by pat howard

Snap judgments: The new season in syndication

In Syndication on September 23, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Splashy primetime premieres get all the attention and ink in September, as the networks trot out their new (old) lineups and promise that “comedies” like Do Not Disturb will get better. But I get at least as excited about the premieres and changes that happen a little earlier in the month.

I’m a syndication junkie, admittedly, but I’d also point out that viewers get saddled with strips for a lot longer than any primetime series (except maybe late ’90s Dateline). Think about it: a primetime series has maybe 22 episodes in a year. A syndicated daily broadast puts out 22 episodes in a month. And because of contractual obligations to syndicators, stations tend to change their daily lineups once per quarter at most. There are many more broadcast hours riding on these shows than their pampered primetime pals.

Now that we’re a few weeks into the new syndication season, I have some thoughts about some of the genre’s entries, both new and old. Times and stations listed are for Saint Louis viewers. Everyone else, check your local listings.

Judge Karen (weekdays, 11 & 11:30 a.m., KPLR 11)

I’ve been catching a lot of this one since its debut. At first, I was taken in by Judge Karen Mills-Francis, whose no-nonsense, down-to-earth approach seems to cut through bull and put litigants in their place without her having to raise her voice and grandstand from the bench like some popular TV judges I’ve been known to watch over the years. My favorite part of this one is “Ask Judge Karen.” At the end of each episode, the judge answers a legal question from a viewer on the street.

But now that I’ve seen more than half a dozen episodes, I wonder how much of a shot this show actually has. “Think all judges are created equal?” the show asks. Mills-Francis may not think so, and her burgundy robe does make her stand out visually, but I fear she may be dismissed if she continues to get crushed in the ratings.

Judge Jeanine Pirro (weekdays, 3 p.m., KPLR 11)

This one premiered yesterday, so it hasn’t had much time to prove itself. And it’s not exactly syndicated. It is distributed instead by The CW, in the afternoon block that used to run reruns of recent sitcoms. The new two-hour lineup is this, followed by really old sitcoms that once aired on The WB. Anyway, Pirro seems big on social issues like domestic violence and child issues.

Yesterday’s episode featured two cousins who were former roommates. One of them bit the other’s breast during an alcohol-fueled evening of melancholy. That’s the tone I came away from this with: sadness. There’s a certain entertainment value to Judge Judy or The People’s Court. Often, one party (or both) is so clearly ludicrous as to be laughable.

There’s nothing funny about the desperation with which these family members fought, their repetitive mentions of deceased relatives, or Pirro’s revelation that both women were victims of rape. I don’t see how this late-afternoon downer is supposed to hold onto viewers going into The Jamie Foxx Show and The Wayans Bros.

Family Court with Judge Penny (weekdays, 5 & 5:30 p.m., WRBU 46)

This show also seems to be part of the trend to turn court shows into the issue-oriented talk shows of the ’90s. It seems almost as frivolous in some ways as the laughable Moral Court of a few years back. She’s bringing “substance to daytime” and tackling “the tough cases that other court shows avoid.”

But this show is all over the place. Today is the conclusion of a two-part installment about a family in which the transgender father had a sex-change operation. That’s a serious issue, and not one you see on the court shows every day. However, this Friday, two parents will square off over how long each day their son should be allowed to play video games.

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