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The 11 Most-Watched Television Trials

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For 17 weeks, couch-lounging court-watchers have sat transfixed as the trial of Jodi Arias—the crazy-eyed photographer/Mormon/vixen accused of murdering her boyfriend, Travis Alexander—has unfolded. Approximately 500,000 viewers have tuned in to HLN (sister channel to TruTV, formerly known as Court TV) daily, as coverage of the often-salacious case has permeated every corner of the cable news channel’s programming.

Throughout the day, courtroom cameras roll nonstop, with the “action” paused and restarted only for commercial breaks (which one anchor proudly announces as “time to pay the bills”) and quick commentator analysis. And just in case viewers were panicked at the thought that they may have missed one second of testimony, the channel’s production team has created enormous on-screen “Play” and “Pause” buttons in order to allay any such fears.

Regular programming has ceased to cover much but the Arias trial and they’ve even added a special late-night talk show, HLN After Dark: The Jodi Arias Trial, in which lawyers argue a new “bold accusation” nightly (Did Jodi torture Travis? Is Jodi a sexual deviant?), while a group of 12 fake jurors decide on the outcome. Mock trials haven’t been this fun since Arrested Development.

Of course, Arias isn’t the first defendant-turned-small-screen-staple. On April 11, 1961, the trial of war criminal Adolf Eichmann was the first to be completely televised. Here are 11 of the most-watched since then.

1. Ted Bundy, 1979

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Shortly before he was executed in 1989, convicted serial killer Ted Bundy copped to murdering 30 women across the country between 1974 and 1978 (though some believe the true number to be more than that). Handsome and charismatic, Bundy’s arrest and subsequent showboating made worldwide headlines (he was assigned five court-appointed attorneys, but the former law student insisted on leading his own defense, speaking in the third person and everything). More than 250 journalists from around the globe descended on Miami in the summer of 1979, when proceedings began in the case of the Chi Omega murders—where Bundy broke into a sorority house at Florida State University and attacked four women in less than 15 minutes, killing two of them. Bundy’s trial was the first to be televised nationally, and it didn’t end well for him; a guilty verdict brought him two death sentences, with a third following six months later after a separate trial in Orlando.

2. William Kennedy Smith, 1991

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Much like the O.J. Simpson trial, a famous last (or, more accurately, middle) name fueled public interest—and goosed viewer ratings—in the case of William Kennedy Smith, the 30-year-old Kennedy clan member charged with rape following what he professed was a consensual sexual encounter in Palm Beach, Florida. CNN’s broadcast of the trial—in which Smith was acquitted of all charges—was deemed a victory for televised courtroom proceedings, as it gave everyday viewers an up-close look at how the American justice system truly operates.

3. Jeffrey Dahmer, 1992

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When it came time for cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer to stand trial for the murder of 15 boys and men, Court TV was there—but on a 10-second delay, in order to carefully edit out those exhibits and discussions that might be too disturbing to viewers. On February 17, 1992, more than 60 global news organizations were on hand to broadcast the guilty verdict. Dahmer was sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences for his crimes; on November 28, 1994, he was beaten to death by a fellow prison inmate.

4. The Officers who assaulted Rodney King, 1992

From the violent beating that begat the trial of four LAPD officers to the explosive riots that occurred in the wake of the verdict, the brutal assault of construction worker Rodney King went beyond “gavel-to-gavel” coverage. Assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force were the charges lodged against four officers, whose attack on King following a high-speed chase was caught on video by a nearby resident and ignited a national conversation on police brutality. On April 29, 1992, the acquittal of the officers sparked immediate riots around Los Angeles, in which 54 people were killed, 2328 were injured and more than 7000 fires were ignited causing $900 million in property damage.

5. Lyle and Erik Menendez, 1993

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Just two years after its launch, noted journalist and media entrepreneur Steve Brill landed his first big courtroom coup when his Court TV (which changed its name to TruTV in 2008) broadcast the high-profile trial of Lyle and Erik Menendez, a.k.a. The Menendez Brothers. With cameras rolling and millions of viewers watching, the brothers’ sordid defense for killing their wealthy parents—claiming dad was an abusive pedophile and mom was a self-absorbed drug addict—turned the proceeding into worldwide media fodder, particularly as the brothers were tried together (though a separate jury decided each one’s fate). In the end both juries were deadlocked, leading to a second trial in 1995, in which no cameras were allowed. The second time around, it took only four days for the brothers to be convicted—both on two counts of first-degree murder—and sentenced to life in prison.

