Syndies WB, ITC going to court for new series

Court TV shows appear to be the syndication trend du jour. Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution confirmed it’s selling a one-hour remake of “The People’s Court,” with former New York mayor Ed Koch as the presiding judge, for fall 1997. ITC is selling the half-hour “Comedy Court,” with comedian Steve Landesberg passing judgment with a twist.

“The People’s Court” strip will be produced by Ralph Edwards/Stu Billett Prods., which also produced the original version (Daily Variety, Dec. 4). The show will be shot in New York, and real court cases will be drawn from suits filed in and around New York City. Koch’s judgments on two or three cases per episode will be binding.

The new version will also have interactive call-in segments, where viewers can render their own opinions in markets where the series airs live. WBDTD has no station deals yet, but it is targeting early fringe news lead-in slots, and the show is being sold for cash plus 3-1/2 minutes of barter. A yet-to-be named in-studio host will give wrap-arounds to each case, and there will be a reporter interviewing litigants after the verdicts.

Scott Carlin, executive VP of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, said the show is targeted mainly to blue-collar men, meaning the audience differs from its other early fringe hit, “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.”

” ‘The People’s Court’ was the most successful news lead-in in the history of syndication.,” Carlin said. It aired for 13 years, making it the “second-longest-running franchise in the history of syndication,” after “Entertainment Tonight.”

Some station sources speculated that the series is an hour long so that WBDTD can offer it to stations that don’t want to renew its “In Person With Maureen O’Boyle,” and hold the timeslots. Carlin said “The People’s Court” is not a replacement for “Maureen,” but sources speculate the talker may not return in its current form next season.

With plenty of timeslots available, clout in the marketplace and an already branded franchise with a well-known host, WBDTD probably won’t have trouble selling “The People’s Court.” However, one station exec expressed concern that Warner Bros. will not have creative control over the show, which also tends to skew slightly old.

Meanwhile, ITC Entertainment Group and the Producers Entertainment Group are selling the comedy/reality take-off “Comedy Court,” hosted by the former “Barney Miller” star Landesberg. KIIS-FM’s Ellen K. will report on the cases, and two new guest comedians each week will represent real litigants with real cases.

Each half-hour episode will feature two cases, and decisions will be binding, despite the comedic flair. The show was created by Matt Neuman and Lane Sarasohn, who will executive produce and write. The strip is also targeted to early fringe slots, and it’s being sold for barter.

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