A sweeping slump

Seinfeld and syndie court shows suffer May ratings drop

Few syndicated series flexed their muscles during the most recent May sweeps, including such usual heavyweights as Seinfeld
and the entire court genre.

Columbia TriStar's Seinfeld
may be losing its audience, literally. Viewers are apparently struggling to find it since it's on 43 new stations for its second syndication cycle. And with Paramount's drooping Judge Judy, the problem could be a case of viewers getting lost among this season's five rookie entries. But analysts aren't burying Seinfeld, which hit a 4.1 Nielsen household score, down 24% from May 2000 or Judge Judy
(5.7, down 12%).

Seinfeld is behind Friends
(5.3, down 7%) and Frasier
(4.9, flat), and, while TN Media's Howard Nass, senior vice president and director of local broadcast, still considers it "a pretty good sitcom," he notes: "It's losing its luster; it's been out a long time now." But Blair TV's Garnett Losak predicts Seinfeld, which debuted in syndication in 1995, will rebound "when viewer habits are re-established. I think Seinfeld
will have a nice long history."

However, the outlook isn't as sunny for the judges—for proof, look at the fact that no court-related series have so far surfaced on syndicators' fall 2002 development slates. And May didn't help. All the veterans—Judge Joe Brown
(3.3, down 11%), Divorce Court
(2.6, down 10%), Judge Greg Mathis
(2.0, down 9%), People's Court
(1.8, down 25%) and already canceled Judge Mills Lane
(1.4, down 30%)—suffered.

Advertisers once thought court was hot because "it was priced cheap. And you didn't have to worry about editorial content like you do with the Jerry Springers of the world," says Nass, pointing out that otherwise attractive shows like Entertainment Tonight
were considered too pricey. "But we're in an environment where advertising dollars are soft. So advertisers, instead of rushing to the judge shows, will say, 'Hey, I'll offer [ET] the same price I paid for the court shows, and I'll bet you they'll take it!'"

Judge shows weren't the only victims of May. Many talk series dropped just as far from their May 2000 levels, including The Rosie O'Donnell Show
(2.9, down 22%), Sally
(2.1, down 28%) and Jenny
(2.0, down 13%). However, Live with Regis and Kelly
(3.7, up 3%) and Montell
(3.0, unchanged) held steady. Top talkers slightly edging down, but less dramatically, were Oprah
(5.9, down 8%), Jerry Springer
(3.5, down 8%) and Maury
(3.3, down 8%).