New verdict on 'People's Court' redo

Reversing a previous decision to pass on the project, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution is close to finalizing a deal with Stu Billett to distribute a one-hour strip remake of the classic courtroom series “The People’s Court.”

The deal is expected to close as early as this week. No final decision has been made on a replacement for the original judge, Joseph Wapner. Sources say former New York mayor Ed Koch will probably be named host if the show is shot in New York.

However, the show may be set in Los Angeles, and sources say Billett has also had conversations with Chris Darden, a prosecutor on the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, and Vincent Bugliosi, a prosecutor in the Manson murder case and recent author of “Outrage.”

The series is expected to be targeted to early fringe news lead-in slots, and it’s one of the only new syndie strips being taken out by a major studio for 1997.

Sources say Warner Bros. has been talking on and off with Billett for months, and the studio passed on earlier reincarnations of the franchise. The studio changed its mind in part because Worldvision’s new courtroom strip “Judge Judy” is one of the only frosh syndie series showing ratings promise, and there are likely to be timeslots opening up in the market.

Warner Bros. may be able to ride the clout it has from the success of its new “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” and having an already branded series may also be a plus. Telepictures distributed the original syndicated version of the show, which ran from 1981-93. At that time, Dick Robertson, WBDTD prexy, headed Telepictures, which was not yet a part of Time Warner.

Eyemark Entertainment had also considered distributing the remake, but it is no longer involved in talks for the project.

The off-syndie reruns of “The People’s Court” now air on USA Network. The new version will not be identical to the first, which was a half-hour series, sources say. No production talent is attached to the show yet.

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