'Karen' Back In Session

Judge Karen, which Sony stopped producing when it decided to get out of the court-show business last year, is coming back to syndication courtesy of Litton Entertainment.

Litton says that the show, now renamed Judge Karen's Court, is back for fall 2010 at the request of the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair owns many duopolies and non-traditional affiliates (Fox, CW, MyNet) in larger midsize markets such as Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham and Nashville, and airs court blocks in most of those markets. That makes Sinclair one of the country's top buyers of court programs.

“The economics of clearing a court show are that you cannot navigate around Sinclair in those big midsize markets,” says Dave Morgan, Litton's president and CEO.

When Sony decided to stop producing Judge Karen, Sinclair wanted to keep it. Sinclair approached one of the show's agents, who shopped the show to a few boutique syndicators. Litton accepted the offer.

“We were always great supporters of Judge Karen,” says Steve Marks, Sinclair's COO. “Stations need proven, experienced talent in formats that can deliver, and Judge Karen has done that.”

“For a lot of companies, the court genre is stable, salable and important,” Morgan adds. “It's hard to get anything to work in syndication. When you see something like this—a freshman show that did well—go away, it's really natural to try to get it back.”

Thus far, Sinclair is the only station group to have officially picked up the show, but Morgan says other groups are coming right behind. Sinclair also has renewed Litton's rookie Street Court for a second year, as well as Warner Bros.' Judge Jeanine Pirro.

Judge Karen's Court features Judge Karen Mills-Francis, who is the second black woman elected to the bench in Miami-Dade County, Fla. Mills-Francis hails from Miami, where she graduated valedictorian of her high school class and then went to Bowdoin College in Maine. She received her law degree in 1987 from the University of Florida's Levin College of Law.

“Having the commitment and support of the station community strongly behind the show is both exhilarating and humbling,” Mills-Francis says. “Thousands of my court-show fans are waiting to tune in for fall 2010.”

The court genre opened up when Sony decided to stop producing court shows in 2008, finally taking the long-running Judge Hatchett off the air (which went out of production in 2008 and aired last season in repeats only), as well as Judge Karen and Judge David Young. Like Sinclair, many station groups rely heavily on court, so syndicators went to work developing new court shows.

New first-run court and legal shows in the mix for fall 2010 are CBS Television Distribution's Swift Justice With Nancy Grace, CTD's The Lawyers (produced by Stage 29 Productions' Jay McGraw), Entertainment Studios' America's Court With Judge Ross, Trifecta's Judge Heck and now Judge Karen's Court.

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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.