HLN to face withdrawal symptoms from Casey Anthony verdict
HLN, the cable network that has enjoyed tremendous ratings growth from its virtually nonstop coverage of the Casey Anthony trial, may now face a brutal withdrawal from its addiction to the case now that the verdict has come in.
Anthony was cleared by a Florida jury Tuesday of murdering her daughter Caylee, much to the chagrin of Nancy Grace, the HLN host who has been outspoken in her belief in Anthony's guilt.
"We must live with it," Grace said of the jury's decision.
Time Warner Inc.'s HLN will also have to live with it. The trial had given the channel, formerly known as Headline News, a sense of purpose. Besides Grace's constant coverage, the rest of the network also jumped on board. Much of HLN's programming focused primarily if not exclusively on the trial, including Dr. Drew Pinsky, who joined HLN this year and devoted extensive amounts of time to covering Anthony.
In using the Anthony trial to fill its schedule, HLN borrowed a page from Court TV, a cable network created to follow high-profile trials as well as coverage of the legal system.
But Court TV eventually found that there were not enough criminal cases to sustain big ratings. The channel, now called TruTV, has become more of an all-reality channel, with shows such as "Hardcore Pawn" about pawn shops and "Southern Fried Sting" about a group of rogue crime fighters.
The challenge for HLN will be to keep the viewers that it wooed with its Anthony coverage. Given that trials that captivate the nation the way the Anthony case seemed to are few and far between, that could prove to be difficult.
"You cannot manufacture trials," noted Andrew Tyndall, a consultant and analyst of television news. The good news for HLN, he said, is that it established itself as home for "the sensational trial." The bad news is that "we may have to wait for another five years for the next trial of the century."
For now, HLN is not sure what will be on its schedule in five days, much less five years. A spokeswoman for the network said it will focus on reaction to the verdict for the next few days, although whether audience interest will be as high remains to be seen.
Media coverage of the trial was blasted by Cheney Mason, one of Anthony's defense attorneys, who said he hoped that "this is a lesson to those of you have indulged in media assassination for three years." While he didn't call out Grace or HLN by name, Mason said he was sickened by "incompetent talking heads" and "disgusted" by lawyers who went on television to offer detailed opinions about a case that they were not involved in.
-- Joe Flint
Photos: Casey Anthony, top right, and her attorney Jose Baez react as the verdict is read. Credit: Getty Images; Nancy Grace heading into the Casey Anthony trial last month. Credit: Joe Burbank / Associated Press.