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‘Judge Judy’ to Wrap After 25 Years. What’s Next?

At the end of next season, as Judge Judy Sheindlin reiterated on Warner Bros.’s Ellen DeGeneres on March 2, CBS Television Distribution’s top-rated Judge Judy will end original production after its 25th season in syndication.

But according to Sheindlin, the show will go on as Judy Justice, which will be much the same as Judge Judy but under different production and distribution auspices.

“CBS felt they wanted to optimally utilize the repeats of my program because they had 25 years of reruns, so what they decided to do was to sell a couple of years worth of reruns,” Sheindlin, 77, told DeGeneres. “But I’m not tired … so Judy Justice will be coming out a year later.”

Later, in a statement, Sheindlin said: “I am looking forward to a banner 25th anniversary season. CBS has been a fine partner for 20-plus years. They have decided to monetize their Judge Judy library of reruns. I wish them good luck with their experiment.”

CTD said, also in a statement: “We have the greatest respect for Judy Sheindlin and have enjoyed a very successful relationship with her for over two decades. We look forward to making the 25th anniversary a true celebration of one of the most iconic shows in television history.”

So, if Sheindlin wanted to continue, why wouldn’t CBS Television Distribution just extend the show?

The answer is more complicated than it first seems.

Several years ago, Sheindlin negotiated with CBS for the rights to her library of some 5,000 back episodes. At the time, it wasn’t clear that such episodes had value in the marketplace because no long-running syndicated strips had been able to monetize their libraries. But with streaming coming online, industry watchers believed that the library did have value. That caught Sheindlin’s attention.

In 2017, several bidders emerged for the Judge Judy library, with offers in the $75 million to $85 million range. At the final hour, though, CBS realized it needed to control the rights to the show it had produced and distributed since 1996. CBS stepped in and paid Sheindlin approximately $100 million, according to several sources, to reclaim the library.

As part of that deal, Sheindlin agreed she would retire after the show’s 25th season in 2020-21 and that CBS Television Distribution would sell the library episodes to TV stations. Acquiring the library appealed to stations because it was less expensive than Judge Judy, and it was going to be the only way viewers would get to see their favorite daytime judge.

While many stations that aired Judge Judy bought the repeats in three-year deals at about 60% of the cost of Judy’s current license fees, according to sources, many nontraditional affiliates — such as The CW and MyNet affiliates and independent stations — that bought the repeats do not currently air Judge Judy. Because the stations currently airing Judge Judy are not all the same stations that bought the library, it is not simple to just extend the show. What’s more, all of the stations have now locked in what they planned to pay for Judge Judy repeats starting in 2021-22, and they did not budget to pay full price for original episodes.

Sheindlin still wanted to go forward, so she called in former CBS chief licensing officer Scott Koondel, who left CBS in late 2018 and hung his own shingle, Exacta Entertainment, to help her sell her new show and possibly other projects. Koondel has all distribution rights, both domestic and international, to the new program. Sheindlin also brought in former Twentieth Television chief Greg Meidel to develop new projects for Sheindlin’s Queen Bee Productions.

Judy Justice has been pitched to station groups, but at this point, none of them have agreed to acquire the show. Koondel, who has a long history of making lucrative multi-window distribution deals, is shopping Judy Justice to cable and/or streaming outfits. Whether or not a deal for Judy Justice will be made on one or more of those platforms remains to be seen, but there is still plenty of time.

Limited Shelf Space

Besides stations already buying the Judy repeats, many stations don’t have room for a new show. That’s a challenge across the syndication landscape when it comes to new content.

This season, stations and syndicators renewed most of the new shows: NBCUniversal’s Kelly Clarkson and Judge Jerry, Disney’s Tamron Hall and Fox’s 25 Words or Less, starring Meredith Vieira. Stations also renewed NBCUniversal’s conflict talkers (now called “bold talkers”) Maury and Steve Wilkos for two more years. NBCU wants to expand Wilkos’s purview from the standard topics of conflict talk into broader areas of true crime, tapping his background as a policeman. Finally, NBCU has renewed its off-net version of Dateline for a fourth season.

What the library sales of Jerry Springer and the off-network repacks of shows such as Dateline and Sony Pictures Television’s Live PD Police Patrol — and likely Judge Judy — have shown are that there is some value to those repeats. As linear ratings decline, the economics of repeats make sense for stations, especially to fill already challenged time periods.

While all of those renewals mean there’s little room for Judy Justice, it’s also been tough for newcomers such as CTD’s Drew Barrymore and Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon to secure plum time periods across the entire country. Both Barrymore and Cannon are going forward — both have launch groups on the CBS and Fox station groups, respectively. But both syndicators are having to work hard to clear the shows across the entire country. And even then, they aren’t getting ideal time periods in mid-to-smaller markets.

In a way, it’s a surfeit of riches: it’s better to have too much content than not enough. But in the meantime, it’s a challenging time to bring new content to the syndication marketplace.