TV Judges - Justice in the Afternoon
The $45 Million Woman
Judge Judy is the leader of the gang of TV Judges. TV courtroom shows have become a time-honored American entertainment genre. There is something fascinating about watching real people with real disputes get their day in court. Well, a half hour anyway. These shows have been around for decades, proving that these shows have a strong and loyal audience. On TV ratings rule and the staying power of these shows is for one reason only: people watch them.
The Shows are for Real - It's not an Act - It's Binding Arbitration
These shows are a reality TV airing of a small claims court proceeding. What most of the shows have in common is that they are binding arbitrations that the parties agree to. So when a TV judge renders a decision it is a real one. The people are not actors, and the disputes are genuine. The parties agree to the arbitration contract, and the decision is enforceable as a contract in a real court. As with any arbitration there are rules and regulations concerning appeals. For people who love the drama of the courtroom, and have their afternoons free, these courtroom battles are a court watcher's dream.
Time for Wapner
The TV judges genre began in 1981 with the The People’s Court and the stern but avuncular Judge Joseph Wapner. This was the first of the shows that did not use actors, but actual judges. Wapner had served for 18 years on the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Judge Wapner starred on the show for 12 years covering 2,484 episodes. Wapner, if you did not watch the show, was also immortalized by Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie The Rain Man, when the autistic Raymond would announce every day like clockwork that it was time to watch his favorite show: “Time for Wapner.” After the successful 12-year run of The Peoples' Court, Judge Wapner presided over a courtroom series involving animals with Judge Wapner’s Animal Court. The show ran for two seasons from 1998 to 2000. Judge Wapner also authored two books A View from the Bench and Judge Wapner's Guide to Small Claims Court. Judge Wapner, along with Judge Judith Sheindlin (Judge Judy) was memorialized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They are the only two TV judges to receive the honor.
Like Judge Wapner, Judge Judy was once a real judge, having served on the Manhattan Family Court. The Judge Judy Show began in September 1996 and is still going strong. Judge Judy is famous for her stern and sometimes abrasive style. She insists on strict adherence to the rules, not only from the litigant's but also from the audience. The show is wildly popular, having achieved the status as the most popular and highly rated show on daytime television, with a Nielsen rating of seven. In one year, 2000-2001 Judge Judy actually surpassed the Oprah Winfrey show.
Judge Judy is known for charming New York accent and her "Judyisms," such as "Beauty fades, dumb is forever," "Do I have 'stupid' written over my forehead?" or "Does it look like I need help from you?"
Judith Sheindlin earns $45 Million a year, which is not bad for an arbitrator. To put this into perspective, consider that John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court earns $223,500 a year. But of course Judge Judy is not paid for her services as a judge but as an entertainer, a star.
Judge Lynn Toler
As of 2012, Divorce Court entered its 34th season, making it the most long standing of the TV reality courtroom shows. In its earlier episodes beginning in 1957, the cases were actually reenactments of actual divorces and the cast members were actors. In 1999 Divorce Court adopted the pattern of the other TV reality shows and went for the arbitration formula. What you see are real divorce cases involving real people and the judge's decisions are binding. Divorce Court is currently presided over by Judge Lynn Toler.
Judge Joe Brown
The Judge Joe Brown show premiered in September 1998. Judge Brown received his law degree from UCLA and went on to become State Criminal Court of Shelby County Tennessee. The set of the Judge Joe Brown Show is right next to Judge Judy's set. Both shows are produced by Big Ticket Television and are syndicated by CBS. Judge Brown has a flair for the dramatic, and will often castigate a witness in harsh tones. According to an article (cite) Judge Brown was the second highest paid TV personality at $20 Million a year, second only to Judge Judy.
Judge Karen Mills-Francis
This show first aired in September 2008. Judge Karen wears a maroon robe rather than a black one. A difference between the Judge Karen show is that she permits the litigants to cross examine witnesses. There is a segment at the end of the show entitled "Ask Judge Karen," where the judge answers videotaped questions from viewers. In her professional life, Judge Karen served as a Miami-Dade County Court judge. According to the announcer at the beginning of the show, "She's tough, she's fair, and she cares." The show was cancelled in 2009 but is aired in reruns.
Judge Greg Mathis
Judge Mathis has an interesting past. As a juvenile offender he spent time in jail. After graduating from the University of Detroit law school (to which he was provisionally admitted because of his criminal past) it took him a few years to be admitted to the bar. He went on to serve as a Michigan District Court Judge. Here the judge speak for himself on his website.
Judge Alex Ferrer
Judge Ferrer was born in Havana, Cuba but immigrated to the United States with his family when he was one-year-old. After a few years as a police officer he received his law degree from the University of Miami. He served as an administrative judge with the Criminal Division of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. He was also an appellate judge. The Judge Alex Show premiered in September 2005. Like the other shows, the Judge Alex Show is a binding arbitration proceeding, where the litigants agree to be bound by his decision.
The TV Judge shows are fun, and like sports, the outcomes are not easily predictable. One of the societal benefits to these shows is the educational experience the viewers receive, not only the entertainment.
Copyright © 2012 by Russell F. Moran