Is Court TV a New Phenomenon?

It seems like nowadays there are so many people obsessed with true crime. There’s extremely popular podcasts, TV shows, videos, games, and even a whole community online of people fascinated by finding clues, creating theories and knowing more and more of these gut-wrenching stories. I’m one of those people who LOVE knowing about true crime. My dad thinks I’m actually insane, but the thing he doesn’t realize is that this isn’t a new phenomenon. 

Some of the ways we receive information has changed, but people have always been fascinated by true crime. I can think of multiple times during history that murders and true crime have captured the Nation’s attention. Think of how so many killers, murderers, rapists and kidnappers all got dubbed with different nicknames that were spread through thousands of newspapers and TV broadcasts: The Black Dahlia, The Zodiac Killer, The Night Stalker, Jack the Ripper, The Co-ed Killer, and so many more. There’s been so many different stories that everyone hears about, that affects them because they’re about children and it’s hard to hear but the public still listens like Jaycee Lee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, Jon Benet Ramsey, and Caylee Anthony. Most people at least recognize these names because the media will focus on these cases for so long that you end up remembering their names, their faces, details of what happened, etc. 

But there are two cases that stick out to me the most about how they captivated viewers attention across America with the help of Court TV. Court TV is a digital broadcast network and former American cable television channel. It was originally launched in 1991 with a focus on crime-themed programs such as true crime documentary series, legal dramas, and coverage of prominent criminal cases. Both of these trials were broadcasted on Court TV for months. Viewers were able to watch in their offices, at home, or essentially anywhere with a TV. Anyone who lived through this time period knows and remembers watching these non-stop in the mid-1990s: the Menendez Brothers and O.J. Simpson Trials.

The Menendez Brothers: 

Source: Getty Images

On the evening of August 20, 1989, José and Kitty Menendez were watching television when they were shot to death with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun in their Beverly Hills home. Lyle called 9-1-1 to report that he and his brother arrived home and found their parents dead. Lyle (then aged 21) and Erik (then aged 18) were eventually arrested in 1990 for the killings, and in 1993, the brothers were tried separately by different juries, each claiming self-defense due to years of abuse at the hands of both parents. Mistrials were declared in 1994 and both brothers were tried by one jury in the retrial that took place in 1995. Both were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1996.

The Menendez Brothers case received an unprecedented amount of attention through Court TV coverage of the initial trials and as a result, many became fascinated by the story. Nearly 30 years after the murders, the Menendez brothers remain an intriguing fixture in true crime history because questions still remain. In particular, what made them do it? A new A+E limited series, The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All, available on Hulu explores this very question embedded in the secrets of the dysfunctional Menendez family.

O.J. Simpson Case:

Source: The Sun

O.J. Simpson’s criminal trial for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, dubbed the "Trial of the Century," commenced with opening statements on January 24, 1995 and lasted until Simpson’s acquittal on October 3, 1995.

Murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman: On June 12, 1994, the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and a friend, Ronald Goldman, were found stabbed to death outside of her condominium in Los Angeles' Brentwood area. Evidence led police to suspect O.J. Simpson of the murders of Brown and Goldman.

Source: People

Bronco Chase: Simpson was ordered to surrender by 11 a.m. on June 17, but instead vanished. He was tracked down later in the day when he made a call from his cell phone on the Santa Ana Freeway. The police pursued, leading to a nationally televised slow-speed chase of a white Ford Bronco belonging to ex-NFL player Al "A.C." Cowlings, who was at the wheel while Simpson was in the backseat.

Source: NBC Los Angeles 

Arrest and Plea: Simpson finally surrendered voluntarily the evening of June 17 at his Brentwood mansion. Although he was found to be in possession of a gun, his passport, $9,000 in cash and a disguise, he insisted that he "wasn't running." Later, he pleaded "absolutely, positively, 100 percent not guilty" to the murder charges.

O.J. Simpson’s Dream Team Lawyers: Simpson assembled a legal "dream team" of lawyers that reportedly cost him an estimated $50,000 a day, which O.J. reportedly paid for in part by selling football memorabilia. The dream team was headed by Johnnie Cochran along with Robert Kardashian, Robert Shapiro, Barry Scheck, Alan Dershowitz and F. Lee Bailey. Despite strong evidence against Simpson, the lawyers successfully raised doubts about the handling of the evidence.

Source: Business Insider

On October 3, 1995, the jury found Simpson not guilty of either murder. It was one of the most-watched events in television history, with 150 million people tuning in to hear the verdict.

If you want more information on the O.J. Simpson case, there is the FX drama: The People vs. O.J. Simpson available on Netflix. 

These are just two stories, of many, that have captured the nation’s attention. I believe that the emergence of the “True Crime” genre is not new. There have been so many cases that have captured the same fascination. I believe that we just have more ways to investigate and hear of the details of each case. So, if any of your parents, like mine, want to judge you for your obsession with true crime, remind them that they probably watched both of these trials and probably had theories of their own and were essentially doing the exact same thing that we are today.