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CBS news and sports commentator (and former Baltimore Evening Sun reporter) Jim McKay (pictured below right) gave the background information for these televised mock trials, with real attorneys and a real judge hearing the case. Members of the studio audience made up the jury.
The set was a very realistic courtroom in a third-floor studio above New York’s Grand Central Station.
The judges – including Edward A Scott, for 16 years a judge in the town of Pelham, NY, and Arthur P McNulty, former city magistrate in New York – ruled on actual points of law.
The heaviest burden was borne by the professional actors, though, because there was no script. The actors – in the witness chair or at the counsel table, often as defendants – matched wits with the lawyers just as a defendant or witness might in a real courtroom.
The storyline was discussed at the first rehearsal, and the actors then took over. The second rehearsal was usually very unlike the first. And finally, the actual programme was usually unlike both preceding rehearsals.
By then, the (real) attorneys may have discovered some new way to get a point across or to trap the defendant, and the witness had to come up with an answer off the cuff, and quickly.
Fortunately, the bulk of the actors used on the show were adept ad-libbers.
So convincing were some of the performances that viewers at home would contact the station with offers to pay defendants’ legal fees or threats of bodily harm to prosecuting attorneys.
Broadcast for half-an-hour on Monday to Friday afternoons on CBS, The Verdict Is Yours proved incredibly popular, leaping to the position of third top-rated daytime show after only six weeks on air. An hour-long nighttime version was added to the schedule in 1958.