobbied for the series to be canceled.

Last Monday, Schleiff announcedConfessionswould be removed from the network's lineup effective immediately. He explained his decision in a written statement.

"By now, it is obvious thatConfessionshas a fair share of both critics and supporters," he said. "I believe that the show has played a significant role in showing a part of the criminal-justice system with which our audience is not familiar and, in so doing, provided a unique look inside the criminal mind..On the other hand, a number of valid concerns and complaints have been raised by a portion of our audience."

In an interview, Schleiff said that afterConfessions'debut, he received letters and phone calls from families of crime victims upset about the series. Their complaints helped to change his mind.

He said he was particularly stirred by a conversation with a Milwaukee man whose son was murdered five years ago. After Schleiff decided to cancelConfessions,he personally called the man to tell him the show was being taken off the air.

The man was so surprised and moved that complaints like his had actually made a difference that he broke down and wept, according to Schleiff.

Schleiff also said he was concerned thatConfessions,one weekly half-hour show representing 2 percent of Court TV's primetime schedule, might overshadow other programming on the network.

Schleiff denied there was any corporate pressure from Time Warner Inc., which co-owns Court TV with Liberty Media Group. Time Warner Inc. chairman Gerald Levin's son, a teacher, was murdered in New York several years ago.