×

‘Judge Judy’ Sets High Benchmark for TV Salaries

Which TV personality takes home the biggest paycheck? The answer is often elusive to industryites who focus on the scripted primetime arena. But in terms of salary paid to talent for a show — the gavel comes down for Judge Judy.

Judith Sheindlin earns a whopping $47 million annually for presiding over the hit CBS-distributed syndicated court show, now in its 21st season.

Judge Judy” averages 10.3 million viewers a week, making it the most-watched national program in daytime TV. The show brings in an estimated $160 million-$170 million in revenue a year, including license fees from 200-plus stations around the country and CBS’ barter advertising revenue.

Production costs are minimal, which is one reason Sheindlin can command such a huge payday. Her long-serving bailiff, Petri Hawkins-Byrd, is said to pull in more than $1 million a year for his work on the show, which typically shoots 260-odd episodes over the course of about 52 days each year.

“Judge Judy” hit its peak in terms of revenue about a decade ago, when it first challenged “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for dominance in daytime syndication. At that time the show topped $200 million a year. Today “Judge Judy” remains the tallest tree in an overgrown forest, which makes it more valuable than ever to CBS. The show’s importance to local stations as an afternoon or early evening lead-in to lucrative newscasts has only grown in an era of fragmentation and declining linear viewership.

What’s most impressive about Sheindlin’s reign with “Judge Judy” is not her eight-figure paycheck but her staying power.

“Judge Judy” was a success virtually out of the gate in 1996. It quickly delivered big numbers for the ragtag group of stations that signed on for the first new court show to hit syndication, three years after the gavel came down for good on Judge Joseph Wapner’s pioneering “The People’s Court.” Two decades later, America still loves the blunt talk, finger-wagging, and no-nonsense justice that Sheindlin dispenses.

Producer Larry Lyttle, the executive who recruited Sheindlin for TV during his tenure as president of Viacom’s Big Ticket Television, marvels at her longevity.

“When we started, all I really knew was that there was something about [Sheindlin’s] authenticity on camera that made her incredibly compelling,” Lyttle told Variety. “We knew we had something early on, but we never thought it would be the franchise it has become. Her household ratings are still greater than many primetime series. Her value is indisputable.”

More TV

  • bravo-pepsi-sparkling-rose

    Bravo Fans Get First Taste of Pepsi Champagne as NBCU Lures Madison Ave. to New Events

    NBCUniversal is best known among advertisers for selling TV commercials. Now the media giant wants to burnish its reputation for selling something that is only tangentially related to the TV screen. People who signed up for the company’s “BravoCon 2019” fan event, slated to take place between November 15 and November 17 in New York [...]

  • Rob Lowe TCA

    Rob Lowe's British Cop Series ‘Wild Bill’ Axed by ITV

    Rob Lowe’s fish-out-of-water British cop show “Wild Bill” will not get a second season. Despite the pull of big-name U.S. talent, the series failed to set ratings alight in the U.K. and garnered mixed reviews. British broadcaster ITV said Wednesday that the show will not be coming back. The series saw “West Wing” star Lowe [...]

  • Jan Guillou's 'The Great Century' Being

    Jan Guillou's 'The Great Century' Being Adapted as Epic Drama Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Great Century” is being adapted as an epic drama series by Dramacorp-Pampas Studios, which has landed the rights to Swedish author Jan Guillou’s book series. Guillou is known for his “Hamilton” spy-thriller novels, which Dramacorp-Pampas Studios has brought to TV as “Agent Hamilton.” That project had an international premiere at Mipcom and has presold [...]

  • Lilly Burns Tony Hernandez

    Variety to Honor Jax Media Chiefs Tony Hernandez, Lilly Burns at New Leaders Event

    Emmy Award-winning producer Tony Hernandez and Emmy-nominated producer Lilly Burns will receive the Creative Leadership Award on behalf of Jax Media at the Variety New Leaders event presented by City National Bank, taking place Nov. 14 in New York City. As founders of Jax Media, Hernandez and Burns have produced shows and specials such as [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Virginia Leith, Female Lead in Stanley Kubrick's First Film, Dies at 94

    Actress and model Virginia Leith, who starred in Stanley Kubrick’s first film “Fear and Desire,” which he later disavowed, has died. She was 94. According to family spokesperson Jane Chalmers, Leith died after a brief illness at her home in Palm Springs, Calif. on Nov. 4. Born on Oct. 15, 1925, Leith met Kubrick in [...]

  • Friends

    'Friends' Reunion Special in Early Planning Stages at HBO Max

    More “Friends” could well be there for you when the HBO Max rain starts to fall. An unscripted “Friends” reunion special is in the works at the forthcoming WarnerMedia streamer, Variety has confirmed with sources. Sources say original cast members Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer are in discussions [...]

  • TC3_SM_060718_238A4600.cr2

    'The Crown' New Season: Netflix to Offer Opening Episode for Free in the U.K.

    When Olivia Colman steps into the royal shoes of Queen Elizabeth II, viewers in the U.K. and Ireland will be able to watch for free as Netflix makes the eagerly awaited Season 3 curtain-raiser available gratis. The streaming giant will launch the series opener on a dedicated site for a limited period starting Sunday, making it [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content