Suddenly, the most-watched personality in daytime TV is a free agent.
Judith Sheindlin, better known as “Judge Judy,” surprised the industry with the news that surfaced Sunday evening that she is ending her run on the top-rated court show after the 2020-21 season, which will mark her 25th year on the show. Sheindlin now plans to launch a new gaveler in fall 2021, “Judy Justice.” But reruns drawn from “Judge Judy’s” vault of more than 5,000 episodes will continue to air in syndication for some time.
Sheindlin has teamed with former CBS executive Scott Koondel to handle the sale of the new series. The show is expected to be a similar format as “Judge Judy.” But it will not be aimed for broadcast syndication. The bet is that “Judy Justice” will command attention from a streaming service or major cable outlet that can craft an innovative distribution plan that blends linear and streaming platforms.
“Judge Judy” is unusual in the contemporary landscape as a series that airs only on broadcast TV. Reruns have never been made available on cable or via streaming. CBS will maintain “Judge Judy’s” presence in daytime TV, even after original “Judge Judy” production ends, by repackaging some of the episodes amassed since the series led the revival of the court show genre with its debut in 1996.
“Judge Judy” in its current season averages 9 million to 10 million viewers a week. Among syndicated series, only “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” consistently draw more viewers, but those shows air in late evening time slots when a much larger audience is available. “Judge Judy” airs largely in afternoon or early evening berths.
Sheindlin, a former judge in Manhattan family court, ranks high among the highest-paid stars in TV with a salary for “Judge Judy” alone that is close to $50 million a year. She is also creator and executive producer of the CBS-syndicated court show “Hot Bench,” which is in its sixth season. Sheindlin has committed to at least two seasons as host and producer of “Judy Justice.”
“I am looking forward to a banner 25th anniversary season. CBS has been a fine partner for 20-plus years,” Sheindlin said in a statement. “They have decided to monetize their ‘Judge Judy’ library of reruns. I wish them good luck with their experiment.”
Sheindlin is not believed to be facing any non-compete restrictions after she moves on next year. There’s been some friction between Sheindlin and CBS in recent years over the handling of her rerun library. Sheindlin gained control over her archive at some point during her numerous contract negotiations with CBS. CBS wound up buying the rights to the “Judge Judy” library for an estimated $100 million after the rights were shopped around in 2017.
Sheindlin could not immediately be reached for further comment.
“We have the greatest respect for Judy Sheindlin and have enjoyed a very successful relationship with her for over two decades,” a CBS Television Distribution spokeswoman said. “We look forward to making the 25th anniversary a true celebration of one of the most iconic shows in television history.”
Sources close to the situation said CBS had expected that Sheindlin would end her run on the series at the close of the 25th season, but nothing was set in stone. Sheindlin made the announcement in an interview for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” set to air today, but the news made headlines on Sunday evening when “Ellen” released a teaser clip. The timing caught CBS by surprise. In the clip, Sheindlin tells DeGeneres she is not sure yet where the show will land but she emphasizes that it won’t be on CBS.
“Judy Justice” marks a splashy debut for Koondel’s Exacta Entertainment, the shingle he set up after leaving CBS, where he was chief corporate licensing officer, in late 2018. Koondel developed a good rapport with Sheindlin going back to his days in sales at Paramount Television after the studio bought Spelling Entertainment, which was then the home of “Judge Judy” producer Big Ticket Television.
Sheindlin booked the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” appearance largely to tub-thump her support for Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg, who is looking for a bounce in this week’s Super Tuesday primaries in 14 states to invigorate his self-funded presidential campaign.
“Mike Bloomberg is a visionary who has accomplished great things for NYC and the business that transformed an entire industry,” Sheindlin said of the former New York City mayor. “He will use those unique skills to make all of America better for everyone.”