CBS Paramount’s Judge Judy keeps on delivering viewers, the exception to the rule in the ever-more-crowded court genre.
CBS Paramount’s Judge Judy hit its 500th week this week as the No. 1 court show on television.
Not many shows can boast such a distinction; in fact, CBS Paramount’s Entertainment Tonight—the first satellite-distributed day-and-date show in syndication—is only 10 weeks ahead of Judy as the top-rated show in its less populated genre of entertainment magazines.
That said, the future doesn’t look as bright for the rest of the court shows. The crowded genre will only become more so in the fall when Twentieth launches Christina’s Court and Sony premieres Judge Maria Lopez. That will bring the total number of court shows on daytime TV to nine, which is the most since 2000-01, when 11 court shows were on the air.
The more things change, the more they stay the same: Judy was the leader then as well as now. That’s why the blunt and outspoken Judge Judy Sheindlin, 63, makes a reported $30 million per year and just renewed her contract through 2010. On Valentine’s Day, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The show doesn’t come cheap, but most stations say it’s profitable for them.
“I think Judy comes down to one thing: she’s not a court show, she’s a personality,” says John Nogawski, president of CBS Paramount Domestic Television Distribution. “Every time we even slightly make a comment that infers that she’s the No. 1 court show, she says: ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œI don’t look at myself as a court show.’ She’s a very strong personality that breaks through the clutter of television. She’s no different than Oprah in that sense.”
That sounds self-promoting—Nogawski is in charge of selling Judy domestically—but TV stations whole-heartedly agree.
“I often tell people that Judy does what people wish they could do,” says Mark Barash, programming director at Cox’s WPXI Pittsburgh, an NBC affiliate. “You meet somebody and they say something dumb and you want to slap them. Judy verbally slaps them. People get to live vicariously through her.”
For WPXI, which competes in one of the country’s toughest markets, Judy is perfect counter-programming to the all-powerful Oprah.
“This is one of the few markets in the country where Oprah finishes second—not always, but often,” says Barash, who double-runs Judy in early fringe at 4 and 4:30 p.m. “Judy generally wins in households, while Oprah wins in demographics.”
That said, does he plan to buy more court shows? “The rest of the court shows develop their own little niche, but they aren’t going up in the big time periods like Judy does. So, you can come out with imitations and other shows that are similar, but when you have the best, why would you want anything else?” Barash says.
Jan Wade, general manager of Young’s WATE Knoxville, Tenn., echoes that: “People come to me and want me to buy judge shows all the time, but when you have the best one in Judge Judy, why buy another one?”
Wade likes to say that she can run Judy anywhere: “We’ve always double-run her and wherever we put her, she really does a great number.” At the moment in Knoxville, Judy is running at 9 a.m. paired with Judge Joe, and at 7 p.m. paired with CBS Paramount’s The Insider in access.
In fact, Judge Judy is double (or more) run in every market in the country, says Nogawski. Contrary to comments at NATPE this year by Warner Bros.’ Dick Robertson that double- and triple-runs are ruining stations, Judy seems to hold its own even when stations play it three and four times a day.
“If it works, I guess it’s not diluting things,” Nogawski says. “Stations have to make up their own minds if something’s too much of a good thing.”
Last year in Chicago, CBS owned-and-operated WBBM wanted to replace Warner Bros.’ failing Larry Elder with third and fourth plays of Judge Judy. Nogawski balked, thinking it would hurt the show’s overall ratings. Two years later, the show still runs every afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m.: “From day one, the show equaled what it’s doing in the other hour,” Nogawski says.
Still, Judy’s story does not reflect the rest of court. While the genre saw a bit of a ratings boom last season, the show’s have mostly come down to earth, with only Warner Bros.’ booming People’s Court and Sony’s low-rated Judge Hatchett seeing ratings increases year to year. People’s Court, featuring the popular Judge Marilyn Milian, is up 12%, while Hatchett is up 6%. Even Judy and Joe are off for the year: Judy is down 4%, and Joe has dropped 6%.
The rates for a national 30-second spot in the court shows tell the story even more clearly. Judy gets almost double that of anyone else for a 30-second ad: $43,571, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, while Joe average $24,551. The next closest is Divorce Court at nearly $20,000, with People’s Court in fourth at nearly $18,000. The remaining three are all in the $16,000 range. And even though Judy scores a good ad rate, advertisers often choose not to favor court shows with their business.
While new court shows will probably not dilute Judy and Joe’s fan bases, they could further fragment the audiences of other shows that run in similar time periods. So why do them?
“It’s a lack of creativity in the industry,” says one syndication executive. “The medium is easy to enter and the deficit is lower than on a lot of TV shows.”
After the glutted 2000-01 season, three shows quickly dropped out and one new one—Twentieth’s Texas Justice, replaced last year by the successful Judge Alex—came in. Watch for the genre to become significantly slimmer next year, while Judy, as always, remains on top.