Syndication update: MGM pulls plug on court shows’ original production

“Paternity Court” is out of production, but remains on air through reruns and podcasting. (MGM)

Court genre thins out, but still viable

After being one of the most reliable genres in first-run syndication during the last decade, the courtroom show pack is thinning the herd a little bit. 

According to Broadcasting & Cable, MGM (through production company Orion, the former film studio acquired by MGM) has halted production on three court shows – Couples Court With The Cutlers, Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court, and Personal Injury Court, a newer strip on the air only two years. According to Wikipedia, Injury Court was canceled at the end of last season after only 120 episodes, despite a report in TVNewsCheck last year that it and the other two MGM shows were renewed

The pandemic could be partly the blame for the end of these shows, but also blame the unstable financial condition of MGM, as the studio – now run by reality TV producer Mark Burnett is now up for sale. Earlier, MGM sold two of its diginet channels to Byron Allen’s Allen Media Group – Light TV (which recently became TheGrio.TV) and This TV, a former partnership between the studio and Tribune Media and beforehand, Weigel Broadcasting. 

However, it may not be the end. All three shows’ repeats are still available to local stations and will be for the foreseeable future. Recent ratings for all three are unavailable as MGM does not subscribe to Nielsen. And the article also points out MGM plans to develop more court shows, despite the financial uncertainty.

In addition, Lake has launched a podcast series based on her show. 

Other shows have also ended production. Trifecta’s Protection Court shuttered last year but is also in repeats for the foreseeable future while Debmar-Mercury’s Caught In Providence was canceled after last season. The show is no longer airing on linear TV. 

Part of the problem is the vast majority of these shows has a station clientele consisting of lower-rated CW, My Network TV, and independent stations – and in some markets, these shows air in either late-night or early morning time slots. And when they do air in a decent time slot, viewership is often low as viewers generally don’t seek these stations during the day. Adding to this is a lack of widespread clearances, with some shows reaching a little over 70 percent of the U.S., the minimum needed to secure national barter advertising. 

But despite the shortcomings, reruns are likely to remain on stations’ schedules as replacements are far and few between with the pandemic’s after effects lasting well into 2022, putting a damper on pitches for new syndicated product. 

This comes after the biggest name in court – Judge Judy, is shifting her gavel to Amazon’s IMDB beginning this fall, leaving local stations with…you guessed it, reruns. CBS Media Ventures is currently selling those repeats in multi-year deals, though it is not known if the current Judge Judy station lineup would stay intact since CBS has not released any information on sales. 

Still, stations want to be in the court business, despite the glut of shows in recent years as it has been a doable genre since the premiere of the original People’s Court in 1981. As life gets back to normal, TV production should ramp up and so should pitches for new syndication product. In fact, Fox is already pitching an Ice-T court show with stations testing the program starting next month. And of course, there’s Allen’s five shows, all receiving multi-year deals to continue so even though several courtroom programs have called it quits, there won’t be a shortage of product. And that’s the final verdict. 

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