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Court TV, San Diego Ops to Air Student Views

In an effort to heal a community hurt by recent shootings at two high schools, San Diego-area cable operators Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications Inc. will partner with Court TV for a televised town-hall style meeting.

The event — part of Court TV's multitiered "Choices and Consequences" program — is set to tape April 19, on the third anniversary of the infamous shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. The program is likely to air in mid-May.

The Cox system will air the meeting live on a local origination channel, while Time Warner plans to share tapes of the event with area high schools prior to Court TV's national telecast.

Time Warner San Diego division vice president Ernie Villicana brought the idea to Court TV, though he admits it was his middle school-aged daughter who coaxed him into doing so.

Court TV suggested bringing in Cox — the region's other cable incumbent — and Villicana agreed. He conceded that partnering with another cable company was a little unusual, but added, "We're not in this for the publicity."

The San Diego shootings scored their share of local and national news coverage, Villicana noted.

"Our first response was that we didn't want to be seen as exploitative," said Court TV senior vice president of public and government affairs Scoot MacPherson. As such, Court TV took cues from its San Diego affiliates.

Cox and Court TV had conducted a public-affairs program at a local middle school about six months ago, said Cox San Diego media and public relations director Judith Morgan Jennings. Villicana also had worked with Court TV on a high school forum called "Your Turn" when he was with Time Warner of Bakersfield, Calif., in 1998.

As with earlier events, the San Diego "Choices and Consequences" forum will be shaped by the concerns of participating youngsters and their high-school classmates.

Court TV last week sent staffers to San Diego to conduct focus groups. Those meetings will determine the primary topics of the upcoming discussions between high school students, civic leaders, educators and clergy.

"The dialogue is all particularly indigenous to the communities," MacPherson said. It's unique for kids to be given the opportunity to speak, rather than be spoken to, he added.

For Cox, that focus on childrens' concerns is the program's main attraction.

"We really want the voices of the students to come through," said Cox San Diego government and community relations representative Ed Lopez.

A Court TV personality and a San Diego news anchorperson will co-host the town meeting, though details had not been determined by press time. Both the Cox and Time Warner logos will appear on the set.

Cox and Time Warner will share production costs and responsibility for the crew. In addition to the talent, Court TV will provide its "Choices and Consequences" umbrella program and post-production editing.

Other Court TV affiliates have expressed interest in holding "Choices and Consequences" events, said MacPherson, including AT&T Broadband in Chicago and Boston and Insight Communications Co. in Louisville, Ky. No definitive plans have been announced.

At one point, Court TV was staging two "Choices and Consequences" events each month, but that schedule has been scaled back. "We now respond when there's a need from cable operators," MacPherson said.

The ability to work with local cable affiliates has been invaluable to Court TV because "we don't have the kind of local knowledge they have," said MacPherson.

Added Time Warner's Villicana: "Those of us at Time Warner live in the communities and have kids in the schools. It hits home."

Court TV has also worked directly with government agencies, including the White House, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as civic groups such as the YMCA, the Anti-Defamation League and Cable in the Classroom.