Gavel shows gain respect with new award
It took decades — not to mention the current glut of shows on the air — for the court genre to earn any respect at the Daytime Emmys.
So with the number of gavel skeins in double digits, the National Academy of TV Arts & Sciences has finally come to the realization that Judges Judy, Mathis, Alex, Hatchett and their ilk aren’t going anywhere.
“For a long time, people didn’t really know what to do with courtshows,” says Michael Rourke, who exec produces “Judge David Young” and “Judge Maria Lopez” for Sony Pictures TV.
“It wasn’t really a talkshow or a reality show or a soap opera,” he says. “It had elements of all of those things. The genre was an orphan. It’s great they’re acknowledging it as its own category.”
Until now, courtshows had been relegated to a “special class series” category, where they went up against other types of programming that had little in common. Last year, for example, “Judge Judy” was nommed in the same field as TLC’s “A Baby Story,” MTV’s “Made” and the syndie entries “Starting Over” and “Animal Rescue.”
Twentieth TV topper Bob Cook says he and others lobbied the National TV Academy several years ago to create the category.
“I thought it was really unfair that court wasn’t represented,” he says.
“Cristina’s Court” exec producer Peter Brennan created “Judge Judy,” which kicked off the current court craze 12 years ago, and says the new category is long overdue.
“It was frustrating for some people, when they work pretty hard all year and do a show they’re proud of, and find themselves in a category that doesn’t relate to one another,” he notes.
What took so long? For starters, until this modern wave, the court drama was cyclical, like much of TV. The 1980s wave of “The People’s Court” and “Divorce Court” had fizzled out by the early ’90s, and the feeling was this crush of sassy, quippy judges would have a short shelf life as well.
But the shows kept coming, and the court genre grew even more resilient.
“I think we’re all so pleasantly surprised at how well it has held up year in and year out,” Cook says. “Court is the most stable of genres and the least likely to fail. We’re big fans of the genre.”
Sony Pictures TV distribution prexy John Weiser concurs, noting that with so many gavelers on the air right now, “You get the highest percentage return from launching courtshows than any other genre. That’s as predictable as you can get with TV genres.”
Courtshows are popular with syndie distribs because they’re much cheaper to produce and launch than big-budget gabfests. The rise in courtshows also comes as stations — which once programmed afternoon blocks with kidshows, gabfests or the latest off-net sitcom, all of which have fallen by the wayside — deal with more open time periods.
Economics also allow many of these shows to survive with low ratings.
“Because of the changes of the climate and environment in the TV industry, these shows are able to stay on,” says “Judge Judy” exec producer Randy Douthit.
Viewers, meanwhile, have responded to the genre because of its quick, easy-to-digest chronicle of human drama — complete with an ending.
“The format is such a great way to tell a story,” Rourke says. “Both sides get an opportunity to explain their situation, and it’s always resolved.”
TV Academy voters, meanwhile, will likely balance the personality and skill of a show’s judge with the casting of the show’s plaintiff and defendant — not to mention how interesting their case is.
“A good courtshow has got to have conflict resolution, useful information, someone with good command of the law, and it’s TV, so it has to be entertaining,” Weiser says.
April 30: Nominees announced
June 20: Daytime Emmys, Kodak Theater, ABC, 8 p.m.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Regis Philbin