Confessions Is a Guilty Nonpleasure


Some will find it an interesting sociological experiment, while others will find itexploitative. But is it watchable over the long term? The verdict on the already-controversial Confessions on Courtroom Television Network, I believe, is no.

Hey, I'm a big reality fan. I read true crime novels. I sat through a summer of Survivor and count The Real World and Road Rules among my guilty pleasures. So there's my confession.

But Court TV's new conceit-culling the confessions of convicted murderers, rapists and others-leaves me cold. To put it in narrative constructive terms, there is no arc, no setup and exposition-just payoff, if you will.

Visually, the producers jazz it up a little, depicting the subjects in a dual on-screen window. But their attempts to occasionally re-create static scenes of the crime in the second window are a lame attempt to make what is a vile tale somehow more artful.

During the first episode, the subjects include Steven Smith, a mentally ill (one presumes) murderer and rapist. He swears and rails at investigators as if he has somewhere important to go, something more important to do, than answer questions about how he surprised a doctor at work in her own office, then strangled and sexually assaulted her.

The second two, Daniel Rakowitz and David Garcia, are more chilling. The former comes off as a hippie-dippy druggie incapable of a coherent moment. He's seemingly so benign, almost childlike, that your attention drifts, but your mind snaps back suddenly when you realize he's just said he dismembered his victim and boiled her remains.

The same goes for Garcia, who calmly describes the one-legged, wheelchair-bound john he murdered as the aggressor in a deadly attack.

This show is not edifying except to learn more about an individual crime than one already knows. As I watched it, all I could think of was the loved ones of crime victims who may have chosen to protect their memories by avoiding this kind of graphic testimony about their own cases and others.

The CEO of Court TV parent Time Warner Inc., Gerald Levin, lost his own son in Manhattan to a brazen murderer. I wondered how he would feel about the use of that case for entertainment.

The network has already noted its intent to follow up the premiere episode with a panel discussion on the crimes-a strategy that may add some context to the raw footage.

But as it stands, it's lazy television. It's the documentary equivalent of dragging 20-year-old black-and-white series out of the vault, brushing them off and passing them off as new programming-only no one clamored to see this footage the first time around.

Confessions will debut on Court TV Sept. 10 at 10 p.m.