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Court, Conflict Find New Fortunes in Streaming Era

CBS Television Distribution's 'Judge Judy'
Judge Judy Sheindlin may be wrapping up her eponymous syndicated show, but it will live on in repeats even as she reconvenes on streamer IMDb TV. (Image credit: CBS Television Distribution)

With CBS Media Ventures’ Judge Judy going out of first-run production after this season and NBCUniversal Television Distribution’s Maury ending production after next season, syndication’s court and conflict genres are undergoing seismic shifts. But those vast libraries are finding new homes — and new revenue — on streaming platforms. 

Judy will remain on broadcast TV in repeats, and with thousands of episodes in its library, viewers, except possibly the most loyal, are unlikely to miss the lack of originals. Judge Judy will remain on stations for years to come. Meanwhile, Judge Judy Sheindlin is starring in and producing a new version of her show for Amazon’s IMDb TV streaming service, and it remains to be seen how Her Honor will fare in that new venue. 

Judge Judy isn’t the only court show to be exiting. Several low-rated and less-
well-cleared court shows wrapped in the past year. Debmar-Mercury’s Caught in Providence, starring 84-year-old Municipal Court Judge Frank Caprio, is no longer airing on TV stations. MGM/Orion TV has, for now, departed the  genre, although remains in development on shows, according to an MGM spokesperson. Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court, Couples Court with the Cutlers and Personal Injury Court all are no longer in production, although the shows are still available in repeats on TV stations. Paternity Court also is available as a podcast and on YouTube, where the show’s channel has 1.8 million subscribers. Trifecta’s Protection Court also has ceased production and is airing in only repeats.  

Libraries Lift Streaming Startups

Still, under the right conditions, court shows remain a good business for syndicators, especially if they have large content libraries to offer content-starved streaming startups.

“Talk shows are ephemeral because they are day-and-date, and entertainment magazines have no life beyond several days,” Stephen Brown, executive VP, programming and development at Fox Television Stations, said. “Producing [court and conflict] is good business because it’s inexpensive to produce and it gives you a great library that has a long tail. Court is really a good business for us, and I think we should do more.”

To that end, Fox is testing The Mediator with Ice-T, executive produced by former Warner Bros. executive Stuart Krasnow, next month.

Viewers like court shows for the same reasons they like true crime or conflict: the episodes have a beginning, a middle and an end with a satisfying resolution.

“Court allows for big characters,” Brown said. “Guests can come in and be a little wackadoodle and [audiences are] delighted by it. Court allows for a very black and white world, there’s really no nuance. There’s a hero and there’s a victim or a villain. That’s why we love these judges who come in and adjudicate these cases. You are watching these people get their comeuppance. It’s a moral story that we get to see play out every day.”

Court is like the more formatted version of conflict talk, and that’s why Jerry Springer has successfully made the transition from talk-show host to courtroom jurist. NBCUniversal is expected to renew Judge Jerry for a third season, although it’s still early yet.  

The granddaddy of conflict talkers, NBCUniversal’s Maury starring Maury Povich, 82, will end first-run production after it completes its 2021-22 season. Maury, like Jerry Springer, will remain on the air in repeats, and with 30 years of episodes, those are plentiful. 

Meanwhile, NBCU is working to launch a spinoff of Maury, starring one of the show’s frequent guest hosts, that it hopes to debut in fall 2022, Tracie Wilson, executive VP, NBCUniversal Syndication Studios, said.

“Between all of those things, we see room down the road for more [of these shows], whether that’s court or conflict,” Sean O’Boyle, executive VP, syndication sales, NBCU Syndication Studios, said. “I think there’s a lane of conflict television that exists on certain stations and it’s a successful lane. Between those repeats, we think 2022 would be an opportunity to expand.”

Fox has licensed the library of Divorce Court, which is renewed through the 2022-23 TV season, to NBCU’s Peacock, Disney’s Hulu, Fox’s own advertising-supported video-on-demand service Tubi, Nosey and Xumo.

“At one point, these streaming deals will eclipse what we earn from [broadcast] barter,” Brown said.

Likewise, NBCU has licensed the Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos libraries to Nosey and those shows could also find their way to Peacock. 

ES Veterans Carry On

Meanwhile, all five of Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios court shows remain on the air. The first one, America’s Court with Judge Ross, is now in its 11th season and the company just signed Ross for seven more years, said Allen. Entertainment Studios also has Justice for All with Judge Cristina Perez, in its ninth season; Supreme Justice with Judge Karen, in its eighth season; Justice with Judge Mablean, in its seventh season, and The Verdict with Judge Hatchett, in its fifth season.

“Having five court shows makes us the largest producer and distributor of court shows domestically,” Allen said. “The reason we believe so much in this genre is that this is a huge ad category. Law-related services account for 15% of all local ad sales. The legal ad category is $650 million annually, so [this genre] has staying power. It’s also excellent counter-programming, low-risk for stations, and it continues to be the perfect transitional program into and out of all programs and very easy to cross-promote.” 

Court shows have been so successful for Entertainment Studios and Allen that he credits them with allowing him to expand the company and ultimately buy The Weather Channel and other assets, including TV stations. “[Court] turned out to be a turning point for our company that took us to the next level and allowed us to really grow.”

Like Fox and NBCUniversal, Entertainment Studios also plans to expand its court offerings, Allen said: “We will be adding more court shows; we’re talking to talent. Court shows are great for TV stations.” 

Update: This story has been changed to note that MGM/Orion's court shows are still available in repeats on some TV stations, and that the company has projects in development, according to a spokeswoman.