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Losing out to the real thing

In an unwelcome irony for syndicators, the week the Florida Supreme Court grabbed everyone's attention with its election-recount order was also the week when several court shows racked up record viewing lows.

For the period ended Dec. 10, five out of the six veteran court shows were down from the prior week and tracking below the comparable period in '99, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Also, four posted season lows: leader Judge Judy
(6.3, down 9% from the previous week), Judge Joe Brown
(3.4, down 11%), People's Court
(1.7, down 6%) and Judge Mills Lane
(1.5, down 12%). Two scored their worst-ever marks: People's Court
(down 29% from the comparable year-ago period) and Mills Lane
(off 32% from 1999).

But one rookie court-related show, Arrest & Trial
, won its case with viewers, jumping 5% from the prior period to a 2.3, its best-ever showing. It was the only freshman strip to pop a season high. "In contrast to the [judge-steered] court shows that largely run the same thing day in and day out, [Arrest & Trial] tries to re-create a cinematic experience," explains Rob Port, the show's executive producer.

With the show's mix of crime re-enactments and interviews with actual police officers involved in solving court cases, Arrest & Trial
"offers something no one else is offering," he adds. "In five words or less, we've got quality, content, drama and excitement all in one."

Other bright spots in syndication were veteran Divorce Court
(3.2, up 3%) and top rookie strip Power of Attorney
(2.4, up 9%). Freshman off-net sitcom Spin City
(3.4, up 6%) grabbed its best yet. Montel
(3.1, up 7%) gained the most ground among talkers. And weekly series V.I.P.
jumped 16% to a season-high 2.9.

Cable news networks, airing non-stop coverage of Florida's judicial action, are bearing most of the blame for wooing away syndication viewers.