The news that former Alaska governor and Republican lightning rod Sarah Palin will star in a daytime court show targeted to premiere in 2017 took many in the business by surprise. But a closer look at court offers some suggestions as to why the move might make sense for the former Fox News commentator.
Court is the only genre in strip syndication—whether that’s talk, game, magazines or off-net sitcoms—to show across-the-board growth. Nearly every show in the genre—CBS Television Distribution’s Judge Judy and Hot Bench, Warner Bros.’ Judge Mathis and People’s Court, Twentieth’s Divorce Court, MGM’s Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court, Trifecta’s Judge Faith and Entertainment Studios’ court block—is showing either year-to-year growth or steady ratings across all demographics.
“In most cases, the court shows have been consistently in the same time periods for years and they’ve sort of replaced soap operas, which were the dominant genre in daytime,” says Bill Carroll, senior VP, content strategy, Katz Television Group.
Perhaps most importantly, the genre boasts syndication’s leading first-run strip: Judge Judy, which is averaging a 7.3 season-to-date household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. That’s up 6% for the year and 7% among women 25-54. Any growth at all is quite a feat when a show is already rated that highly.
Judge Judy Sheindlin accordingly earns one of the top salaries in TV; a recent court case asserted that the TV judge is paid $47 million annually, a number that’s in line with previous industry estimates. The possibility of that kind of success, although rare, is hard to ignore.
The court series showing the most year-to-year growth is Sheindlin’s brain child, Hot Bench, which arrived on the air in 2014 to low expectations and quickly surprised everyone with the strength of its performance.
In March 2015, Sony Pictures Television canceled its talk show Queen Latifah, which aired on CBS owned stations in top markets, allowing CBS to move Hot Bench to those stations in morning time slots. The show’s ratings immediately grew even stronger. Season-to-date, Hot Bench is up 50% to a 2.4 in households and up 13% to a 0.9 among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54.
In the week ended March 27, Hot Bench climbed to third in daytime in households at a 2.4, beating Warner Bros.’ Ellen DeGeneres.
From Here to “Paternity”
Also showing strong growth is Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court, which no longer shows up in the national Nielsen ratings because MGM decided it wasn’t worth its while to subscribe to the relatively expensive service. However, Paternity Court is up 30% to a 1.3 in households this year compared to last and up 17% among women 25-54.
Similarly, Judge Faith is on a growth track, jumping 29% in households season-to-date to a 0.9, and holding steady among women 25-54 at a 0.4.
Finally, Entertainment Studios’ block of court shows—which includes America’s Court With Judge Ross, Justice for All With Judge Cristina Perez, Justice With Judge Mablean and Supreme Justice With Judge Karen—also is improving year-to-year, with the block up 18% in households to a cumulative 2.0 and steady among women 25-54. Entertainment Studios, run by Byron Allen, sells barter advertising in these shows based on the block’s cumulative rating, with ads running across all of the shows.
The only show in the genre to be almost unilaterally down is Divorce Court, which has dropped 13% this year compared to last in households and among women 25-54. At best, the show, which has been renewed through 2019, is flat in some demos, including women 18-49 and women 25-54.
Whether Palin can find Judge Judy-level success—or even Lauren Lake-level success—is anybody’s guess, but the genre’s overall strength suggests it’s worth a shot. As one potential buyer put it: “If I buy it and it works, I’m a genius, and if it fails, I’m an idiot. But that’s the case with any new show.”
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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.