Inside ‘Divorce Court’s’ Move From LA to Atlanta (Exclusive)

Divorce Court (Credit: Twentieth Television)

After nearly two decades of taping in Los Angeles, Divorce Court has left the Golden State for the Peach State.

The syndicated courtroom series launched in 1999. Now after taping 19 seasons in California, the show is in the process of building a new set in Atlanta and hiring new staff.

“Georgia has been so welcoming … the timing felt right this season with the show celebrating its 20th ‘platinum’ anniversary,” Executive Producer Monique Chenault told Urban Hollywood 411.

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Divorce Court, which is distributed by Twentieth Television, originally starred Judge Mablean Ephriam. Now the series features tough-talking former Cleveland municipal court judge, Lynn Toler.

Like so many other movies and television series that have opted to shoot outside California over the years, production costs were a factor in Divorce Court’s move.

“It was a relatively easy decision,” Chenault explained. “Georgia has offered some really attractive incentives to get people here.”

The series most recently taped in Glendale, Calif., just outside Los Angeles. Now it’s headquartered at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.

According to an April report from Film L.A., the agency that coordinates filming permits, television production in greater Los Angeles dropped 7.4 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same period last year. That’s despite California’s $330 million-a-year film and television tax credit program.

Divorce Court’s move wasn’t just about California’s higher production costs or Georgia rolling out the red carpet, the couples that appear on the series were also a factor.

“A lot of our litigants do come from the region,” Chenault explained.

“We also get a lot of interest in Dallas, Houston, Maryland and D.C.,” she added. “We get fewer and fewer couples in Los Angeles.”

But even with an abundance of litigants in Georgia willing to share their stories on television, the series still faces a big hurdle – finding qualified staff who can handle the show’s rapid-fire production schedule.

“The challenge of shooting in Atlanta is the producing and editing pool,” Chenault noted.

Divorce Court produces 160 to 165 episodes in under six months. To stay on track, the series needs seasoned producers, directors and editors. For that reason, most of the show’s senior production staff remains the same, even after the move.

“It’s a huge episodic order and you need people who are able to handle it on a conflict-resolution show,” Chenault explained. “Our longtime director Eddie October and many of our veteran producers are joining us in Atlanta, and I’m thrilled my co-executive producer Mike Kopplin is on board.”

The series recently hired associate producers and support staff in Atlanta, and is currently looking for a new bailiff, as well as a mediator, and social and digital media producer to focus on building brand awareness, with an emphasis on adding to Divorce Court’s nearly 244,000 YouTube subscribers.

The series is also coming off a Daytime Emmy Award nomination earlier this year in the Best Legal/Courtroom Program category.

“We’re very excited to build on the momentum from our Emmy Award-nominated last season, as well as the great relationship we’ve established with our YouTube subscribers,” Chenault said. “They are so highly engaged and we really value their candid feedback.”

In 2017, Film L.A. listed Georgia, the United Kingdom and Canada respectively as California’s biggest competitors for feature film shoots.

“California’s top competitors are investing substantial sums to attract new feature projects with large production budgets,” stated FilmL.A. President Paul Audley.

But even with those incentives, Chenault noted that only a small percentage of production crew members  actually live in Georgia.

“A lot of shooting has been done here, but most of the talent is from New York and L.A. After the shoots end, they go home,” she said.

Chenault said Atlanta will have to take steps to get more top-tier talent to stay.

“They have to start building a talent pool here,” she said.

Which brings the question, is Divorce Court going to stay?

“A lot will be riding on how things go this season,” Chenault concluded.

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