TV news divisions are giving their all for the next big "get." After seeing the courtroom sagas of Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox play out over the last two years, the networks sense a huge audience will tune in to see what they have to say. Also high on the interview wish list are Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician on trial for the involuntary manslaughter of pop legend Michael Jackson, and incarcerated Ponzi scheme artist Bernie Madoff. So who will they talk to?
The Florida mother exonerated for the murder of her daughter is the trickiest booking, as her reps are looking for a big payday. In the past, networks have shelled out dollars for video or photos to get interview access. But no one wants to appear to be in business with Anthony, who is reviled by the public. One veteran of the morning-show wars says Anthony's lawyers have agents trying to tie a book deal to a TV interview and have approached NBC News about helping make it happen. NBC's status as the network news leader would help them weather any criticism of a deal, which, according to the producer, is largely hypocritical: "Everybody wants to hear from Casey Anthony even though they say they don't."
The American student imprisoned for four years in Italy before her murder conviction was vacated is being courted by ABC, CBS and NBC. But Knox doesn't need to seek payment from a network. "The family is going to make money," says one producer who has worked on the story. "They are going to sell a book and movie rights." Where she goes to talk depends on relationships and star power. ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas has covered the story vigorously and one of the bookers for Good Morning America has become a family friend. NBC sent a strong message by dispatching Today coanchor Matt Lauer to cover Knox's last court hearing. While ABC or NBC are considered the favorites, CBS has offered Knox a platform on 60 Minutes, which can deliver a huge audience and give the salacious story some stature. "It will get an amazing rating," the producer notes.
The demonized doctor already has a deal with British documentary filmmakers who, industry sources say, are shopping their film, plus a live interview with Murray, for $1 million. "I don't know if he's worth that much money," says one morning-show vet. "Not that many people want to hear from him."
His wife and kids have spoken out on 60 Minutes, Today and 20/20. But there's still a demand to get Madoff, which would require getting around the ban on cameras in federal prison. He has spoken with journalists off camera, including a recent two-hour chat with Barbara Walters. That won't stop him from talking again, says one producer: "He would love to have a camera in there."