Dan Abrams Launching Online Video Network Devoted to Live Court Trials

Dan Abrams - Southside With You Screening - Getty - H - 2016
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Dan Abrams, ABC News' chief legal analyst and the founder of Mediaite, is set on Monday to debut a new online video channel that will expand LawNewz and bring live coverage of trials and other court hearings.

The new over-the-top network is inspired by Abrams' time at Court TV,  which launched in 1991 and was credited with popularizing the nation's true-crime obsession, until about a decade ago when Time Warner changed the cable network's name to TruTV and switched its focus. Now with a nation that's again attuned to jurisprudence — as seen by the popularity of Netflix's hit, Making a Murderer, and a recent live-stream of appellate hearings concerning President Donald Trump's immigration order — Abrams is betting that the time is right for another big platform giving viewers an opportunity to witness what's happening at criminal and civil trials.

"Court TV, by the end of its run, couldn't justify 24/7 coverage of live trials," he says. "But I think the advantage we have is one, we already cover legal news, and two, the internet is a different animal. A niche market is better suited for the web. We also don't have to do the numbers that a cable network has to do."

Abrams is taking some cues from Cheddar, a video business network aimed at millennials. He's set up a studio and has eight staffers preparing for the launch. The team includes longtime Court TV/CNN reporter and former prosecutor Beth Karas, Fox News legal analyst Heather Hansen, LawNewz columnist Elura Nanos and attorney Aaron Keller, who became known for his work during the Making a Murderer trials of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.

The initial plan is to broadcast live between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., with coverage then repeating overnight. The LawNewz Network will have anchors guiding analysis and wrapped-around live looks into courtroom proceedings. The first cases include the murder trial of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, which begins March 1, and the rape and assault trial of the MMA fighter known as War Machine, beginning Feb. 27.

The popularity of Court TV waned partly because of a lack of good trials to show. The O.J. Simpson case in the 1990s made judges a lot more hesitant about allowing live coverage, though two decades later, cameras in the courtroom are being reexamined. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, began live-streaming in 2016, which resulted in the Trump immigration hearing going viral earlier this month.

In connection with the new video network, Abrams says he expects to be filing motions in court cases to permit cameras. The topic also may come up during the coming confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

"We have been seeing a real interest in trial streams," says Abrams, who will be appearing on the network Monday and says LawNewz' experimentation with broadcasting murder trials has garnered about 3 million views. "I'm amazed we will be first to do this to some degree."