Mercy on the mortals who would dare challenge Judy Sheindlin, better known as Judge Judy, in court. But if there’s potential money to be made, there are lawsuits to be filed—and Sheindlin, with her status as one of the highest-paid TV stars of all time, has to stay prepared. The judge, who earns a staggering $47 million per year, had her salary questioned in a lawsuit brought by a company called Rebel Entertainment Partners in 2016, which claimed that CBS has diminished the profits Rebel was supposed to make off Judge Judy. In Sheindlin’s videotaped testimony, recently unearthed by The Hollywood Reporter, she briskly took her opponents to task, recounting her rise to fame and diminishing Rebel’s claim without so much as a wasted gavel pound.
Sheindlin started by discussing the origins of her show, which began when a pair of producers—Sandi Spreckman and Kaye Switzer—told her that she would make an interesting TV judge.
Sheindlin agreed: “I thought I would make a great TV judge.” And so began Judge Judy’s reign.
Though Rebel believes that it is entitled to a 5 percent share of Judge Judy profits thanks to work it did for the show in the mid-90s, Sheindlin sees things a bit differently. She criticized Rebel president Richard Lawrence, claiming she hasn’t seen or heard from him “in over 21 years,” though he’s made about $17 million for “what was perhaps two, three hours’ worth of business.”
If Sheindlin had produced the show herself, she continued, Lawrence would be “getting bupkis.”
“It’s very important for you to know, because part of your complaint is that CBS conspired with me to deprive Mr. Lawrence of his backend profit,” Sheindlin added. “CBS had no choice but to pay me what I wanted, because otherwise I could take it wherever I wanted to take it or do it myself.”
The judge also went into detail about how she renegotiates her salary every three years with CBS—at a dinner at Grill on the Alley with the company’s president, during which Sheindlin brings a card listing her demands. Take note, aspiring stars: this is how it’s done.
“We sit across the table, and I hand him the envelope and I say, ‘Don’t read it now, let’s have a nice dinner. Call me tomorrow. You want it, fine. Otherwise, I’ll produce it myself.’ That’s the negotiation.”
When another executive tried to do things differently—John Nogawski, the former president of CBS TV Distribution—Sheindlin immediately shot him down.
Nogawski had brought his own card to the table. “I said, ‘I don’t want to look at it.’ He said, ‘Why not? Maybe it’s more than what’s in your envelope.’ And I said, ‘Well, John, if I look at your envelope, it’s a negotiation. This isn’t a negotiation.’ And he put his envelope away and they gave me what I wanted . . . whatever it was, done.”
“They pay me the money that they do because they have no choice,” Sheindlin continued. “They can’t find another one. They’ve tried to find another Judy. If they find another Judy, good for them. So far they haven’t.”
CBS, for its part, also released a statement denying Rebel’s claims.
“Rebel did not conceive of, develop, or create Judge Judy,” states a brief. “Rebel has never financed, produced, sold, licensed, distributed, exhibited, or marketed Judge Judy. Rebel’s only connection with Judge Judy was its representation of three original show producers in 1995. For this, Rebel has collected nearly $20 million in upfront commission and back-end participation payments. Indeed, Rebel has received more than $1.1 million in payments in the year since it filed the Complaint in this action.”
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