August 2, 2014

THE SKED Fall Pilot Report: NBC’s “Bad Judge”


BAD JUDGE:  Thursdays 9PM on NBC starting October 2 – Change the Channel

Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation aren’t necessarily in their final form. It’s not unusual for pilots to be reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot, before hitting the air. Consider these reports to be guides to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

PLAYERS:  Non-Writing Executive Producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (and Anne Heche).  Star Kate Walsh.  Series creator Chad Kultgen (mostly a novelist–Jason Reitman’s new dramedy movie Men, Women & Children is based on his book–although he was also a writer on, um, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone).  Showrunner Liz Brixius (of Nurse Jackie), who joined the project after the pilot.  Pilot director Andrew Fleming.  Universal Television (i.e., NBC’s in-house studio).

PREMISE:  Bad Teacher with a gavel.  Rebecca Wright (Walsh) is a hard-drinking, hard-loving, hard-rocking, cynical slacker… who’s also a sharp and effective Los Angeles judge.  Others in the courthouse, including her bailiff Tedward (Tone Bell), the expert witness she’s sleeping with, Tom Barlow (John Ducey), the lawyers who operate in her court, and the other judges, regard Rebecca with a mixture of outrage and bemusement, but she remains blase.  A new development in her life, however, is the invasion of 8-year old Robby (Theodore Barnes), whose drug-dealing parents Rebecca put in jail, and who now insists that she be responsible for his life, an obligation she doesn’t quite refuse.

PILOT:  Yes, it’s another broadcast sitcom (other examples include Don’t Trust the B____ and Mixology, not to mention the TV version of Bad Teacher) that longs to be edgy and daring like a cable comedy, but is actually as worn-out and soft-centered as a very old piece of candy.  (Ferrell and McKay, as TV producers, are best known for Eastbound and Down, a show that truly did depict irresponsible behavior in a lovingly outrageous way, one that’s impossible to approach on NBC.)  Nothing about Bad Judge works the way it’s intended.  Rebecca’s hangovers and lackadaisical attitude on the bench are hardly shocking, and although Kate Walsh is a genuine TV star who clearly enjoyed the chance to stretch beyond her Private Practice soap skills (she recently played an ex-stripper on Fargo, presumably for the same purpose), she’s miscast.  No amount of panicky pregnancy tests can make Walsh seem like anything like an essentially sober member of the middle class.

Worst of all, of course, is the plot device of the cute little boy who enters the Bad Judge’s world.  Their smart-aleck banter with each other is curdled, and his place as the Person Who Will Change Her Life makes his appearances painful.  Overall, Kultgen’s pilot script doesn’t do anything surprising with the characters, and he doesn’t even supply much in the way of cheap laughs.

PROSPECTS:  Perhaps Brixius, who of course hails from another genuinely edgy cable dramedy, one with a drug-addict heroine (the title Bad Nurse would not be inappropriate), might be able to salvage something from this, but she may not have much time.  Bad Judge will air against Scandal and the still-formidable 2 1/2 Men, and it’s already slated to be replaced in February by the move of The Blacklist to Thursdays.  Judge Wright’s time in the courtroom is likely to be dismissed quickly for probable cause.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."