The Biz: Court TV tries to spice up Saturday

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She first entered the spotlight as an actor on ABC's "NYPD Blue," but later switched to do local news in Albuquerque for $26,000 per year. Now Andrea Thompson is trying a role somewhere in the middle: Ms. Saturday Night on Court TV.

Court TV is attempting to stamp the night as the "Saturday Night Solution," which would be a mini-brand within its new focus on investigations. Thompson will make brief on-air appearances as she guides viewers through a prime-time of documentary-style shows up to 11 p.m. when she'll sign off and her old beat, "NYPD Blue," comes on.

Thompson's appearances will be in the vein of what the hosts do on TBS' "Dinner & A Movie"-where they lead viewers along-but may progress to stints as involved as a live interview with a subject on a show. "It's info-entertainment," Thompson says. "Americans want to meld their information with entertainment."

promo voice

Her role won't be limited to on-camera activity. She'll also serve as the James Earl Jones of Court TV. Jones has become known for his "This is CNN" voice-over and Thompson will be the voice of promos on the network. (While at CNN's sibling network Headline News after Albuquerque, she did the voice-overs there.)

Hiring Thompson, who first started making appearances on Court TV this summer, is the latest attempt by the network to boost ratings among the advertiser-coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic. Vanity Fair crime chronicler Dominick Dunne's new series, "Power, Privilege and Justice" has brought a celebrated presence to the network. And the network struck a promotional deal with NBC, the leading broadcaster in the 18-49 demo, where later this month NBC will begin airing Court TV's show "Forensic Files" on four consecutive Sundays. Court TV hopes a wider audience will catch it and then keep watching on its network.

"The whole idea behind Saturday night is to create a destination for advertisers, to give them a place to be associated with the programming," says Andy Verderame, Court TV's VP-creative services. The Thompson hire is Verderame's brainchild; he came up with the idea while looking for a way to promote "Blue," which airs nightly on the network.

"She's a recognizable face that's attractive and intelligent," says Court TV's Charlie Collier, exec VP-ad sales. "Some people may not remember where, but they know her."

Indeed, viewers may pause before recalling where they know her. Her hair is longer than it was when she was Detective Jill Kirkendall on "Blue" for four seasons. In 2001, she left to pursue what she said was a dream of being a TV journalist and took a job in the Albuquerque market. Then, a year later, as Jamie Kellner was revamping CNN's Headline News, he brought Thompson on as a prime-time anchor. That created controversy on several fronts.

some scandal

Some said Thompson had risen so far so fast not because of any journalistic skills, but on her star power. And then word got out that she had posed nude and appeared nude in a movie. Thompson left Headline News in March because she says she wanted to pursue long-form TV. Since then, besides joining Court TV, she's started a production company where she wants to produce documentaries that focus on social issues. She hopes to produce some documentaries for Court TV; she may also host a show for the net.

Reflecting back on the publicity swirls that ensued when she joined the Albuquerque station and then Headline News, she's unbowed by the criticism that came her way. "[News] is a product," she says. "Like any other product, if you don't give the viewers what they want, they will go elsewhere."

And regarding the hubbub about the photos, Thompson says she was frustrated how they may have obscured things. "I really resented that my entire career was reduced to a series of nude photographs," she says.

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