By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/4/2004 8:00:00 PM
The verdict is in. The only thing Paramount Domestic Television is tweaking on No. 1 gaveler Judge Judy is the opening credits and the theme music.
"We thought it was time we got ourselves a recognizable theme song, one people know when they're away from the TV set," says John Kohler, senior vice president of creative affairs.
Even in a super-competitive marketplace, Judge Judy has remained TV's top court show in one of daytime's toughest time periods, opposite King World's The Oprah Winfrey Show at 4 p.m. Judy is cleared in early fringe in 95% of the country.
When King World's Dr. Phil showed up in 2002, stations paid high license fees for Judy to counteract the Oprah -Phil one-two punch. The tougher competition shows in the ratings.
In the past two years—with Phil growing stronger with every sweeps and Oprah handing in its best ratings in six years—Judy has fallen to a 5.0 household rating, from 5.6 in 2001. Still, since the show premiered in 1996, it has won its genre every week. Even Oprah can't make that claim; it fell to second place in 1999 when Universal's Jerry Springer was the hot kid on the block.
"Judy is the Oprah of court," says Greg Meidel, Paramount president of programming. (Well, maybe the dark side of Oprah, who doesn't make a habit of screaming at guests.)
Overall, the entire court genre is syndication's most stable. Seven shows are on-air; all have been renewed for next fall. By comparison, in the past year, seven talk shows were canceled. Of the rookie talkers, only Warner Bros.'The Ellen DeGeneres Show has been renewed.
After eight years heading the top-rated court show, the bombastic judge is ranked on Forbes' Celebrity 100 list, earning nearly $30 million a year. That's for 52 days of work per year, getting eight to 12 shows a day on tape with the show broadcast in post-production year round.
Judge Judy is renewed on stations through 2005-06. Paramount expects it to continue past that date, although it hasn't begun selling yet.
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