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8/26/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Judge Judy Lobbies CBS for Prime Time

Judge Judy's Judith Sheindlin makes a bundle already, and next year she's slated for a $5 million bump that will give her $30 million-$35 million a year. Nice reward for presiding over the longest-running, most profitable and top-rated court show in the lucrative daytime genre. But Sheindlin is looking for more.

For the past few years, says the feisty syndicated TV jurist, she has been fighting a losing battle with Viacom for a slate of prime time Judge Judy specials on CBS, which operates under the same corporate umbrella as the show's syndicator, Paramount Domestic Television.

Perhaps inspired by the occasional prime time editions of Entertainment Tonight and Dr. Phil aired on CBS by synergy-minded Viacom, Sheindlin envisions four or five nighttime shows per year, possibly with bigger payouts and more-emotional cases than those of the small-claims variety that air during the day.

“It would seem to me common sense to say, if we expand this audience, it could only help our franchise,” Sheindlin says. “Now, to that end, I have made that suggestion to my bosses over at CBS and Viacom, and so far they have been unreceptive.”

But Viacom Co-President Leslie Moonves, whose empire encompasses CBS and Paramount's TV operations, is hardly in contempt of Judge Judy's court. Moonves regards Sheindlin as a prized asset, and he has offered her tokens of his appreciation beyond the giant paychecks. But the incentives just aren't quite in the same league with a Dr. Phil special. This spring, Sheindlin was given an executive- producing credit for a comedy project in development—one that failed, alas, to win a pilot order from CBS.

WE Talks ESP

The psychic John Edward may be on the verge of communicating with his dead TV career. A source at the WE channel confirms negotiations with Edward, who built a multimedia empire in recent years based on his ability to convince the bereaved that he could be their go-between with the deceased.

After TV appearances in the late '90s that flabbergasted audience members and plenty of TV hosts, Edward scored his own show, Crossing Over With John Edward, which debuted on Sci Fi in 2000, quickly became a late-night hit and went into daytime syndication before passing on in 2004. But the demise of Edward's TV platform hardly spelled disaster; his show was just one aspect of an extrasensory financial juggernaut that has included bestselling books, a newsletter, audio tapes, public appearances, private readings and merchandise sales.

Edward has attracted plenty of critics, who dismiss him as an adept practitioner of the art of “cold reading”—essentially inspired guesswork, assisted by eager-to-believe dupes. But his “I talk to dead people” routine can make good theater and seemed to offer plenty of comfort to some people. Edward's core TV audience was women 25-54, which makes the interest of the female-oriented WE in bringing him back thoroughly understandable. In fact, it almost could have been predicted.

Marketing Whiz

How do you publicize a home-improvement show for regular guys, especially when it's hosted by a notoriously potty-mouthed comedian? If you're TLC, you build elaborate portable toilets and station them at football games.

Touting The Adam Carolla Project, which premieres Oct. 4, the campaign will run from Sept. 26 through Oct. 11, featuring toilets outfitted with red carpets, velvet ropes, and hard-hat–wearing attendants in eight cities (for seven NFL games and one college contest, in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles).

Carolla, whose Too Late recently premiered on Comedy Central, has been called “the busiest lazy man in history” by friend/business partner Jimmy Kimmel. Carolla worked as a carpenter before his TV and radio career. In the TLC show, he renovates his boyhood home to sell it for a profit. The channel is hoping that Project, and a few other new reality series, will help it recover from audience burn-out after its over-scheduling of Trading Spaces in the past couple of years. In July, TLC was down 27% in prime from the year before, with an average of 684,000 total viewers.

The Carolla promotion will also include fake portable toilets stationed outside regular-guy destinations like sports bars, construction sites and home-improvement centers in New York and Los Angeles. Pity the poor intern in charge of dismantling the faux toilets after they've been visited by a few sports-bar drunks with bursting bladders.

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