6. O.J. Simpson, 1995

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Interest in the trial of O.J. Simpson—who was accused of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman—was certainly bolstered by the ex-NFL star and occasional-actor’s celebrity status. The trial also made a household name of Johnnie Cochran, Simpson’s prone-to-theatrics defense attorney, who famously declared during his closing arguments, in reference to a pair of gloves assumed to be used by the killer that did not fit The Juice’s hands, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” The jury agreed, delivering a “Not Guilty” verdict as more than 100 million interested parties watched from home (which is about as many people as tuned in for the 2010 Super Bowl). 

7. Phil Spector, 2007 & 2009

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Court TV was on the scene for yet another celebrity trial when legendary music producer Phil Spector was prosecuted in the murder of actress Lana Clarkson, whom he claimed committed suicide at his residence. Truth be told, Spector’s bizarre behavior and collection of wild wigs may have drawn the most attention during this trial, which ended with a hung jury. Cameras were not allowed into the court for his 2009 retrial, where the jury declared Spector guilty of murder in the second degree.

8. Lindsay Lohan, 2010

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TV trials went high-tech in 2010, when troublemaking trainwreck Lindsay Lohan was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 90 days in rehab for repeatedly violating the terms of her probation (following two arrests for drunk driving in 2007). TMZ.com attracted a record number of viewers when 2.3 million people logged on to watch the verdict stream live from the courtroom on July 7, 2010.

9. Casey Anthony, 2011

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If it weren’t for polarizing personality Nancy Grace—a former prosecutor and now HLN’s most popular host and legal commentator—the case of Casey Anthony, the young Florida mom charged with murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee Marie, might not have been such a national cultural obsession. Largely spurred by Grace’s outrage over the case (in which she nicknamed the defendant “Tot Mom”), HLN offered all-Casey coverage all the time for the entire six weeks of the trial—not to mention the hundreds of hours logged analyzing the evidence in the three years that elapsed between Casey’s arrest and the final verdict. In the 15 minutes it took for the jury to announce its acquittal of the 25-year-old, 5.2 million people watched the verdict on HLN, bringing in the channel’s highest-ever ratings (to this day). Grace’s response to the judgment? “The devil is dancing tonight.”

10. Dr. Conrad Murray, 2011

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Just three months after the Casey Anthony trial concluded, HLN attempted to recapture ratings glory by presenting beginning-to-end coverage of the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. While viewership never reached Anthony-level highs, it did boost the channel’s October ratings by 98 percent over the same month the previous year, with 2.1 million people tuning in to watch the verdict read live.

11. Jodi Arias, 2013

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Comparisons to Casey Anthony began almost immediately after Jodi Arias was arrested: Both defendants are attractive young women prone to lying and accused of murdering a close confidante. Even as the trial enters its 17th week, Arias remains HLN’s highest priority. Day and night, all of the channel’s regular programming (including “Showbiz Tonight,” its entertainment-themed late-night show) focuses primarily on the Arias case, with a series of talking head psychologists, legal experts and regular court-watchers weighing in with their opinions and analyses. With closing arguments set for next Thursday and Friday, the live verdict audience is sure to trump the currently average daily viewership of around 435,000.

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8 Gonzo Facts About Hunter S. Thompson
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Hunter S. Thompson in Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
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Like any real-life legend, there are many myths surrounding the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson. But in Thompson’s case, most of those stories—particularly the more outlandish ones—are absolutely true. The founder of the “Gonzo journalism” movement is one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. In celebration of what would have been his 80th birthday, here are some things you might not have known about the eccentric writer.

1. HE WAS NAMED AFTER A FAMOUS SCOTTISH SURGEON.

Hunter S. Thompson was reportedly named after one of his mother’s ancestors, a Scottish surgeon named Nigel John Hunter. But Hunter wasn't just your run-of-the-mill surgeon. In a 2004 interview with the Independent, Thompson brought along a copy of The Reluctant Surgeon, a Biography of Nigel John Hunter, a biography of his namesake, which read: "A gruff Scotsman, Hunter has been described as the most important naturalist between Aristotle and Darwin, the Shakespeare of medicine and the greatest man the British ever produced. He was the first to trace the lymphatic system. He performed the first human artificial insemination. He was the greatest collector of anatomical specimens in history. He prescribed the orthopaedic shoe that allowed Lord Byron to walk."

