Networks swoon over Casey Anthony trial to fill summer void

Dylan Stableford

As coverage of the Casey Anthony murder trial moves into its fifth week, several television networks, led by ABC and HLN, have used the case to fill what would ordinarily be the start of a slow, post-Weinergate summer news cycle.

On "Good Morning America," ABC's chief legal analyst Dan Abrams has been regularly sparring with HLN's Nancy Grace over legal strategies. (The pair had at least one shouting match.) Meanwhile, a witness in the case testified on Tuesday that he was paid $15,000 by ABC News to license a snake photo. The witness, Roy Kronk, testified that he discovered the body of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony where he found a dead rattlesnake months before, and that ABC paid for the photo in exchange for an interview with him. "I was paid for a licensed picture of a snake," Kronk testified, "but I knew there would probably be an interview involved."

The practice is common in the news business and especially common at ABC. As Poynter points out, the network paid Casey Anthony $200,000 before she was charged with murder, for exclusive rights to video and photos--but ABC officials have denied specifically paying for interviews with her.

The trial has received exhaustive media attention in Orlando, where NBC's affiliate, WESH, has opted to stay with continuing Casey Anthony coverage instead of Wimbledon--shifting tennis to their CW-affiliated station WKCF. The only day NBC in Orlando will show Wimbledon is Sunday, when the trial is in recess.

As TYEyes.com noted, this is the second time this month that WESH has kicked NBC Sports coverage to the curb--putting U.S. Open golf on the CW affiliate, as well.

And the trial has attracted more than just tourists to the courthouse--it's attracted plenty of viewers.

For Grace and Headline News, coverage of the case has translated into a big boost in ratings. The CNN-owned cable network beat MSNBC in total viewers in June, averaging 982,000 in primetime (an increase of 86 percent) and 292,000 25-to-54-year-olds--the best month in its history. Headline News was also the #1 cable news network in total viewers and the coveted 25-54 demographic between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.--outperforming Fox News.

Grace's 8 p.m. show--No. 2 in its timeslot behind Fox News' Bill O'Reilly--had its best month ever in total viewers (1.5 million, up 87 percent) and was the third-most-watched cable news program among 25- to 54-year-olds in June.

And according to Headline News, Grace has added more than 37,000 fans on Facebook since the trial began.