Judge Judy is an American arbitration-based reality court show presided over by retired Manhattan family court Judge Judith Sheindlin. The show features Sheindlin adjudicating real-life small claim disputes within a simulated courtroom set. All parties involved must sign contracts agreeing to arbitration under Sheindlin. The series is in first-run syndication and distributed by CBS Television Distribution.
Judge Judy, which premiered natively on September 16, 1996, reportedly revitalized the court show genre. Only two other arbitration-based reality court shows preceded it, The People's Court (its first life canceled in 1993 from low ratings) and Jones & Jury (lasting only the 1994–95 season, short-lived from low ratings). Sheindlin has been credited with introducing the "tough" adjudicating approach into the judicial genre, which has led to several imitators. The only two court shows that outnumber Judge Judy's seasons, The People's Court and Divorce Court, have both lasted via multiple lives of production and shifting arbiters. Thus Sheindlin's span as a television judge or arbitrator has lasted longer than any other—a distinction that rewarded her a place in the Guinness World Records in September 2015. With no cancellations or temporary endings in its series run, Judge Judy also enjoys the longest lasting individual production life of any court show.
By 2011, Judge Judy had been nominated 14 consecutive years for Daytime Emmy Awards without ever winning. Judge Judy finally won its first Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Legal/Courtroom Program in 2013, on its 15th nomination. It is the first long-running, highly rated court show to win an Emmy.
Since its premiere, Judge Judy has gained enormous popularity and has led the ratings in courtroom programming. The show was also the highest-rated daytime television program from its 3rd (1998–99) through 5th (2000–01) season. After that, the show lost this title but regained it by its 14th season (2009–10) and has kept it since. For its 16th season (2011–12), it was named not only the highest-rated program in daytime but also in all of syndication, averaging a 7.0 rating. It regained the position as leader in all of syndication for its 18th season (2013–14) with a 7.2 rating. The program remained syndication ratings front-runner for its 19th season (2014–15), Judy's fourth time landing this leading spot.
On March 2, 2015, CBS Television Distribution and Judge Sheindlin extended their contract by three years, keeping it on the air at least until completion of the 2019–20 season (the show's 24th).
After a brief buildup by virtue of two promotional tributes, Judge Judy began celebrating its 20th anniversary on Monday, September 14, 2015.