Tribune lands ‘Mills’ court time next fall

The Tribune tribunal has set a date with “Judge Mills Lane” for fall 1998.

The Tribune station group has signed on for Rysher Entertainment’s upcoming courtshow strip hosted by the colorful judge known as “Maximum Mills” in his Reno, Nev., courtroom.

The sale to Tribune gives the half-hour strip a berth on 15 major-market stations covering more than 30% of U.S. households, virtually assuring that the show will debut nationally as planned in fall 1998. The deal covers all Tribune outlets except WGN-TV Chicago. In that market, “Mills Lane” has been sold to indie WCIU, which will air the show back-to-back in the 6-7 p.m. access hour.

“We’ve been so enthusiastic about this project from the start, but we were overwhelmed by the interest from stations,” said Ira Bernstein, Rysher’s prexy of domestic distribution.

Sources said Tribune execs tried to get Rysher to sweeten the deal by handing over national advertising sales on the show to Tribune’s inhouse ad sales arm. But with multiple offers from sizable station groups, Rysher execs were able to hold their ground, a notable victory for an indie syndie distributor in a marketplace where station group buyers wield major clout.

However, Tribune will collect rent for studio space from Rysher. “Judge Mills Lane,” a court-oriented half-hour in the tradition of “The People’s Court” and “Judge Judy,” will be taped at Tribune’s flagship station, WPIX New York.

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