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Who'll Win in Court?

The votes are in, and the first-ever Emmy nominees for Outstanding Court Show are: CBS' ratings leader Judge Judy, Warner Bros.' first-in-genre People's Court, Sony's rookie Judge David Young and the company's outgoing veteran Judge Hatchett, and Twentieth's dark-horse contender Cristina's Court, finishing up its sophomore season.

Considering the show's dominance in the ratings, Judge Judy has to be considered the odds-on favorite. But with the voting done by a jury of 20 or so of the genre's peers, anyone could come away with the trophy on June 20, when the awards show airs live from Hollywood's Kodak Theater.

“By no means are we a shoo-in, absolutely not,” says Randy Douthit, executive producer of Judge Judy. “It's the first time for all of these court shows to be nominated in this new category. If a certain Emmy judge has a preference for a certain show, it's hard to avoid that.”

While Douthit and his star, Judge Judy Sheindlin, are sitting pretty at the top of the ratings heap, it “would certainly be a nice little cherry on the top of the sundae” if the show would finally win. Emmy or not, Sheindlin has much to celebrate this year: CBS has renewed Judge Judy through 2012 and the show's star reportedly reupped for more than $30 million annually, making her second only to Oprah in terms of earnings for a daytime TV star.

Would-be nominees each submitted one episode of their show to the judging committee. The committee watched all of the episodes and then selected its top five picks. The five with the most votes became the nominees, while the top vote-getter will win come June.

Court shows long have waited for a category that's all their own. For years, court shows could only be nominated as special-class programming, which put them up against programs like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and other specials. That led to Judge Judy being nominated 11 times but never winning. With the genre currently comprised of 11 shows, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) decided it was time for court-driven programs to have a category of their own.

While Judy may be the favorite, the show has tough competition. People's Court, which has featured Judge Marilyn Milian for the past eight years but originally became famous with Judge Joseph Wapner at the helm, has history on its side.

“This is the show that started the whole ball rolling,” Milian says. “And we're the only show that's not named after the judge. What we have that makes us a contender is the whole package,” which includes having Harvey Levin, now executive producer of TMZ, doing man-on-the-street interviews in Times Square since the show launched in 1981.

New kid on the block Judge David Young hopes his new approach to an established concept will give him an advantage.

“I think the refreshing aspect of my show compared to all the others made the difference,” says Young, who is in his freshman season. “I have unbridled enthusiasm for my job. I combine therapeutic jurisprudence with compassion.”

Finally, Cristina's Court made the list after crossing over to U.S. domestic syndication in 2006. The show's judge, Cristina Perez, hosted La Corte de Familia, a popular judge show on NBC Universal's Telemundo, from 2000-2005.

“It is so great that the nominees are so diverse,” Perez says. “Judge Judy is the longest running. Judge David Young is the most recent. It's a great tribute for Judge Hatchett given the important work she's done both in her community and on TV. And then there's People's Court, the show that's started it all. I am privileged to be the first Spanish-language TV judge to have crossed over to English-language television.”

Paige Albiniak
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.