Verdict's In

The fall 2006 development docket lately has been jammed with courtroom shows, a trend that could lead syndicators to either meet or beat the record of 10 new gavel-bangers set in the 2000-01 season.

Twentieth Television and Telepictures have been the most serious about taking court pitches, according to industry sources. With Divorce Court and Texas Justice (the latter is expected to be replaced this fall by Judge Alex) already on the slate, Twentieth is said to be developing several new projects that may result in at least two TV judges on the bench next year for its sister Fox station group.

Twentieth declined comment, but sources say one of its shows involves retired Tulare County (California) Superior Court Judge Howard Broadman (who'll be seen this summer on producer David E. Kelley's reality show The Law Firm on NBC). Broadman regularly made headlines with his unconventional rulings—perhaps most memorably in 1991, when a woman convicted of child abuse accepted Broadman's suggestion that she avoid jail time by having the birth-control device Norplant inserted in her arm.

Although judges like Broadman can present producers with strong central characters to hang a program on, some in the industry question the wisdom of jumping into a genre dominated by Paramount's Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown. But courtroom shows still appeal to programmers as a business proposition because they are considered inexpensive and even the less well known titles work relatively well in daytime. Since Judge Judy premiered a decade ago, courtroom ratings for the genre have held up nicely over the years—especially compared with many other daytime programs renewed these days with a paltry 1 rating.

According to Nielsen Media Research, six court shows in the 1999-2000 season scored a collective 4.65 national gross average audience (GAA) in households (the benchmark used by advertisers) for their various runs; 10 in 2000-01 garnered a 3.13 rating; eight in 2001-02 averaged a 3.55; eight in 2002-03 and seven in 2003-04 each earned about a 3.6. Of the seven running this season, the rating has jumped to a 3.63 (which will likely decline some over the summer). But that overall number is less than half the rating for the queen of the genre, Judge Judy, which pulled in a 7.8 GAA rating this season. The show, cleared in a number of early-fringe time periods, still generates healthy CPMs, which probably go a long way toward covering Judge Judy Sheindlin's reported $30 million annual salary (which no other TV judge even comes close to making).

Chuck Larsen, president of syndication consulting firm October Moon, thinks the daytime courtroom shows tap into the same audience interest that has turned the CSI and Law & Order franchises into prime time giants: an appetite for seeing miscreants punished. Says Larsen, “That's what makes court shows work.”