Even juggernaut shows like “Judge Judy” fight an uphill battle during their launch. In “Judy’s” case, its star had little television experience and clearances were subpar in its first year.
Originally titled “Hot Bench,” test runs of “Judy” weren’t up to expectations. Big Ticket Television brought in former “Larry King Live” executive producer and current director and co-executive producer Randy Douthit to spruce up the show.
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“[The show] just wasn’t fitting Judy,” Mr. Douthit said. “It was a little more talk show-y than it was courtroom.”
“To me,” he added, “for the show to be successful at that point, because she wasn’t an experienced television person at all, was to make it as natural and organic from her point of view as possible.”
Despite Judy’s lack of television experience, Mr. Douthit said he was impressed with her instincts regarding the program.
“She knew what she wanted to do, and she knew what would work best for her and the show,” he said.
One thing the show avoids are over-the-top cases that could offend. Judy has the final call on which cases she’ll oversee.
“We’re careful not to do stuff that I deem salacious,” she said.
“We’re not looking for strippers who haven’t been paid for a lap dance,” co-executive producer Tim Regler said. “That’s just not our thing.”
Once the presentation tape was available, the show was sold nationally through distributor Worldvision Enterprises, which up to that point hadn’t really delved into the area of first-run programming.
The premiere clearances were less than stellar.
“[The clearances] were on terrible stations. They were absolutely terrible,” Mr. Douthit said. “That could have doomed us.”
However, based on its own merits, Mr. Douthit said, the show was able to gain traction in year one to catch the attention of better stations in each market for more beneficial time periods in year two.
The growth of the show continued as viewers became more familiar with “Judge Judy” and its sales force became more impressive. Worldvision was swallowed up by Paramount in the mid-’90s, which in turn merged with KingWorld in 2006.
Mr. Douthit said the biggest change in the show since the first year has been Judy’s ownership of the courtroom.
“By the end of the first year, you could see she had grown tremendously. She had become more comfortable,” he said.
In the following seasons, Mr. Douthit said Judy began to really settle into her new-found position.
“She felt at home, as though it was her courtroom,” he said.