Warner Bros. pulls plug on long-running “Judge Mathis”, “People’s Court”

Departure of “Mathis” leaves Chicago without a nationally daily syndicated show for the first time since 1986

Warner Bros. Discovery announced late Friday it was ending long-running courtroom shows Judge Mathis and The People’s Court after 24 and 26 seasons respectively.

While Court was taped in Connecticut, Judge Mathis‘ cancellation leaves Chicago without a national daily program to call home for the first time since September 1986, when WLS-TV’s The Oprah Winfrey Show premiered in national syndication. Earlier, Phil Donahue took his show to New York in January 1985 after eleven years in Chicago, first at WGN-TV and later at WBBM-TV.

Mathis is produced at the NBC Tower, home to NBC-owned WMAQ-TV and spent its entire run at WCIU-TV, known as CW 26.

Chicago was a hotbed of production activity in the 1990s and 2000s, thanks in part to Oprah, with nationally syndicated talk shows Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos, and later Steve Harvey calling Chicago home, with all four being produced at the NBC Tower.

But the bubble started to burst in 2009 as Springer and Wilkos left Chicago for Stamford, Conn. thanks to tax breaks provided by the state. Oprah Winfrey retired from the daily talk show grind in 2011, with Harpo Studios closing four years later and subsequently demolished. Harvey relocated to Los Angeles in 2017 in order to attract more celebrities to his show as the effort wasn’t successful and his show was canceled in 2019. That left Mathis as the sole daily show produced in Chicago since then.

Other syndicated, non-scripted series produced in Chicago in the past include Kwik Witz and various iterations of At The Movies and Siskel & Ebert.

Judge Marylin Martin helms “The People’s Court”.

The People’s Court had been on the air since September 1997, returning to the airwaves after the original version featuring Judge Joseph Wapner ended four years earlier. Judge Marylin Milan had been at the helm since 2001 and has aired on WCIU since 1998 (it spent its inaugural season at NBC 5.)

The decision to end both shows come as no surprise as Warner Bros. Discovery is looking to cut costs after their 2021 merger as more and more viewers are abandoning linear TV and daytime television in particular and amid a continuing glut of court shows in the daypart. This marks the latest upheaval in the last few weeks, as just Thursday Ryan Seacrest announced he was leaving Live With Kelly and Ryan to focus on American Idol and his syndicated radio shows for iHeartMedia, and last month, Dr. Phil announced he was ending his show after 21 years.

It is not known if Warner plans to offer repeats of both canceled shows to stations, a tack several syndicators have increasingly took in the last few years with Judge Judy, Springer, Maury, and Judge Jerry, now all in indefinite repeats on local stations. Warner did offer repeats of the original People’s Court for a season (1993-94) after it ended original production, so it is not out of the realm of possibility. 

The cancellations also come as a huge blow for CW 26, as Judge Mathis and The People’s Court were among some of the most-watched programs on the Weigel-owned station and is now faced with filling those time slots for next season as the shows took up four hours of real estate. Both Mathis and Milan were seen on billboards for WCIU all over town for years, notably on CTA buses. 

Their departure also leaves Warner Bros. with just two first-run series (the just-renewed Jennifer Hudson show and the long-running Extra) – the smallest number of shows in their arsenal since taking over Lorimar-Telepictures’ syndication operations in 1989.


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