The show, which is carried on stations owned by CBS, Tribune, Sinclair and others, is the No. 1 freshman in first-run broadcast syndication in total households and is tied for second in the women 25-54 demo. “It’s doing better than many people were expecting,” says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at Katz Television Group. “It usually takes time for the audience to find a new show and be comfortable with it. It seems the audience is embracing this one.”
The swirling camera shot above New York City backed by dramatic music gets you pumped for another episode of Judge Judy when, bam, you notice something strange.
Instead of Judge Judy, out walk African-American Tanya Acker, blond Patricia DiMango with her heavy New York accent and gray-haired Larry Bakman. Definitely not Judge Judy.
The surprises don’t stop there. After the three judges fire questions at the plaintiff and defendant, they don’t deliver a quick summary ruling a la Judge Judy. They recess where you can watch them deliberate.
The new twists, plus the clout of Judge Judy’s Judy Sheindlin as its creator, are proving to be a powerful combination for CBS Television Distribution’s Hot Bench — a safe bet to secure a second season in broadcast syndication in fall 2015.
The show, which is carried on stations owned by CBS, Tribune, Sinclair and others, is the No. 1 freshman in first-run broadcast syndication in total households with a 1.5 rating the week of Oct. 13.
It’s outpacing NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution’s Meredith Vieira (1.2), Debmar-Mercury game show Celebrity Name Game with Craig Ferguson (1.2), Warner Bros.’ panel talk show The Real (1.0) and Trifecta Entertainment’s Judge Faith (0.8).
In the key advertising demographic, women 25-54, for the week, Hot Bench slips to No. 2 with a 0.8 rating, trailing Celebrity’s 0.9 and tying The Real’s 0.8, but bettering Meredith’s 0.7 and Faith’s 0.4.
Among all court shows in the demo, Hot Bench was just a tenth of a point behind three long-running, second-place finishers — Twentieth Television’s Divorce Court and Warner Bros.’ People’s Court and Judge Mathis — with their 0.9 ratings. Judge Judy was the dominant No. 1 with a 3.0.
“It’s doing better than many people were expecting,” says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at Katz Television Group. “It usually takes time for the audience to find a new show and be comfortable with it. It seems the audience is embracing this one.”
The Hot Bench ratings are particularly remarkable, given the show’s relatively poor performance in the top three markets. It had a 0.2 rating and 1 share the week of Oct. 6 on both CBS’s WLNY New York and KCAL Los Angeles. It had a 0.3/2 on Weigel Broadcasting’s WCIU-D2 and WCIU Chicago.
Hot Bench owes at least some of its solid performance to Judge Judy, the second-most-watched show in broadcast syndication with almost 10 million viewers every day.
Hot Bench is “the type of show people have to find,” says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of creative affairs at CBS Television Distribution. “But we had the advantage of having a Judge Judy affiliation, which helped with building awareness. Anecdotally, I have been quite pleased that people are talking about it on social media. We also did a good job promoting it on our stations.”
Sheindlin promoted the show over the summer and, now, the show’s judges are getting the word out.
“Pat DiMango just did [NBCUniversal’s] Steve Harvey,” says McLoughlin. “The judges are going to do [Debmar-Mercury’s] Wendy Williams Show. The success of the show is opening them up to more appearances.”
The show’ s ratings have been growing steadily. It averaged a 1.3 household rating in its premiere week, the week of Sept. 15. It then inched up to a 1.4 for a couple of weeks, then to a 1.5 the two weeks after that.
Hot Bench’s format is also playing a part in that growth, according to Judge Judy and Hot Bench executive producer Randy Douthit. With three judges, he says, the show is different than other court shows and it taps into the hot daytime trend of shows with multiple hosts like ABC’s The View and CBS’s The Talk.
Judge DiMango says having multiple judges means viewers have a good chance of connecting with one of them. “On other court shows, you may not like the judge. But with the three of us you may have a favorite, even if you don’t like the other two judges.”
Moreover, on Hot Bench, viewers get a peek at the judges’ decision making, says Judge Bakman.
“I really think the spin of the show, the deliberation process, is really connecting with viewers,” he says. “I’ve been following this on social media. It seems that viewers really enjoy getting to see what’s going on in our heads.”
Hot Bench also looks good. Like Judge Judy and a few other court shows, it’s taped in HD.
Douthit notes the show’s pacing is similar to Judge Judy’s, so viewers are comfortable with it. And, with coaching from Sheindlin, the judges are playing up their individual personalities.
“All the court shows have basically the same cases,” he says. “So, it comes down to personalities. Judge Judy is a star. And, on this show, she’s not just paying lip service; she’s working in the trenches to help [the judges] develop their techniques. They’re all astute judges, but, except for one, they’re new to television.”
Meantime, while CBS Television Distribution has not yet announced a second season pickup for Hot Bench, which was sold on a cash-plus-barter basis on one- and two-year deals with stations, Douthit is feeling optimistic about its future.
“As we achieve upgrades, I think we’ll see ratings increase.”
The show’s troubles in the top three markets do not extend to the No. 4 market.
The show posted a rock-solid 1.5/3 the week of Oct. 6 on CBS’s CW affiliate WPSG Philadelphia, where it’s in a court block that includes Warner Bros.’ Judge Mathis and People’s Court.
“We really like the show,” says Jon Hitchcock, GM of WPSG and CBS O&O KYW. “We run seven hours of court in the afternoon, with a couple of alternatives mixed in. Hot Bench is a nice complement to our lineup. And in that extended court block [its creative execution] is a nice way to differentiate itself.”