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TV court dockets full

Legal eagles are lining up to take part in syndie TV trials.

Mills Lane, a Nevada jurist better known to many as the referee in the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield ear-biting fracas last June, has sealed a deal with Rysher Entertainment to host a half-hour strip targeted for debut in fall 1998 (Daily Variety, Sept. 22).

Fox’s Twentieth TV, meanwhile, has signed a development deal with renowned criminal prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi for a court-themed daytime strip, also slated for a fall 1998 launch.

Syndicators’ sudden interest in jurisprudence can be summed up in two words: “Judge Judy.” The “People’s Court”-style program, produced by Big Ticket Entertainment and distributed by Worldvision, has been racking up solid ratings in its second season.

The show, hosted by former Gotham judge Judy Sheindlin, won dozens of timeslot and station upgrades this year following a promising freshman season.

Big Ticket and Worldvision are said to be developing another court show for fall 1998 hosted by Tennessee jurist Joe Brown, although company officials were not available for comment Monday.

“Judge Judy” was hot enough last season to spur Warner Bros. to bring out a revival of “The People’s Court” this fall. But the new version, with former Gotham mayor Ed Koch on the bench, hasn’t yet enjoyed the breakout success, ratings-wise, of the original 1981-93 series. As a result, rival syndicators smell opportunity.

Rysher’s “Judge Mills Lane” will be co-produced by syndie TV veterans John Tomlin and Bob Young, whose credits include “A Current Affair” and “Inside Edition.” The half-hour show will focus on one case per episode, with an emphasis on real-world problems that call for common sense adjudication.

‘Maximum Mills’

Lane, an ex-Marine and former boxer himself, is known in his Reno courtroom as “Maximum Mills.” He spent 17 years as a Reno prosecutor before moving into the judicial arena in 1990. And he’s been moonlighting in the court of fisticuffs since the 1970s.

The “Judge Mills Lane” deal was brokered by CAA’s Steve Smooke, Rysher Entertainment distribution prexy Ira Bernstein and Rob Kenneally, Rysher’s president of creative affairs.

Twentieth is still developing plans for the Bugliosi project, but the show is expected to put more emphasis on analyzing and de-mystifying the legal process, from depositions to appeals. The multiyear development pact also calls for Bugliosi to develop additional syndie and cable TV projects for Twentieth.

Bugliosi’s primary claim to fame is convicting Charles Manson and his followers of the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murder spree. He’s been a frequent legal commentator on network and cable TV ever since the O.J. Simpson murder case began to unfold in 1994. Bugliosi recently penned a bestseller on the Simpson saga, “Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away with Murder.”

The 1964 UCLA Law School grad also is said to have been the inspiration for Robert Conrad’s character in the 1971-72 NBC series “The DA.”

In announcing the development deal with Twentieth, Bugliosi said: “We plan to produce a program that will be both innovative and cutting-edge in the area of courtroom drama.”

Bugliosi’s deal was brokered by Peter Miller of Gotham’s PMA Literary and Film Management Inc. and Greg Nathanson, president of programming and development for Twentieth TV.

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