“People’s Court,” the granddaddy of court shows and the series that changed the face of firstrun syndication when it was introduced 12 years ago, will cease production at the end of this season.

The strip’s syndicator, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, opted to pull the plug on production because the reruns — known as “The Best of People’s Court”–are performing as well as the originals in similar time periods.

In announcing the decision late Friday afternoon, WBDTD prez Dick Robertson said, “Why should we be killing ourselves by making 195 episodes every year when it doesn’t do anything (to attract higher ratings)?”

With 2,315 episodes in the can, the distrib will continue to offer two runs of the rerun strip to stations next season under a “unique” marketing plan, Robertson said.

Both strips will be sold on a straight barter basis, with the stations retaining four minutes and WB keeping three minutes of national advertising time.

The originals have been licensed on a cash-plus-barter basis, with the syndicator retaining 90 seconds of national time, while the reruns have been sold on a straight barter basis since WB began distributing the second run two years ago.

Until now, stations have demanded at least one firstrun strip if they were to also carry reruns of the same show five days a week.

Because of the large number of “People’s Court” episodes that are available, Robertson noted that stations can air both runs of the rerun strips every weekday for four years without showing the same episode twice. There will be 520 episodes available for next season alone.

“People’s Court” is currently cleared in 93% of the country, and Robertson said he expects “to be in the same level without the cash.” The distrib plans to announce its first batch of station clearances for the new marketing plan this week.

He downplayed the significance of the decision to cease production, declining to label it as the end of an era–at least when it comes to the viewers’ reactions.

“All these shows have looked exactly the same for all these years,” Robertson said. “It’s the same judge and the same bailiff. No one will be able to tell the difference.”

Still, “People’s Court” has become a major phenomenon during its lengthy tenure on the tube.

As one of the longest-running shows in firstrun syndication, the series spawned a spate of imitators (the only survivor is Genesis Entertainment’s barely visible “The Judge”) and turned retired Judge Joseph Wapner into a household word.

Wapner is better known today than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His popularity was such that California Democrats approached the judge in 1990 to run for governor.

In its early years, “People’s Court” became an instant hit and kept the incipient Telepictures afloat. Through the years and Telepictures’ mergers with Lorimar and Time Warner, the program has been a major profit center for its owners.

Its success convinced a number of major studios and distribs such as King World of the potential for firstrun syndication, which today has grown into a multibillion-dollar business.

The program also made an impact on the court caseload. Anyone ever involved in a small claims suit in Los Angeles County has likely been approached to appear on the program.

Although “People’s Court” is not the ratings smash it once was, it still performs respectably.

During the first week of the November sweeps, the show ranked 35th out of 127 firstrun shows containing barter. The series averaged a 3.3 household rating (and a 3.7 for its multiple runs), skewing fairly even between younger and older viewers.

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