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Abandoned theater in Lexington becomes studio for syndicated courtroom reality TV show

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 5/3/2021 Karla Ward, Lexington Herald-Leader

May 1—A long-vacant Lexington movie theater is being transformed into a television studio where 150 episodes of a nationally-syndicated courtroom drama will be filmed this summer.

And the producers say they're looking for quarreling families who are willing to litigate in front of a nationwide audience.

The new reality show, "Relative Justice," is taking over the old Cinemark theater behind the Woodhill Shopping Center, with filming scheduled to begin later in May. It's produced by a Lexington-based company, Wrigley Media Group.

The show is scheduled to premiere in mid-September. In Lexington, it will air on The CW.

"Relative Justice" is in the same vein as shows like "Judge Judy," "but geared toward families," said Ross Babbit, chief content officer for Wrigley Media.

"These shows are real people talking about real issues that are relatable," he said.

Each half-hour episode will have an audience of 25 to 30 people in the gallery and a Houston-based attorney, Rhonda Wills, as judge.

Babbit said Wills is a mom who, like "Judge Judy" Sheindlin, is a "strong, smart, personable character," who is also "able to dish out tough love" when needed.

Developers said the show will be unscripted and that Wills isn't an actress. She previously appeared on the 2016 reality show "Sisters in Law" on WeTV. Participants will sign arbitration agreements, so "what the judge says is final," Babbit said.

Babbit said the show is looking for litigants from within a five-hour radius of Lexington. The show will pay their expenses and a "small appearance fee," he said, and if Wills determines that damages are owed, the show will pay them.

People who want to have their family's case considered to be on the series can visit RelativeJustice.tv or call 833-552-6878.

Filming is scheduled to begin in May and continue through early August.

Wrigley, formerly known as Post Time Productions, became Wrigley Media after it was bought by equestrian Misdee Wrigley Miller, who owns Hillcroft Farm, outside Paris.

Over the past five years, Miller said she has been steadily working to grow the company, and "Relative Justice" is Wrigley's largest project so far.

The company has produced other projects for a national audience, including "Escape to the Chateau" and "You Live in What? International." They also landed footage that allowed them to produce a special for Discovery Plus telling the back story of Tiger King's Joe Exotic.

"We do a lot of work both locally, regionally and nationally," Babbit said.

Babbit said the idea for a family-focused court show was developed two years ago, and Wrigley had hoped to begin production last year, but COVID-19 thwarted those plans.

So far, the show has been picked up by television stations in 43 of the top 50 media markets in the country, meaning it will be available to over 85 percent of the country, Babbit said.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm around this show," Miller said.

Babbit said he thinks the fact that the show focuses on family disputes has generated a lot of that interest.

"There's inherent built in drama," Babbit said. "Everybody can relate to having some sort of family squabbles."

He said the old Woodhill Movies 10 theater turned out to be the perfect site for the studio, since its ceilings had the height necessary for lighting, its theaters were already soundproofed, and the building's heating and cooling units were located far enough from the theaters that their sound won't interfere with the acoustics on set.

Wrigley has leased the building and is revamping it with the help of Kentucky's Film Incentive Program, which provides tax breaks intended to boost the film industry's presence in Kentucky.

"It's been a great project to me to renovate and revitalize it and restore it," Miller said. "This has become a labor of love."

The theater has been closed since 2016.

Babbit said "Relative Justice" is expected to create an estimated 300 jobs, including some paid actors in the gallery, and inject an estimated $10 million into the local economy.

Babbit is serving as executive producer, along with reality producer Barry Bloom, of The Braverman/Bloom Company, and Lou Dennig, who produced "Judge Joe Brown," "Swift Justice with Nancy Grace," "Divorce Court," and others, according to a news release.

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