E! Entertainment to cover Simpson trial TURNED ON IN L.A.

January 18, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Los Angeles -- As if the line between entertainment and news were not blurred enough, E! Entertainment Television yesterday announced that it will offer gavel-to-gavel live coverage of the O. J. Simpson trial with former CBS correspondent and weight-loss pitch-woman Kathleen Sullivan anchoring.

The cable channel's coverage will pre-empt all programming except commercials from noon to 8 p.m. daily once the trial starts, according to Fran Shea, E!'s senior vice president for programming.

Shea said E! will also provide a one-hour recap during the noon recess each day, which will feature the E! lineup of news reporters, legal experts and gossip columnists covering the trial.

E!, which has 30 million subscribers, is a 24-hour basic cable channel that specializes in show business news. It is most widely known for "Talk Soup," which used to have Greg Kinnear as host, and for televising shock jock Howard Stern's radio program.

E! Entertainment owners include HBO, Time Warner and Comcast. It will be the third cable channel providing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial, along with Court TV and CNN.

Shea said it makes as much sense for E! Entertainment to be covering the trial as it does for CNN or Court TV.

"The reason we decided to cover this trial is that we've been in Los Angeles for five years, we have a lot of sources, and we're entrenched in this town. We've been on every movie and television set and have covered O. J. for years.

"Two days before the murder, we were covering O. J. playing golf or whatever. He's a celebrity. . . . It's an entertainment story, it's our beat, and our viewers are wildly interested in it," Shea said.

"Furthermore, we have 50 percent more distribution than Court TV. So, I'd like to think of us as the alternative to CNN, because so many viewers can't get Court TV," she added.

When asked if she thought E! Entertainment's coverage might be trivializing what is, after all, a double murder trial, Shea said: "It is a double murder trial, and we are very, very aware of that. It is probably the most unique murder trial that's ever been covered.

"By virtue of who it is and by virtue of how the coverage has gone so far, I think to say that E! is going to come in now and somehow trivialize it or is going to turn it into a circus is a huge leap."

Shea was asked if E! Entertainment's coverage was going to be "O. J. Lite," a reference to the breezy, gossipy style regularly used to present entertainment news on the cable channel.

"I don't think we would have put Kathleen Sullivan in the anchor position if we wanted O. J. Lite. But I do think it will be O.J.L.A., because of our being based here and having a special L.A. slant," Shea said.

Sullivan's highly publicized TV ad campaign last year as a spokeswoman for a weight-loss plan will not compromise her credibility or effectiveness as a journalist, according to Shea.

"Kathleen's 15 years of network experience make her ideally suited to handle the demands of anchoring E!'s live coverage of the trial," Shea said.

"Her experience covering live events and her exceptional understanding of news will be a tremendous asset to our team. We're very happy to have her on board."

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