“Judge Judy” to end production; new show to take its place?

Credit: CBS

Judy Sheindlin exits on top; reruns to air in a long-term deal

A major change is about to take place involving television’s top-rated syndicated show.

Long-running courtroom strip Judge Judy is ending production next season (2020-21) after 25 consecutive seasons on the air. However, the series is continuing in repeats in a long-term deal with numerous unidentified local stations, with more than 5,000 episodes in the can.

The news came from Judge Judy herself – Judy Sheindlin made the announcement Monday on Ellen.

“I’ve had a 25-year-long marriage with CBS, and it’s been successful,” said Sheindlin. “Next year will be our 25th season, silver anniversary, and CBS sort of felt, I think, they wanted to optimally utilize the repeats of my program. Because now they have 25 years of reruns. So what they decided to do was to sell a couple of years’ worth of reruns. But I’m not tired, so Judy Justice will be coming out a year later.”

She continued: “Judge Judy, you’ll be able to see next year — a full year, all new shows. … The following couple of years, you should be able to catch all the reruns that CBS has sold to the stations that are currently carrying Judge Judy, and Judy Justice will be going elsewhere.”

Sheindlin declined to elaborate on the project. CBS Television Distribution, who is Judge Judy’s current distributor, had no comment.

Currently, Judy airs on numerous CBS-owned and Fox-owned stations in top markets in early fringe as a news lead-in, including CBS-owned WBBM-TV (CBS 2) in Chicago, where it airs at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. opposite newscasts on other stations. Judy has aired on CBS 2 in the time slot since the early-2000s after stints at WPWR and WCIU (where it aired in access during the 1997-98 season.) The show returned to WPWR in 1998 and actually split a local clearance with CBS 2 at one point.

Judy was originally syndicated by Worldvision Enterprises at a time when courtroom shows fell out of favor with local stations after a boom in the late 1980s with The Judge, Divorce Court, Superior Court, and the original version of The People’s Court. Judy re-energized the genre and by the end of the 2000s, there were more than ten such shows on the air. Judy was one of the reasons Viacom bought out Spelling Entertainment, Worldvision’s one-time owner in May 1999. Three months later, Viacom would buy CBS – reuniting the network it spun off of in 1971.

By 2010, Judy became television’s top-rated syndicated show – a position held for the longest time by Wheel Of Fortune, now drawing on average nine million viewers per day – in fact, you can say Judy is among television’s top-rated shows overall as it draws more viewers than most prime-time shows these days, including Young Sheldon and practically everything on The CW and Fox (excluding sports.)

Ms. Sheindlin’s success with Judge Judy also led to the launch of another courtroom show by her production company, Hot Bench. The program is successful, but is likely facing downgrades in a few markets this fall – notably in New York – as CTD is launching a new talk show with Drew Barrymore. Sold to CBS 2 in an O&O deal, it is not known where Barrymore would end up on the fall schedule as it could replace Hot Bench at 2 p.m.

In recent years, there was a battle between Sheindlin and CBS over the library rights and profits from her show. In fact, TMZ reported Monday Sheindlin decided not to renew her contract with CBS after the 2020-21 season due to her feud with the network – especially after the departure of former head honcho Les Moonves and new management installed after the second reunification of CBS and Viacom. TMZ said Judy Justice would not be syndicated by CBS, meaning her new show is likely to be produced by somebody else.

Whether off-syndication repeats of Judge Judy would work in debatable as such a tactic with first-run programs hasn’t worked well in the past. In 1993, Warner Bros. stopped production on the original People’s Court after twelve seasons and decided to air repeats on an all-barter basis, lasting until 1995 (Court was previously sold as cash-barter.) It was later revealed the producers fired Judge Joseph Wapner in a desire to revamp the show, completely blindsiding him as he expressed displeasure with the move. The “revamped” version of the show returned to the air in 1997 in an hour-long format and since 2001, helmed by retired Florida Court judge Marlin Milian as she replaced Jerry Sheindlin – Judge Judy’s husband.

Are local stations willing to air repeats of Judge Judy as news lead-ins? Many of them are expanding newscasts, such as WAGA in Atlanta as the Fox-owned station is launching a new 4:30 p.m. newscast on March 30, shifting a half-hour of Judy to an earlier time slot. With three of their competitors already airing news at 4 p.m., it remains to be seen if CBS 2 would join the local news race at that time or continue to air Judy  in rerun form. Even though Judy has been leading into CBS 2’s 5 p.m. newscasts for years, it still trails its competitors in the ratings, even with the strong lead-in.

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