CLEVELAND - It's courtroom drama crossed with "Sesame Street," as a U.S. television station barred from using cameras during a high-profile corruption trial covers the highlights with a nightly puppet show.
It stars a talking squirrel "reporter" who provides the play-by-play in an exaggerated, "You won't believe this" tone.
"It's a satirical look at the trial and, again, I think we have it appropriately placed at the end of the newscast," WOIO news director Dan Salamone said Thursday.
He said the puppets are in addition to the station's regular coverage of the federal trial of ex-Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, the longtime Democratic power broker in Cleveland. The city is the largest in Ohio, often a key state in U.S. presidential contests.
"It's not intended in any way to replace any of the serious coverage of the trial," Salamone said.
He said the puppets are meant to lampoon the sometimes-steamy testimony, including details of a topless hot tub excursion in Las Vegas and taped phone calls with off-colour and often unprintable comments.
Dimora, a former county Democratic chairman in Cleveland, has pleaded not guilty to bribery and racketeering.
When cameras are barred from courtrooms in the U.S., the news media relies on artist sketches of the proceedings inside and daily video of people walking into court.
This time, the Ohio station uses the puppets repeating testimony and performing as witnesses, reporters and jurors to detail the case, which began last week.
The station is awaiting the arrival of an updated puppet that looks like the newly clean-shaven Dimora. For now, the station has been showing the back of a puppet's head that doesn't resemble him, Salamone said.
And if Dimora grows his familiar salt-and-pepper beard back? "We've asked for some accessories in the event that he might decide to regrow his beard," Salamone said.