Goodwill hunting

Texas Justice going pro bono to entice stations to sample it

Something that you'd think would eventually happen with a court strip: Texas Justice will soon be working pro bono.

To pique stations' interest in snapping up the series for its now official national launch next year, Twentieth Television won't charge license fees for four months, from September until its wide rollout in January. Twentieth is also letting stations keep the entire commercial inventory for the episodes during that period.

The economic crunch spurred Twentieth to think up a plan that will fit station belt-tightening, says chief sales executive Paul Franklin. "Think about it: Stations are saving and making a lot of money. This gives them an incentive to look at this very seriously."

In return, Twentieth expects stations to schedule Texas Justice in healthy time periods, with hopes of helping it compete in the crowded court genre—which in 2002 will mean eight total strips, including renewed rookies, Twentieth's own Power of Attorney and Columbia TriStar's Judge Hatchett.

The Fox O&O group, Twentieth's distribution partner, is among those already on board for the deal, which reverts to a typical cash-plus-barter split arrangement come January. Currently, 53% of the country has cleared Texas Justice, including such non-Fox-owned stations as Cox Broadcasting's KTVU-TV San Francisco and KIRO-TV Seattle.

Twentieth won't be financially drained by the offer, Franklin insists, because so many episodes of Texas Justice are already in the can. Previously intended as a test effort for selected markets, Texas Justice has aired just 45 of 70 episodes that have been produced up to this point.

But Twentieth hopes stations will see Texas Justice, steered by Houston lawyer Larry Joe Dougherty, as more than just a financial steal. "It's been incredibly well-received," says Franklin.

In its nine-week test run (March 26-May 25), Texas Justice ranked No. 1 in its time slot in three metered-market stations in the trial, according to Nielsen Media Research. On KDFW-TV Dallas, the show beat Rosie O'Donnell; on WHBQ-TV Memphis, Judge Judy; and on WGHP-TV Greensboro, Live With Regis and Kelly.

"The response to Texas Justice
during the regional test let us know we had a winner on our hands," says Bob Cook, Twentieth's president.

Next season, Texas Justice will continue to be executive-produced by Seigel Levine.

Although viewers seem to be judging Texas Justice positively, when it is launched nationally, the show will have to compete in a rather crowded genre. However, the departure of some court shows—Arrest & Trial, Judge Mills Lane, Curtis Court and Moral Court—next season should leave Texas Justice some elbow room.