Two Decades in, 'Judy' Remains Queen of Court

Court shows have come and gone—and the genre currently boasts only six nationally distributed shows—but Judge Judy continues to rule them all.

The show, produced and distributed by CBS Television Distribution, has been on the air since 1996 and just launched its 21st season. In a TV environment that’s increasingly fragmented, Judge Judy manages to score a syndication-leading 7.0 live-plus-same-day household rating, and still shows growth year-to-year. This year’s season premiere was up 6% compared to last.

“I like Judge Judy in front of my news and I wouldn’t like it in front of my competitor’s news,” says Frank Cicha, Fox Television Stations senior VP, programming. The Fox-owned stations air Judy in 16 of the top 20 markets.

That 6% rise was only surpassed in the genre by CTD’s panel court show, Hot Bench, which was the brainchild of Judge Judy star and B&C Hall of Fame honoree Judy Sheindlin. Initially met with resistance from the marketplace, Hot Bench premiered in 2014 and quickly surprised the industry with its ratings. In March 2015, the CBS-owned television stations started airing Hot Bench in place of Sony Pictures Television’s Queen Latifah after Sony decided to end production on Latifah.

Since then, Hot Bench has risen to as high as a 2.4 household rating, frequently ranking fourth in daytime behind only Judy, CTD’s Dr. Phil and Disney-ABC’s Live With Kelly and beating Warner Bros.’ Ellen DeGeneres. Hot Bench was up 15% in its premiere over last year, with only Judy and Hot Bench improving year-to-year. (To be fair, both Judge Judy and Hot Bench air multiple times per day in many markets. That gives those shows an advantage in the national ratings, which are cumed, over shows such as Phil, Live and Ellen, which tend to air only once daily.)

“People have embraced Judge Judy and they’ve embraced Hot Bench because they feel comfortable and entertained by these shows,” says Randy Douthit, who executive produces both shows and has been with Judy throughout its entire run. “Judy does not rest on her laurels. She always looks for something new about a case.”

Court once was one of the most populated genres in daytime TV but over the past several years the number of shows has been pared down. Along with the six nationally distributed court shows airing today, Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios produces six more of its own. This year, ES launched a new one, The Verdict with Judge Hatchett, which joined America’s Court with Judge Ross, Justice for All with Judge Cristina Perez, We the People with Gloria Allred, Supreme Justice with Judge Karen and Justice With Judge Mablean.

All of those shows air in court blocks on stations across the U.S.—as well as on cable and over-the-top services and on Entertainment Studios’ online home of JusticeCentral.TV, with ES running the same national advertisements across the block and cuming the total.

“Traditional advertisers have left daytime television and moved their dollars to cable and digital,” says Allen. “What is left are ad dollars from lawyers and trade schools. I thought, ‘How can we help TV stations make more money and inject more content into the ecosystem that will help them draw that money?’ The best magnet to attract these advertisers is court shows.”

Judges Glenda Hatchett, Cristina Perez, Karen Mills-Francis and Mablean Ephriam previously starred in court shows, with Allen recruiting them to ES after the shows ended.

Trifecta just premiered season three of Judge Faith, starring Faith Jenkins and produced by Michael Eisner’s Tornante TV. The show added 11 new markets and started airing in doubleruns on 20 Sinclair-owned stations.

Trifecta also started offering stations “The Legal Minute with Judge Faith,” a one-minute vignette spot that can be branded and run inside local talk shows and newscasts and on station websites.

Sarah Palin, former Republican vice presidential nominee and governor of Alaska, had been shopping a court show but there’s been no movement on it, according to sources.

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.