MSNBC is about to do something it rarely does: cover a trial in-depth.
The network has watched as rivals like HLN and CNN have racked up huge ratings with wall-to-wall coverage of trials like Casey Anthony's and Jodi Arias's. May saw MSNBC fall to fourth place in the rankings as CNN rode the Arias wave with stellar results.
Just as the Arias trial came to a close, HLN began signaling that the next case it would focus on would be that of George Zimmerman, the man who shot the unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. This time, though, MSNBC also began promoting its own "complete" coverage of the Zimmerman trial, beginning on Monday, June 10th.
An MSNBC spokesperson told The Huffington Post that the network would provide "in-depth, continuing coverage" of the trial, and would "cover the criminal proceedings live as news warrants during our regularly scheduled programs."
The Zimmerman trial strikes a neat balance for MSNBC. It is sure to be followed closely, given how huge a scandal Martin's killing provoked. Yet it also touches on major questions of race and criminal justice, and carries few of the lurid, soapy overtones of the Anthony and Arias trial. By being willing to turn over much of its real estate to the trial, MSNBC is allowing itself to attract some of the audience that migrates to HLN and CNN during other cases, but can avoid the charge that it is dumbing itself down to increase ratings.
The network is also home to Al Sharpton, who, with his extremely close ties to the Martin family, can provide MSNBC with access that other networks may not be able to match.