A Timeline of Real Trials Shown on TV
Compiled by: James Bufalino and Ashley Moran
Over the past two decades, no trial airing on TV has captivated audiences as much as the O.J. Simpson trial. The FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson brought the case back into the limelight, casting well-known actors in the roles of real people and offering (mostly accurate) details about the case. As Season 1 comes to a close on Tuesday, April 5, we look back at when some of the biggest trials involving absurd celebs, alleged murderers and accused terrorists were shown on TV.
Bruno Richard Hauptmann
The first major trial covered by newsreel cameras is that of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the kidnapper/murderer of the Lindbergh baby. Film footage plays—TV-like—in 10,000 of the nation’s 14,000 movie theaters.
Cameras Allowed in Courtrooms
Cameras allowed in an Oklahoma courtroom; edited footage aired.
Nation riveted by the political circus known as the Army-McCarthy hearings.
First Trial Televised Live
First live TV broadcast of a trial takes place in Waco, Texas.
Robert F. Kennedy vs. Jimmy Hoffa
All eyes are on the Senate’s McClellan committee hearings featuring Robert F. Kennedy’s accusations of corruption against Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters Union.
Ongoing coverage of the congressional investigation into Watergate.
Serial killer Ted Bundy foes on trial with extensive television coverage.
Claus von Bulow
Claus von Bulow’s first TV trial ends in his conviction for the attempted murder of his now-comatose wife, Sunny. CNN broadcasters his 1985 retrial, in which he is acquitted.
Trial That Inspired The Accused
CNN carries live coverage of a Massachusetts gang-rape trial, the case that became the basis for the movie The Accused.
Judge Robert Bork
Televised coverage of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Robert Bork.
TV coverage of the congressional investigation into the Iran-contra affair. Featuring testimony by Oliver North.
Gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial of Pamela Smart, a New Hampshire teacher accused of having her student/lover murder her husband.
Court TV covers the hearing of Christian Brando, son of Marlon, accused of the murder of his half-sister’s boyfriend.
Recently-nominated Supreme Court judge Clarence Thomas is accused by former assistant Anita Hill of sexual harassment.
Riots ensue shortly after the TV trial of L.A. policemen accused of beating Rodney King.
Cameras converge on the pretrial hearings and sentencing of Amy Fisher, who copped a plea to the charge of shooting the wife of her body-shop mechanic/lover Joey Buttafuoco.
Coverage of the pretrial hearing for serial killer/cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer to determine whether he was competent to serve a life-term prison sentence or should be sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Riots revisited during the trial of the men accused of beating Reginald Denny, a truck driver caught in the middle of the Rodney King melee.
Court TV makes it big with the trial of the Menendez brothers.
Cameras swarm the arraignment of alleged Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss.
Americans take sides while watching testimony of Lorena Bobbitt, accused of cutting off her husband’s penis.
O.J. Simpson’s pretrial hearing is one of the most-watched television events of the century.
McVeigh is put on trial for one of the the worst terrorist bombings in the U.S., the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Controversy surrounds Dr. Kevorkian (aka. Dr. Death) for assisting several terminal patients in committing suicide (euthanasia) between May 1994 and June 1997.
The Carolina Panthers football player is accused of hiring someone to kill his girlfriend, going so far as to stop his car in front of hers so the gunman got a clear shot.
Charges were made against the lifestyle maven for insider trading related to ImClone Systems stock.
Suspicion surrounded the husband for killing pregnant wife, Laci, over money and self-interest.
The Baretta actor was charged with murdering his wife, the mother of his two children, but was found not guilty.
Despite numerous allegations of child molestation, Jackon is acquitted by the jury.
After years of eluding the law, the ruthless former Iraqi dictator found himself in court; he was eventually served the death penalty.
Kenneth Lay and Jeffery Skilling
In one of the biggest embezzlement scandals, the two Enron leaders were tried for fraud that bankrupted the company.
Former flight officer and NASA astronaut charged with the attempted kidnapping of Colleen Shipman, who was involved with Nowak’s former lover, astronaut William Oefelein.
Record producer and musician sentenced for the homicide of actress Lana Clarkson.
After spiraling out of control, the actress got mandated jail and rehab time after repeatedly violating her probation for multiple DUI charges.
The former Illinois governor was found guilty of 17 corruption charges, including soliciting bribes to fill Barack Obama’s vacated senate seat.
Charged with possession of cocaine. The hotel heiress accepted a plea bargain with a small fine and no jail time. (She served reduced jail time in 2007 for violating probation.)
Accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. The child’s remains were found with a blanket inside a trash bag near her home.
Dr. Conrad Murray
After Michael Jackson died from an overdose of general anesthetic, the doctor who tended him was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
After spending four years in an Italian prison for the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher, a retrial overturned the charges.
Sentenced to death after being found responsible for collaborating with his deceased brother to bomb the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Despite an insanity plea, James got life imprisonment without parole after the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.