When pressed about what that description had to do with him, Thompson responded: "Well, I guess that might be the secret of my survival. Good genes."

2. HE MISSED HIS HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION … BECAUSE HE WAS IN JAIL.

Just a few weeks before he was set to graduate from high school, at the age of 17, Thompson was charged as an accessory to robbery and sentenced to 60 days in jail. 

“One night Ralston Steenrod, who was in the Athenaeum with Hunter, was driving, and Hunter and another guy he knew were in the car,” Thompson’s childhood friend Neville Blakemore recalled of the incident. “As they were driv­ing through Cherokee Park, the other guy said, ‘Stop. I want to bum a ciga­rette from that car.’ People used to go park and neck at this spot. And the guy got out and apparently went back and mugged them. The guy who was mugged got their license number and traced the car, and within a very short time they were all three arrested.

“Just before this Hunter had been blamed for a nighttime gas-station rob­bery,” Blakemore added, “and before that he and some friends got arrested for buying booze under­age at Abe's Liquor Store on Frankfort Avenue by the tracks. So Hunter had a record, and he was already on probation. He was given an ultimatum: jail or the military. And Hunter took the Air Force. He didn't graduate with his class.”

3. IT WAS A FELLOW JOURNALIST WHO COINED THE TERM “GONZO.”

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While covering the 1968 New Hampshire primary, Thompson met fellow writer and editor Bill Carodoso, editor of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, which is where Thompson first heard him use the word “Gonzo.” “It meant sort of ‘crazy’ or ‘off-the-wall,’” Thompson said in Anita Thompson’s Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S. Thompson. Two years later, in June 1970, Thompson wrote an article for Scanlan’s Monthly entitled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which became a game-changing moment in journalism because of its offbeat, slightly manic style that was written with first-person subjectivity.

Among the many fellow journalists who praised Thompson for the piece was Cardoso, who sent a letter to Thompson that “said something like, ‘Forget all the sh*t you’ve been writing, this is it; this is pure Gonzo.’ Gonzo. Yeah, of course. That’s what I was doing all the time. Of course, I might be crazy.” Thompson ran with the word, and would use it himself for the first time a year later, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

4. HE TYPED OUT FAMOUS NOVELS TO LEARN THE ART OF WRITING.

In order to get the “feel” of being a writer, Thompson used to retype his favorite novels in full. “[H]is true model and hero was F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker. “He used to type out pages from The Great Gatsby, just to get the feeling, he said, of what it was like to write that way, and Fitzgerald’s novel was continually on his mind while he was working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was published, after a prolonged and agonizing compositional nightmare, in 1972.”

"If you type out somebody's work, you learn a lot about it,” Thompson told Charlie Rose in 1997. “Amazingly it's like music. And from typing out parts of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald—these were writers that were very big in my life and the lives of the people around me—so yeah, I wanted to learn from the best I guess."

5. HE RAN FOR SHERIFF IN COLORADO.

In 1970, Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado on what he called the Freak Power ticket. Among his political tactics: shaving his head so that he could refer to his opponent as his “long-haired opponent,” promising to eat mescaline while on duty, and campaigning to rename Aspen “Fat City” to deter "greed heads, land-rapers, and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name 'Aspen.'" Unfortunately, he lost.

6. HE STOLE A MEMENTO FROM ERNEST HEMINGWAY.

In 1964, three years after Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at his cabin in Ketchum, Idaho, Thompson traveled to the late author’s home in order to write “What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?” While there, according to his widow, Hunter “got caught up in the moment” and took “a big pair of elk horns over the front door.” Last year, more than a decade after Thompson’s death, Anita returned the antlers to the Hemingway family—which is something she and Hunter had always planned to do. “They were warm and kind of tickled … they were so open and grateful, there was no weirdness,” Anita said.

