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Courting TV audiences


The third series of a televised courtroom drama hits screens this weekend with hopes that its messages will educate viewers about the legal process

We hope that making a law-based drama will make it easier for cambodians to engage with the subject.

LIFE imitates art. At least that is what the people behind Scales of Justice, a television courtroom drama produced by the Women's Media Centre (WMC), hope will occur as audiences tune in to the ongoing saga of lawyer Pich Sotheary and police official Meas Chamnan, which begins its third instalment this weekend.

Wary of its notorious corruption, impenetrable language and labyrinth of procedures, Cambodians often find their own judiciary inaccessible - something WMC hopes to change by presenting the courts as entertainment, said 29-year-old production manager Uch Thavy.

"This story details court procedure, which many people find difficult to understand," she said.

"We hope that making a law-based drama will make it easier for Cambodians to engage with the subject," Uch Thavy added.
The original Scales of Justice, which is supported by USAID and AUSAID, was shot last year and gained widespread popularity.

Uch Thavy hopes this third instalment will continue in the same vein - presenting viewers with situations that they might encounter in real life.

Several of the six, 30-minute episodes delve into the realm of domestic discord that may be familiar to audience members who have ever battled their brethren over money.

One episode follows characters as they try desperately to gain control of an inheritance following the death of the family patriarch.
The second also features a family fight over money, but this time the characters are faced with dividing an inheritance after a messy divorce.

The producers of Scales of Justice focused on these scenarios because they are the most common to come before the Kingdom's courts, Uch Thavy said.

"People should pay a lot of attention to their childrens' birth certificates, which are often used to clear up disputes in the event of a death," she said.
The same holds true when marriages fall apart and families begin squabbling over who gets what.

"The judges often consider dividing some of the inheritance, even though the parents may have been divorced," Uch Thavy added.
The third episode is driven by the classic whodunit: a dead body and a murderer somewhere on the lose.

Producers admit that they diverged from the more complex but common civil disputes as a way to keep the audiences interested in their message.

"The entertainment aspect is there to keep people watching it, but our main intention is to put across the messages of law that are woven into the story," Uch Thavy said.

Uch Thavy said court officials from Phnom Penh and Kandal province were consulted before the scripts were penned to lend an air of credibility to the drama.

The often contrived movie sets of traditional dramas were also abandoned for real courtrooms, judges' chambers and prosecutors' offices in an attempt to bring a level of gritty realism to the series, Uch Thavy said.

The series was shot in Kandal, Kampong Cham and Kampong Chhnang provinces, she added.

Star power
Also keeping audiences tuned in should be the return of Cambodian actor Tep Rindaro as policeman Meas Chamnan.

Along with dedicated young lawyer Pich Sotheary, played by Keo Sereyrath, Tep Rindaro's honest cop Meas Chamnan will "work hand-in-hand to fight for the victims and even find romance along the way", according to the WMC's Web site.

Though the pair will feature less prominently in the third instalment - the action will instead centre on Meas Chamnan's sister - they still remain the soul of the programme, producers said.

Uch Thavy said she was reluctant to guess how the latest episodes would fare among Cambodian viewers.
But she said that a test screening won rave reviews from Women's Media Centre presidents, donors and the Ministry of Culture's Film Art Department.

Copies of previous instalments were also requested by the Senate, Uch Thavy said.
The first episodes, which cost US$122,845 to produce, will be screened Saturday on TVK and Sunday on TV3, at 6pm and noon, respectively.

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