Sony Court Strip Sold to Stations

Oct 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Move over, Judge Alex. Judge Maria is the newest gavel in town.

Riding a wave of renewed interest in syndicated courtroom fare, Sony Pictures Television has sold its half-hour strip “Judge Maria Lopez” to stations representing 35 percent of the country on a straight barter deal for a September 2006 launch.

Sony’s announcement comes on the heels of the success of Twentieth Television’s “Judge Alex,” starring Judge Alex Ferrer. “Alex” is the top-rated freshman syndicated strip of the 2005-06 season. Word also has emerged that both Paramount Domestic Television and Twentieth are considering their own new projects for fall 2006 in the court genre.

In fact, come next fall,

the syndication marketplace could see the first uptick in five years in the number of court shows on the air.

In the mid-1990s Paramount’s “Judge Judy,” the current genre leader, helped reignite the courtroom format popularized by the original “People’s Court.” “Judy” premiered to modest ratings in fall 1996 and took off in its second season. By fall 2001 11 court shows were on the air. Perhaps hitting the point of saturation, the genre then waned. The number of court shows dropped to seven in fall 2002, a number that has held steady since.

In the 2005-06, season, seven courtroom strips are in production. In addition, repeats of Twentieth’s “Texas Justice” run in several markets.

The market indeed is open again to additional court shows, said Bill Carroll, VP and director of television for Katz Television Group.

“There seems to be, and with some justification, an insatiable appetite on the part of both stations and viewers for the court format,” Mr. Carroll said. “I’m not surprised they could go out and get a formidable lineup for this show.”

Sony says “Lopez” will run in “proven court blocks” on the stations, where back-to-back courtroom strips have performed solidly in daytime for years. Like this season’s “Alex,” many court shows run twice within the afternoon blocks. “Lopez” could replace the second run of another court strip.

Sony’s announcement comes months before the NATPE convention in late January and before other distributors have even announced plans for a court strip.

“If you have a project and you’re ready to go forward, you want to get out there as early as possible and clear a show before the marketplace gets too crowded,” Mr. Carroll said.

“Lopez” has been cleared in seven of the top 10 markets, including Tribune Broadcasting’s WPIX-TV in New York, Weigel Broadcasting’s WCIU-TV in Chicago and Viacom Television Stations Group’s duopoly KYW-TV and WPSG-TV Philadelphia.

In addition, Viacom has picked up the show for its duopolies in Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh and West Palm Beach, Fla., and for its UPN stations in Atlanta, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla., and Norfolk, Va. “Lopez” is also cleared on Weigel’s duopoly in Milwaukee. The show is not yet cleared in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest market.

Judge Lopez, who in 1993 became the first female Hispanic judge appointed to the Massachusetts Superior Court, was a civil rights attorney for nearly 10 years before joining the bench.

Should “Lopez” get a firm go for fall 2006, it will represent Sony’s second court show, since the company also distributes “Judge Hatchett,” which debuted in fall 2000.

“Lopez” will not be a replacement for “Hatchett,” Mr. Carroll said. “That’s going to go forward,” he said of “Hatchett,” which is distributed in the top markets on the Fox owned-and-operated stations. “I’m assuming ‘Hatchett’ is coming back.”