7. HE ONCE USED THE INSIDE OF MUSICIAN JOHN OATES’ COLORADO CABIN AS HIS PERSONAL PARKING SPACE.

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Earlier this month, musician John Oates—the latter half of Hall & Oates—shared a story about his ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado, just outside of Aspen, which is currently on the market for $6 million. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio, Oates recalled how when he first purchased the cabin, there was a red convertible parked inside. “I happened to ask the real estate agent who owned the convertible, and he said ‘your neighbor Hunter Thompson,’” Oates said. “Why is he keeping his car in a piece of property he doesn’t own? The real estate agent looked at me and said ‘It’s Woody Creek, you’ll figure this out. It’s a different kind of place.’” After sending several letters to his neighbor to retrieve his vehicle, Oates took matters into his own hands and deposited the car on Thompson’s lawn. Oates said that the two became friends, but never mentioned the incident.

8. AT HIS FUNERAL, HIS ASHES WERE SHOT OUT OF A CANNON.

On February 20, 2005—at the age of 67—Thompson committed suicide. But Thompson wasn’t about to leave this world quietly. In August of that year, in accordance with his wishes, Thompson's ashes were shot into the air from a cannon while fireworks filled the sky.

“He loved explosions," his widow, Anita, told ESPN, which wrote that, “The private celebration included actors Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, rock bands, blowup dolls and plenty of liquor to honor Thompson, who killed himself six months ago at the age of 67.”

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15 Memorable Quotes from George A. Romero
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Hollywood has lost one of its most iconic horror innovators with the death of George A. Romero, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 77. “He died peacefully in his sleep, following a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer, and leaves behind a loving family, many friends, and a filmmaking legacy that has endured, and will continue to endure, the test of time,” his manager, Chris Roe, said in a statement.

Though he rose to prominence as the master of zombie flicks, beginning with Night of the Living Dead, Romero honed his filmmaking skills on a far less frightening set: shooting bits for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

“I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made,” Romero once said. “What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.” (Rogers returned the favor by being a longtime champion of Romero’s work—and even called Dawn of the Dead “a lot of fun.”)

It’s that high-spirited sense of fun that made Romero’s work so iconic—and kept the New York City native busy for nearly 50 years. To celebrate his life and career, here are 15 of his most memorable quotes on everything from the humanity of zombies to the horror of Hollywood producers.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A SENSE OF HUMOR

“For a Catholic kid in parochial school, the only way to survive the beatings—by classmates, not the nuns—was to be the funny guy.”

ON THE HOLLYWOOD WAY

“If I fail, the film industry writes me off as another statistic. If I succeed, they pay me a million bucks to fly out to Hollywood and fart.”

ON BEING PIGEONHOLED

“As a filmmaker you get typecast just as much as an actor does, so I'm trapped in a genre that I love, but I'm trapped in it!”

ON ZOMBIES AS A METAPHOR

“I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.”

ON FINDING OBJECTIVITY AS A FILMMAKER

“There are so many factors when you think of your own films. You think of the people you worked on it with, and somehow forget the movie. You can't forgive the movie for a long time. It takes a few years to look at it with any objectivity and forgive its flaws.”

ON THE REAL VALUE OF THE INTERNET

“What the Internet's value is that you have access to information but you also have access to every lunatic that's out there that wants to throw up a blog.”

ON THE HORROR OF DEALING WITH PRODUCERS

“I'll never get sick of zombies. I just get sick of producers.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION

“Collaborate, don’t dictate.”

ON THE BEAUTY OF LOW-BUDGET MOVIEMAKING

“I don't think you need to spend $40 million to be creepy. The best horror films are the ones that are much less endowed.”

ON HUMANS BEING THE REAL VILLAINS

“My zombies will never take over the world because I need the humans. The humans are the ones I dislike the most, and they're where the trouble really lies.”

ON BEING IMMUNE TO TRENDS

“Somehow I've been able to keep standing and stay in my little corner and do my little stuff and I'm not particularly affected by trends or I'm not dying to make a 3-D movie or anything like that. I'm just sort of happy to still be around.”

ON THE HUMANITY OF HORROR

“My stories are about humans and how they react, or fail to react, or react stupidly. I'm pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies. I try to respect and sympathize with the zombies as much as possible.”

ON THE ENDURING APPEAL OF HORROR

“If one horror film hits, everyone says, 'Let's go make a horror film.' It's the genre that never dies.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SURROUNDING ZOMBIES WITH STUPID PEOPLE

“A zombie film is not fun without a bunch of stupid people running around and observing how they fail to handle the situation.”

ON LIFE AFTER DEATH

“I'm like my zombies. I won't stay dead!”

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