When I first saw Joesph Wapner presiding over his television show, The People’s Court, I thought to myself that this is what a judge is supposed to be like. He looked like Norman Rockwell’s perfect image of a judge. He sounded soothing and calm. He was firm yet likable.
Sure, he was really just a small claims court arbitrator, but it was a way for ordinary people to sit on their couch, watch someone pretend to be a judge and feel confident that there was a legal system that worked.
Since then, however, the genre of TV courts has exploded. And finding ways to distinguish one judge-show from another, producers have sought out appearances and temperaments that push the envelope to the edge.
The relatively benign and silly Judge Ed Koch, former NYC mayor, morphed into the woman who revitalized the genre, Judge Judy Sheindlin, who became increasingly venal with every new show. Judge Judy is the only person I’ve ever seen who can tell if someone is lying before they even utter a word. The worse her temperament, the better her ratings.
But if you happen to watch television on a weekday, you will see that there are now a host of new judges, particularly in the area of black-exploitation judging. These are the ones who enjoy some strange affectation of Amos & Andy-type intonation while substituting a morality play for a courtroom.
Lest Hispanics feel neglected, there’s another judge named Maria Lopez from Massachusetts whose proclaimed purpose is to use her “street smarts” to bring “justice to the oppressed.” But she’s actually Cuban, and a graduate of Smith and BU law school. I’ve never seen her show, but the reviews are just awful.
Adding to the mix is “Judge” Janine Pirro, whose show has yet to air, but Geraldo called her “Judge Janine” when she was doing some color commentary on Fox News the other night. We can only hope that a sale at Loehmann’s will divert her attention before the premier.
What brought about all this was the news of yet another new TV judge, because the dream of having a TV judge for every person over 21 in the United States has yet to be fulfilled. The newest is
Fulton County Georgia State Court Judge Penny Brown Reynolds, according to the New York Lawyer.
Naturally, your first question is, “what’s her hook?” God?
ATLANTA – Writing that “God has called me to a higher place,” Fulton County State Court Judge Penny Brown Reynolds on Monday notified Gov. Sonny Perdue that she would resign, effective Oct. 22, to embark on her new career as a television judge on “Family Court with Judge Penny.”It’s not entirely clear to me, but is she saying that she hears voices? Or is it just that Los Angeles is a “higher place” than Fulton County? Somehow, I sense that there’s going to be a bit of religion in her voice as she delivers her sermon.
One of the hardest, and easiest, things to understand is why all these people chose to walk away from the real bench to sit atop the TV bench. Ego, cash, frustration, boredom, ego. But how does one go from presiding over actual murder cases to these vapid demands for the return of a $348 loan to buy crack? It’s ludicrous.
In the beginning, the notion of the TV court genre had some potential, both as entertainment as well as information. People could watch real people argue their way into and out of their own stupidity, while a judge could do a little ad hoc legal instruction to help ordinary people conduct their lives.
But these shows bring nothing constructive to the table. And most of these performers are no Judge Judy. What do they plan to do when their shows get canceled?