Hit courtroom reality series Judge Judy has grossed more than $1.7 billion during its 19 seasons on the air, according to a lawsuit filed Monday that claims CBS has been creative with the show’s accounting to dodge a packaging fee.
Judge Judy [Sheindlin] takes home a salary of $47 million a year, according to the suit, and Rebel Entertainment Partners claims that salary is being unfairly deducted from gross profits.
“Defendants agreed to pay Sheindlin an upfront salary that is far in excess of any person in non-scripted television, and then included that fee in the Show’s production expenses, thereby preventing Rebel from receiving any backend compensation,” writes Rebel’s attorney Bryan J. Freedman.
Rebel is the successor-in-interest to the talent agency that packaged Judge Judy and is due fee of 5 percent of the net profits per an August 1995 agreement, according to the complaint. Under the agreement, Big Ticket, a division of CBS, can deduct direct out-of-pocket production and distribution costs.
In 2009, Big Ticket more than doubled Sheindlin’s salary to $45 million and changed its compensation structure in a way that purposefully prevented the show from earning net profits, according to the suit.
From 1996-2007, Rebel received about $6.4 million from its share of the show, but has not received a dime in backend compensation since February 2010.
“According to Defendants, in the six-month accounting period prior to Sheindlin’s pay raise, the Show reported net profits of $3,572,195,” Freedman writes. “In the six-month accounting period after Sheindlin’s pay raise, however, Defendants reported net profits of negative $3,195,217.”
The suit also claims CBS has been licensing the shows to its affiliates for below-market fees and shut Rebel out of a spinoff series called Hot Bench.
Clearly this will not be decided in Sheindlin’s courtroom, but the complaint contains some of her trademark acerbic wit.
“Defendants’ claim that Hot Bench is not a spinoff of Judge Judy is about as plausible as their claim that Judge Judy is not generating profit,” Freedman writes. “And both allegations are reminiscent of Sheindlin’s best-selling book, ‘Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me That It’s Raining.'”
CBS deferred comment to Sheindlin, who responded with a statement to The Hollywood Reporter:
“The fact that Richard Lawrence [President of Rebel] is complaining about my salary is actually hilarious. I met Mr. Lawrence for 2 hours some twenty-one years ago. Neither I nor anyone involved in the day-to-day production of my program has heard from him in 20 years. Not a card, not a gift, not a flower, not a congratulations. Yet he has somehow received over $17,000,000 from my program. My rudimentary math translates that into $8,500,000 an hour for Mr. Lawrence. Not a bad payday. Now complaining about not getting enough money, that’s real chutzpah! Since I have not spoken with Mr. Lawrence in over 20 years, to suggest that he had any involvement in my creating Hot Bench is equally laughable.”
This story has been updated to include Sheindlin’s response.