Larry Watson
November 09, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Court TV will begin airing reruns of “Homicide” on weeknights at 9 p.m. starting Jan. 1, making it the first fictional drama to appear on the network. (The O.J. case just seemed like a soap opera.) This is a big divergence from the station’s usual real-life prosecutathon, but its execs don’t think audiences will mind. “Our viewers are familiar with Court TV for the level of intelligence it presents,” says a network spokesperson. “And ‘Homicide’ is a very smart show.” But why “Homicide” and not a show that actually takes place in a courtroom, like “Law & Order”? “‘Homicide’ presents one element of the justice system, and we have other shows that present the other angles,” adds the rep. “The goal is to have a spectrum of programming that identifies every single area involved with the law.”

The announcement comes less than two months after the arrival of the network’s new president, Henry Schleiff, who has vowed to invigorate the seven-year-old station, which is reportedly one of the lowest-rated in cable. He has suggested that Court TV will soon present more reality-based programming from outside the courtroom, like interviews with death-row inmates and profiles of infamous crooks. Johnnie Cochran, who previously hosted the network’s middling “Cochran & Company,” will discuss cases with experts and celebrities on the new, glossier “Johnnie Cochran Live,” which will be “Homicide”‘s lead-in.

TV experts give the network’s new strategy a winning verdict. “They have to do it to attract an audience, but equally importantly, to attract advertisers,” says William Croasdale of the media-buying firm Western International Media. “Prime time is where your greatest potential is, and the courts aren’t open then, so Court TV is going to have to go to fiction.” Hey, maybe the rights to “She’s the Sheriff” are still available.

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