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They Stand Accused was one of the earliest and more popular network series to originate from Chicago.
Much imitated in years to come, it was an unscripted, spontaneous courtroom trial with real lawyers and judges, and actors playing the parts of defendants and witnesses.
Everyone ad-libbed their lines according to the developing action and the studio audience served as the jury and determined the outcome of each case.
Though fictitious, the cases had a ring of authenticity and were plotted out by William Wines, Assistant Attorney General of the State of Illinois, who briefed the participants before each show as if they were principals in a real case about to go to trial, and then let the trial run its course.
Wines’s cases sometimes involved murder, but just as often were property claims, divorces, or other civil matters.
One week the jury might be deciding custody of a child; on another, whether a wealthy eccentric was capable of managing his own affairs.
When it came to murder there was never any question of who did it, but rather if self-defence, accidental death or temporary insanity was a valid defence.
The presentation was so authentic that many viewers were convinced they were watching a real trial in progress.
They Stand Accused was first seen locally over WGN-TV in Chicago from April 1948. One week after Chicago and New York were linked by coaxial cable in January 1949 the show was fed out to the CBS network, under the title Cross Question.
It later moved to DuMont and changed its name back to They Stand Accused in January 1950.