Casey Anthony trial tests boundaries of court TV

By Chris Ariens 

NBC's Kerry Sanders covers the Casey Anthony trial from Orlando.

Part 1 of 2: In the pre-dawn hours this week and last, hundreds of people have gotten in line at the Orange County Courthouse, hoping to get one of 50 front-row seats to the trial of Casey Anthony. Millions more at home have been glued to their TV sets watching gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial of a mother accused of killing her daughter, three years after the crime.

It’s the kind of court TV that hasn’t been seen since the days of, well, CourtTV.

“Short of O.J. Simpson, I have not come across a case with the level of mystery, intrigue and outrage that Ms. Anthony’s story offers,” says Ashleigh Banfield, a veteran of CourtTV and NBC News, who is covering the trial for ABC News.

NBC’s Miami-based correspondent Kerry Sanders has been covering this story since day one, reporting on Caylee Anthony‘s disappearance for the “Today” show from her bedroom in June 2008. “In 30-years, I’ve covered my share of trials from ‘the outlaws’ motor cycle gang, to political corruption, to pedophile murderers. This is by far the story with the most viewer attention ever,” Sanders tells TVNewser.

While gavel-to-gavel coverage has been a staple on TruTV’s “In Session” and on HLN, Orlando stations have also been carrying live trial coverage, pre-empting soap operas and talk shows.

Bob Jordan, news director of ABC affiliate WFTV, tells TVNewser more people watched the trial on his station as well as on Fox O&O WOFL and cable station CFN13 combined, than watched the Miami Heat – Dallas Mavericks NBA playoff game in prime time last night.

WFTV’s afternoon trial coverage is attracting more viewers than ABC’s soap operas and has “greatly exceeded” re-runs of “The Oprah Winfrey” show at 4pm, Jordan says.

And the interest goes beyond TV.

WKMG, the CBS affiliate in Orlando, covers the Casey Anthony trial.

“The media attention seems to grow in ways that are very 2011,” says Sanders. “I’m seeing more blogs, internet postings and on-line discussions, and of course tweets.”

“Viewer interest in the trial of Casey Anthony is very high,” says WFTV’s Jordan. “Not just on television, but on line, as well. We exceeded 2 million page views yesterday.”

“We streamed the opening statements on MSNBC,” says Sanders, “but that would be natural for us. Why was there a local station in Spartenburg, South Carolina steaming this? Because people are interested — could a 22-year-old mother really have murdered her 2-year old daughter just to go out and party?” Sanders asks.

And with the trial, hopefully some answers.

Says Banfield, “I don’t think it is a circus so much as it is an exercise in introspection of a member of society who fell woefully far from the reaches of acceptable social morays, whether she killed her child intentionally or not.”

This is day 9 of Casey Anthony’s first degree murder trial — a trial that is expected to last 8 weeks.

In part 2, we’ll report on the impact of the Casey Anthony trial on HLN.