Did you know Judge Judy makes $47 million a year? Here’s why.

Judge Judy hands out judgments to plaintiffs and defendants for a few thousand dollars here and there.

Meanwhile, she is raking in 47 million dollars a year.

Hard to believe, I know, and there was even a lawsuit about it.  But the sharp-tongued, impatient-with-idiots jurist who has been on the televised small claims court bench for 23 (!) years has proved she was worth every single penny.

$47 million.  A-freakin’ year.

Makes you want to go to law school and yell at some people who let their dogs bark too much or pee in their neighbor’s jacuzzi but won’t pay to have it cleaned.

So, why is she worth all that moolah, especially when the average salary in the US is only $56 . . . thousand?

Yes, she’s a unique character.  Yes, she says what a lot of people are thinking but would never say out loud.  Yes, the alliteration of her name makes it fun to say.

But she wouldn’t earn all that money if the show wasn’t earning even more . . . a lot more.

And why is that?

The reason the show is so popular is because . . . it’s a courtroom drama.

Courtroom dramas are one of the most popular forms of drama in theater, movies, and yep, TV.  It’s one of the reasons Law & Order has run for so long and had 174 spinoffs (not to mention why there are always new legal-eagle shows every year . . . since the days of Perry Mason and Matlock).

It’s one of the reasons To Kill A Mockingbird is raking it in at the Broadway box office and one of the reasons the book has captivated millions for decades.

Speaking of books, what about John Grisham’s success?  His books are all courtroom dramas.

Then, of course, there’s 12 Angry Men, A Few Good Men, Inherit The Wind, Witness for the Prosecution, and on and on and on . . .

People love them some courtroom drama.

So, what’s the action item for you based on Judge Judy’s paycheck?

Well, go out and create a courtroom drama would be the easy one.  🙂

But even if your show isn’t a courtroom drama, you can still add elements of a CD to make it more attractive to audiences, like . . .

1. A clear Protagonist and Antagonist.

In a CD, it’s very clear who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, or at least what the two sides are.  In the vast number of scripts I read, one of the biggest mistakes I see writers make is not making it clear who is on both sides of the conflict.

2. A clear conflict and a clear want.

Judge Judy gets to the bottom of what the issue is and fast.  Peeing in a jacuzzi, letting your Pit Bull eat your landlord’s roses, etc.  And we know exactly what the Plaintiff wants . . . for the Defendant to “pay.”  It’s so simple, it makes it easy for audiences to digest and follow.  If you clarify your conflict and objective in your story, audiences will dig in even deeper.

3. A clear resolution.

At the end of any day in court, there is a clear winner and loser . . . which ties up the conflict neatly.  Now, there can be plenty of ripples from that resolution that give the audience even more to think about (which is what the best art does), but the conflict is always resolved to a specific solution.  And that solution is usually revealed in a dramatic and suspenseful way . . . sometimes even with the strike of a gavel!

While your show may not be a literal courtroom drama, it should still be structured with the same principles if you want the kind of audience (and paycheck) that Judge Judy gets.

Oh, and another takeaway . . . someone needs to ask Ms. Judy if she wants to invest in a Broadway show.  🙂

Looking to add some drama to your drama?  Click here for how we can help get your script ready for a stage.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.