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Crime show points to Web

Knowing full well that Americans love a good crime scene, TV producers send amateur sleuths to the Web.

TV producers know that Americans love a good crime scene, so on Friday CBS will debut Cold Case, letting viewers play murder detectives with help from the Web.

The latest marriage of TV with the Net, the pilot will present unsolved murders from across the country while directing viewers to a Web site containing accompanying autopsy and forensic files, witness statements, crime scene photos, and detective notebooks.

Banking on the popularity of shows such as America's Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries, the creators of Cold Case hope Net-savvy couch potatoes will dig through the interactive crime files after the program piques their interest.

The show also aims to solve murders. Like the America's Most Wanted site, viewers can send email tips. But with Cold Case the notes go directly to the detectives involved in the case. So far, the show has provided police in Jacksonville, Florida; Dallas, Texas, and Orange County, California, with email accounts and Net stations.

"We tied in the site throughout the whole show in that each case is not complete without seeing the Web site," said Aaron Langer, assistant to Tim Johnson--the executive producer of Cold Case.

Los Angeles homicide Sergeant Jon Perkins pitched the concept for the show to Johnson after he used the Net to track down and arrest a murder suspect. The partnership between television and the Net, he said, will also help create a national database of unsolved homicides, accessible from anywhere in the world.

Already television sports coverage, such as ESPNet SportsZone and CBS Sportsline, has made hot jumps onto the Web. But analysts say the nature of a show like Cold Case, might face obstacles.

"That particular information may have some backlash, like if they get new leads about non-suspects," said Kate Delhagen an online content analyst for Forrester Research "However, the subject matter there definitely has a voyeuristic aspect and may have more potential five years from now when convergence really takes off."

The creators of Cold Case expect to get crank calls and hoax emails, but say detectives are trained to weed out pranksters. Still, Delhagen said official law enforcement sites might have better luck at getting legitimate tips.

Two years ago the FBI launched its Ten Most Wanted site. Although the Net allows for the quick distribution information, which can lead to crucial arrests, the FBI warns that surfers shouldn't take the online detective role too far.

"The FBI can attribute one arrest and one surrender to the Web site. We feel that the importance of the Internet as a fugitive-catching device will only increase," Rex Tomb, an FBI public information officer, said today. "However, we would never encourage anyone to take matters into their own hands. People with information should contact their nearest FBI office."