CTD, 'Judge Joe Brown'Explore Split

Amid contract impasse, Brown and distributor both meeting with other partners

If an ongoing contract negotiation between CBS Television Distribution and Joe Brown, star of CTD’s Judge Joe Brown, is not resolved, syndication’s second highest-rated court show might feature a different judge next fall, according to several sources. That’s despite the fact that Joe is renewed on TV stations through the 2014-15 TV season.

In the face of declining ratings, license fees and advertising revenue, CTD has told Brown that his salary will be cut significantly. Brown has not re-upped to do the show under the new terms for this fall and is shopping it to other distributors, according to sources. The show is scheduled to end production for its current season mid-March. Meanwhile, CTD’s salespeople are proposing to stations to swap in another judge.

One of the judges CTD is considering, according to several sources, is Judge Geoffrey Gaither, a juvenile court judge in Marion County, Indiana. While TV station executives have seen tape featuring Gaither, he is not necessarily CTD’s final selection should Brown not re-sign.

Some syndicators said they have received calls from members of Brown’s crew, looking for new jobs.

Among the distributors that Brown is considering is Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios, with whom sources say the judge is in “advanced conversations to produce new episodes of the show for fall.” Entertainment Studios declined to comment. Brown could not be reached at presstime via calls to Judge Joe Brown’s production office at Sunset-Bronson Studios.

Whether station groups will be willing to keep the show on the air with another judge in Brown’s place hasn’t been decided yet, but some station executives who requested anonymity told B&C they were less than happy to be learning about this situation at the end of February, when their options for replacing the show are limited.

CTD declined to comment on “ongoing talent negotiations,” according to a spokesman.

There is, of course, still the possibility that Brown will end up signing a new contract with CTD and return to the air with the distributor this fall as planned.

Sources noted that there are significant advantages to sticking with CTD, even at a lesser salary. Several syndication stars have had to take salary cuts in recent years in the face of a fragmented daytime TV environment, and even The Oprah Winfrey Show faced license-fee cuts by the time it went off the air in 2011.

In many markets, Judge Joe Brown is paired with CTD’s Judge Judy, by far syndication’s No. 1 court show. Judy still brings in massive ratings, recently surpassing an 8.0 in households, and often ranks as daytime’s highest-rated show. When Joe—or any court show—is paired with Judy, it typically gets a ratings bump. Judy is such a strong performer that Fox recently upgraded it to 4 p.m. in three markets—WAGA Atlanta, WTXF Philadelphia and WTTG Washington, D.C.—where Fox has found it performs well as a news lead-in.

Like many syndicated shows, ratings for Judge Joe Brown have been in decline over the past several years. In the February sweeps (data available through Feb. 17), the show was down 20% to a 2.4 live-plus-sameday rating from a 3.0 last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Further, the per-episode rating that local stations use to sell to advertisers is actually lower than the nationally reported rating. Judge Joe Brown, like Judge Judy, runs in one-hour blocks of two original half-hours, and those double runs are added together for the national rating.

For example, on Fox’s WWOR New York at 2 p.m., each half-hour of Judge Joe Brown is averaging a 1.0 rating/ 3 share in households. That’s down 33% from last year when the show aired at 2 p.m. on Fox’s WNYW, and is less than half of the national rating. On CBS’ KCAL Los Angeles, each episode of the show, which airs at 11 a.m., averages a 1.1/4.

Accordingly, Joe’s revenue have fallen significantly in recent years, and so have license fees, with one station executive noting that “We gave [CTD] giant license fee cuts” for the show in the last round of renewals.

CTD remains TV’s largest syndicator, with such hit shows in its arsenal as Entertainment Tonight, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and Dr. Phil. That gives CTD leverage in the marketplace, from which Judge Joe Brown benefits. Another syndicator, without those big shows in its portfolio, would not be able to support Judge Joe Brown in the same way.

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