Properly, the story of Anna Nicole Smith, equal parts fascinating and insignificant, should have been the closing item on each newscast. "You cannot avoid it," asserted CBS' Katie Couric, referring to the incessant coverage by her competitors on the daytime cable TV news channels, "a 24-hour-a-day soap opera."

Ostensibly the Fort Lauderdale hearing concerned the disposal of Ms Smith's delectable corpse. "After four days of theatrics in the courtroom the fighting parties figured it out for themselves behind closed doors in less than half an hour," said CBS' Kelly Cobiella. Smith is to be buried in The Bahamas "guaranteeing the tabloid shows and cable networks another few days of wall-to-wall coverage."

But Judge Larry Seidlin, the former cab driver from The Bronx, upstaged even Anna Nicole as he juggled 18 feuding attorneys. From New York, ABC's Jim Avila played a delightful series of judicial soundbites: "We are going to burn the candles""That baby is in a cold, cold storage room""I have been tested by the best""Do not get slippery with me""There is no circus here." Seidlin ended up in tears, crying on the bench.

NBC's Mark Potter covered the spectacle from Fort Lauderdale itself. "This might have been the type of hearing the way Anna Nicole Smith might have designed it," a former federal prosecutor, turned courtroom observer, suggested. Potter pointed out that Seidlin has been an elected circuit judge in Florida for almost 30 years and "he has many local fans of his style." After this exposure, many national fans, too.


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