Expect Fewer Orders In the Court

Court used to be syndication’s go-to genre, with as many as 11 shows on the air at once. But all things in television cycle, and that’s true for bench life as well. After this season, four veterans, one sophomore and one rookie will remain on the air, for a total of six court shows.

That’s bad news for shows such as Twentieth’s Judge Alex, which will end its run this season after nine years on the air, but it’s potentially good news for others left standing.

In the week ended Feb. 2, CBS Television Distribution’s Judge Judy scored its best numbers in six years, an 8.2 live-plus-sameday household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. Judge Judy, which has been on the air for 18 years, has been syndication’s top-rated show—including off-net sitcoms—for the past 21 out of 23 weeks.

“Judy’s momentum has been pretty amazing for a pretty long time now,” says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, CTD president of creative affairs. “She took over as the No. 1 syndicated show when Oprah ended in 2011. She’s the queen of daytime, and she’s been that since Oprah’s final season.”

Other court shows also are already seeing a ratings boost.

Every Show Is Up Vs. Last Year

Twentieth’s Divorce Court is up 43% year-to-year to a 2.0 in the week ended Feb. 2, compared to the same week last year. Likewise, Warner Bros.’ People’s Court added 5%, to a 2.1, and its Judge Mathis improved 19% to a 1.9. Even Judge Alex gained 20% year-to-year to a 1.8.

CTD is hoping this less-is-more theory works in the favor of its upcoming court panel, Hot Bench, which was created by Judge Judy Sheindlin and features a trio of judges: Judge Patricia DiMango and attorneys Tanya Acker and Larry Bakman. The show is cleared in 75% of the country and is a firm go for this fall.

“Clearly the court format works,” says McLoughlin. “And this show has a unique dimension. The marketplace has shifted toward shows [with] multiple personalities. That’s a format that’s working all over daytime.”

The fate of Trifecta’s Judge Faith, in the market now, is less certain, with no clearances yet announced.

And this count doesn’t include Entertainment Studios’ court block—America’s Court With Judge Ross, Supreme Justice With Judge Karen and Justice For All With Judge Cristina Perez. These shows—as well as We the People with Gloria Allred, which ES will replace next season with Justice With Judge Mablean—run as a cumulatively rated block and are not individually rated on a national basis.

Success due to thinning the herd is the same trend that the broadcast networks are seeing with daytime dramas, all of which are up now that there are only four on the air.

ABC’s General Hospital, the top-rated soap, is averaging a 2.5 most-current household rating season to date, according to Nielsen Media Research, up 9% since last year. General Hospital has improved 8% in viewers and 17% and 19% among women 18-49 and 25-54, respectively.

Similarly, CBS’ The Bold and The Beautiful has increased 8% in households and 13% in viewers, and CBS’ The Young and The Restless has improved 6% in households and 10% in viewers. NBC’s Days of Our Lives has gained 5% in households and 10% among women 18-49.

Court shows have something else in common with daytime dramas as well: a strong element of conflict.

“Viewers enjoy court shows partly because they are like mini-soap operas,” says McLoughlin. “There is always someone who is right, and someone who is wrong.”

Talkers Start Sweeps With a Bang

All syndicated talk shows were hot in the week ended Feb. 2, which included the first two weekdays of February sweeps.

CTD’s Dr. Phil led the genre for the fourth straight week, surging 15% from the prior week and 22% from last year to a 3.9 live-plus-same-day household average, according to Nielsen, the show’s highest rating since the week of Sept. 12, 2011.

In second place, Disney/ABC’s Live With Kelly and Michael jumped 6% to a 3.4 in households, matching its season high and adding 21% from last year.

Warner Bros.’ Ellen, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, landed a new series high, picking up 6% to a 3.3. Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz remained at a 2.4; NBCUniversal’s Maury moved up 5% to match its season high at a 2.3; and NBCU’s Steve Harvey had its best week ever, spiking 10% to a record 2.2. Harvey also notched talk’s biggest year-toyear gain, leaping 38%.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.