TV News Uses Puppets To Recreate Courtroom Drama

A high-profile corruption trial in Cleveland is being re-enacted on a local news station using puppets. Cameras are barred from the courtroom so the station has come up with a unique way to show what's been going on in the courtroom. A former county commissioner and seven others face prison terms for a pay-to-play scheme.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Almost everything is captured on videotape: protests, crimes, children doing something adorable.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This morning, we'll explain what a TV station is doing with a big story taking place out of the view of the cameras.

MONTAGNE: It's a federal corruption trial in Cleveland. An influential Democratic politician is accused of collecting bribes.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOIO BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: It's a dramatic day in the county corruption trial as the star witness takes the stand.

INSKEEP: Former County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora is accused of accepting trips, appliances, meals - even visits from prostitutes, in exchange for millions of dollars in county contracts.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOIO BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: A big week for prosecutors in the Jimmy Dimora corruption trial. Their key witness is in town, and is on the stand.

MONTAGNE: So it's a very big local story, but cameras are barred from the courtroom. The media has had to rely on sketch artists and court transcripts - and more.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOIO BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: The testimony is real; the puppets are not. Tonight, in the "Puppets' Court."

INSKEEP: WOIO-19 Action News is re-enacting the trial with puppets.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOIO BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #4: In this edition of "Puppets' Court," we're talking Rolex watches, plasma TVs, and a refrigerator given to Jimmy Dimora to win favors and county contracts from Dimora.

MONTAGNE: Station employees have been reading excerpts of the actual testimony using what looks like a poor man's Muppet. A squirrel puppet is also involved.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOIO BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #5: So I gave Mr. Dimora the cash for the fridge, and I sent him an invoice for it.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #6: Did he ever pay the invoice?

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #5: Uh, no.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #6: So he got the refrigerator and the cash?

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #5: Uh, yes.

DAN DEROOS: If someone had written a script, a movie script, about some of the testimony that we have heard, of the language that's being used, you would never believe it in a million years.

INSKEEP: That's Dan DeRoos, of WOIO. He's the one responsible for putting together the nightly trial recaps by puppet.

DEROOS: We've got a staff that's down at the trial. There's another producer down there, Misty Stiver(ph), who writes down - word for word - testimony of what's being said. And we sit down together and kind of compile some of the most – the juicier moments of that day's trial.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOIO BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #6: Did Suzanne indicate how much money she wanted?

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #7: I remember thinking if it was more than 1,000, I wasn't gonna do it.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #6: Did you ever describe Mr. Dimora to Suzanne?

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #7: Yes, I did. I said he's a very nice man, but he's, uh, large.

MONTAGNE: DeRoos says the puppet skits are only a part of the station's coverage.

DEROOS: At no point do we want anyone to think that this is how we're covering this major corruption trial in our county. This is supplemental coverage to a major case.

INSKEEP: Supplemental coverage that's gaining at least as much national attention as the trial itself.

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