Networks out in full force for hearing

Updated: August 6, 2003, 11:30 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- In a sign of the intense media spotlight that awaits him, six cable TV networks provided live coverage Wednesday of Kobe Bryant's brief court appearance on the sexual assault charge against him.

The cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC -- were joined by Court TV, ESPN and E! Entertainment Television to monitor the NBA star's appearance in Eagle County court in Colorado.

"All this media coverage for two words," said MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, a former sportscaster who cut short his vacation to anchor his network's coverage. Bryant addressed Judge Frederick Gannett once in waiving his right to a quick hearing.

A few hours later, Bryant appeared on Fox in prime time to accept a Teen Choice Award as favorite male athlete. The awards show was taped Saturday.

"We're flying through some dark clouds," the Los Angeles Lakers guard said. "With God's will, the sun will rise and shine again. Thanks for your support, thanks for your prayers."

The Los Angeles-area audience cheered Bryant, although some boos were audible. Bryant, wearing a Muhammad Ali T-shirt, briefly gave a clenched-fist salute and also flashed a peace sign.

The court appearance led the sports network ESPN to bring in former CNN legal expert Roger Cossack for analysis, and E! to briefly stop talking about hairstyles and celebrity dating -- proof Bryant's celebrity cuts across several worlds.

The quick, procedural hearing tested the TV networks' ability to think of things to say. Fox News Channel discussed the meaning of Bryant's wife's absence. Court TV dissected his clothing. And Olbermann, broadly reaching, connected Bryant's exit in an SUV to O.J. Simpson's Ford Bronco.

CNN talked about the crowd that shouted at Bryant as he left the courtroom.

"Kobe Bryant was greeted with cheers and boos as if it were, in fact, forgive the expression, a sporting event," anchor Lou Dobbs said.

Court TV measures public interest in the case not just in ratings, but in how much its anchors and reporters are in demand to come talk about the case on other networks, said Court TV president Art Bell.

The network expanded Catherine Crier's nightly newscast for the hearing and scheduled a prime-time documentary on the case.

It's a fascinating case that not only delves into the nuances of what is or isn't sexual assault but puts a spotlight on how society treats sports heroes, Bell said.

"I think there is a whole lot of interest," said Mark Effron, vice president of live news programming at MSNBC. "It's one of those stories that is the nexus of a lot of different points."

Familiar faces from past big trials made reappearances throughout the television day, including Jeffrey Toobin and Nancy Grace on CNN and Dan Abrams on MSNBC. Fox News Channel showed a picture of its satellite truck to illustrate a segment on the attention given to the case.

Bryant's legal troubles have pushed aside, at least for a time, cable news' previous obsession: the Laci Peterson murder case from California. A reporter MSNBC recently hired to cover the Peterson case, Sumi Das, was sent to Colorado instead.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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