Ratings to Swear By

Judge Judy just keeps getting stronger
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CBS' Judge Judy makes a strong case for TV court shows—doling out justice and straight talk on the air for 12 years.

Coming into NATPE, it's the only program in first-run syndication to be up season-to-date versus last year. In live-plus-same-day national household AA ratings, Judge Judy is averaging a 4.9 season to date, up 7% from last year. That's the show's highest average season-to-date rating in three years. The show also is up 7% in GAA ratings to a 7.5, the show's highest GAA average in five years. And in the week ended Jan. 6, Judge Judy scored the highest GAA average in syndication, a 7.7.

(GAA ratings count viewers twice who watch both episodes of a double run, while AA ratings only count that viewer once. The ratings for most syndicated shows are reported on an AA basis because shows with double-runs have much higher GAA ratings, giving them an advantage. Advertising is sold against GAA ratings for shows with double runs.)

“Why does something good hold up?” says the show's judge, Judy Sheindlin, “What I've learned in the 12 or 13 years that I've been doing this is that when ratings start to slip, people often try to reinvent who they are or what the product is that first drew people. I think very often that is a mistake.

“I believe what initially made our program strong is honesty. I don't have a script. I'm a real judge and I'm reacting to real cases. There's nothing I can do other than remain engaged in the work that I do to keep it fresh.”

Comic presence

She's doing something right. She just reupped through 2013, for an undisclosed amount. After her last contract negotiation in 2005, she reportedly earned $20 million a year for banging the gavel.

Sheindlin manages to be comically direct while serving it to people straight (“There is something wrong with you!” she recently declared to a perplexed litigant). “If she were not a lawyer or a judge, she probably would have been a stand-up comedian,” says Randy Douthit, who has been the show's executive producer for its entire 12-year run. “She's one of life's guilty pleasures.”

Decisions made by Judge Judy are considered binding arbitration. Producers search court filings across the country to find litigants. Douthit says about 3 out of every 100 people approached agree to come on the show.

John Nogawski, president and chief operating officer for CBS Television Distribution, is in the process of renewing the show out to September 2012.

“I think the sitcom line-up in early fringe is very tired,” he says. “As a result of that, people are turning to Judy. A younger age group is finding her humor, spontaneity and the resolution she provides.”

Judge Judy is helping WCBS New York, says Peter Dunn, the station's general manager. In December when first-run syndies are mostly in repeats, Judy beat CBS' The Oprah Winfrey Show on WABC in household ratings for the first time in years. For the past three months at 4 p.m., Judy has been up about 35% while Oprah has been down about 20%.

“Overall our station is up, and so is promotion for every show,” says Dunn, who just renewed the show with the rest of the CBS station group. “We've been emphasizing our 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. block. We have increases on every show in that block while most stations are down in the same time periods.”

On Fox-owned WAGA Atlanta, Judge Judy also occasionally emerges victorious after battle with Winfrey at 4 p.m., says Gene McHugh, the station's general manager, who is renewing the show. “She has a unique style that she has defined over the years. You know who you are going to get when you tune in. She's true to herself.”