UPDATE 1:17 PM: The TV news community swarmed over the guilty verdict against Dr. Conrad Murray, convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson in June 2009. CBS/2, NBC/4, KTLA/5, ABC/7, KCAL/9, Fox/11, CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Fox News and truTV all covered the verdict live from the Los Angeles Criminal Court in Downtown L.A. Murray had no visible reaction to the news, while cameras showed celebration among the sign-wielding crowd gathered outside the court. In the wake of the verdict, those hoping for conviction were interviewed all over the local news dial, while on cable news pundits and legal experts held court with opinion and reaction. The exceptions were Fox News, which quickly went back to its scheduled news rotation, and KCOP/13 locally, which opted to stick with its Bewitched rerun. Murray was handcuffed in court; his sentencing date is November 29.
There were shades of the momentous O.J. Simpson criminal verdict of Oct. 3, 1995, though clearly on a far smaller scale. Within 30 minutes of the announcement, TV captured an oddly jubilant mood outside the courthouse, with the Jackson hit Beat It blasting on one fan’s boombox over ABC/7 (ironic since the defendant clearly didn’t beat the rap). On KCAL/9, one woman who claimed to have been present 16 years before at the Simpson verdict noted, “The jurors this time looked like they were going fishing to me. For the O.J. trial, the jurors all wore their Sunday best.” And even though the jurors and defense attorneys were not made immediately available for interviews, TV news largely stuck with the wall-to-wall Murray verdict coverage for more than an hour after the announcement. That included a press conference just after 2 p.m. with L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley and lead prosecutor David Walgren. However, by 2:30 PM, all stations and networks had returned to regular programming aside from KCAL/9 and HLN.
It was also announced this afternoon that Michael Jackson and the Doctor: A Fatal Friendship, a documentary featuring exclusive interview footage with and access to Dr. Murray, will premiere Friday at 10 PM ET/PT on MSNBC. The doc includes an interview with Murray conducted by UK broadcaster Steve Hewlett on Oct. 30, said to be the only interview he has agreed to or will grant in the wake of the verdict. The show is produced by October Films and what’s it all about? productions in association with Zodiac Rights.
PREVIOUS, 12:56 PM: Television news shifted into Dr. Conrad Murray mode just after 11 this morning after it was announced that a verdict had been reached in the involuntary manslaughter trial over the death of Michael Jackson. With the news that the jury’s verdict will be read at 1 PM PT, the feeding frenzy commenced: Locally in Los Angeles, NBC/4, KTLA/5, ABC/7, KCAL/9 and Fox/11 all cut live to the L.A. Criminal Courthouse downtown to cover the breaking story commercial-free, as did CNN, HLN and truTV with pictures, speculation and interviews with the multitudes gathered in front of the courthouse. The networks all prepped to both stoke the suspense and capture the tension of the moment.
Notably, CBS/2 didn’t break away from The Young And The Restless, nor did KCOP/13 from its regular programming (including reruns of I Love Lucy and Bewitched). And interestingly, Fox News and MSNBC covered the breaking story as a part of their larger newscasts and not exclusively. Murray is accused of causing Jackson’s death after administering an overdose of the drug propofol, prescribed to treat Jackson’s insomnia. The upcoming verdict culminates a weeks-long trial and two days of jury deliberations. If convicted, Murray could be sentenced to four years in prison.