Life After Casey Anthony Verdict: What Will HLN Cover Next
Now that the Casey Anthony trial has ended with a stunning not guilty verdict in the death of two-year-old Caylee Anthony, HLN is strategizing ways to keep the ratings flame burning.
“There are always stories to be told,” said Scot Safon, executive vp of HLN. “So I don’t worry that this was our moment and now it’s gone. I think we have lots of stories to tell.”
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HLN’s Nancy Grace has arguably been the most prominent voice during the trial, railing against Casey Anthony and acting as a crusader for two-year-old Caylee. Grace has been covering the story on her primetime show since mid-2008, before Caylee Anthony’s remains were discovered in December 2008. Grace coined the derisive term “tot mom” for Casey Anthony. And she has been featured across the television spectrum – including on ABC News – as an expert on what many have dubbed the trial of the century.
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But other HLN anchors and correspondents have also gained valuable exposure during the trial including correspondents Ryan Smith and Vinnie Politan and anchor Jane Valez-Mitchell.
Outside the Orlando courtroom on Tuesday afternoon, crowds gathered with signs urging justice for Caylee Anthony. Some spectators had “Team Vinnie” and “Team Ryan” signs while both men posed for snapshots with their fans. They were even presented with babies to hold, said someone who was there.
HLN’s gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial propelled the network to its most-watched month ever in June; HLN even surpassing cable news leader Fox News during some daytime hours.
HLN averaged 982,000 total viewers with 292,000 in news’ target demographic of 25-54-year-olds for year-over-year gains of 86 percent and 79 percent, respectively. In total day, HLN averaged 601,000 total viewers with 192,000 in the demo for gains of 98 and 48 percent. Grace’s primetime show rose more than 80 percent in total viewers (1.5 million) and the demo (452,000) in June, putting her behind only Bill O’Reilly among cable news competitors at 8 p.m.
“For us, the question is not what do we do beyond Casey Anthony, it’s what are the right kinds of stories for us to tell,” added Safon, who also oversees HLN’s In Session, which was simulcast on Turner-owned truTV during the trial. “What can our experts on-air do the best job with and what kinds of stories will our audience be talking about every day?”
Some of those stories will include the ongoing manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor Conrad Murray as well as the trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, which is scheduled to begin later this month in Texas.
Safon added that viewers who sampled HLN during the trial also got to see network personalities including Dr. Drew Pinsky (whose primetime show airs at 9 p.m.) and Joy Behar (who is on at 10 p.m.). Pinsky has also been on hand during daytime hours to comment on the psychological aspects of the trial. Safon said viewers have stayed with HLN in primetime when trial coverage has wrapped. In June, HLN overtook MSNBC in primetime to become the second-ranked cable news network for the month behind Fox News. And Safon is hopeful that that trend continues now that the verdict is in.
The Casey Anthony trial, he said. “is a water-cooler story. But there were also huge personal stakes in this story. It was a watershed moment for us because people got to see the kinds of stories that this brand cares about.”