Who judges the judges? Well, I do. Of course, I’m talking about the television show judges. There’s a plethora of judge shows on American television these days, but the genre started out with Judge Joseph Wapner and the original The People’s Court which had its debut in 1981. I feel the show was the inspiration for the Court TV network today.
Judge Wapner had retired from the California bench and the entire concept was new and fresh in daytime television. He retired from the show in 1993 to be eventually succeeded by several judges including the ex-Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch. Now, I was a Wapner purist when Koch came aboard. I wanted Wapner’s ways. I didn’t want “How am I doing?” Koch. He wasn’t doing well on the show and never clicked with it at all, in my opinion. He was followed by Judge Jerry Sheindlin (husband of Judge Judy) and in that time, I found the show even more lackluster.
As a matter of fact, the genre itself was in a slump until Judge Judy revived it with a more brash approach to the bench in 1997. Her personality took the genre in a new direction and breathed new life into things. I don’t know how her approach worked in the actual municipal courthouse, but it was good television. Alas, it opened the door for numerous judge shows as the networks sought another cash cow courtroom. So, where do we stand today on the judge scene? Here are my quick thoughts…
Right now, I have to list Judge Judy Sheindlin as the epitome of the successful television court judge. She’s quick-witted, clever, brash, sometimes rude, usually acid-tongued, but always entertaining and well, quite judicial. She’s become a successful author, as well as a household name even for those who really don’t watch daytime courtroom fiascos. Um…cases, not fiascos, of course! Hands down, she’s had the most effect on the genre since its inception with Wapner. She took the genre a new direction, said things we’d like to say but are often too polite to do so. She’s the Simon Cowell of the television courtroom genre.
My vote for second in line to the Judge Throne at this time would be Marilyn Milian, the current judge on The People’s Court. I enjoy her sense of humor and she’s almost as quick to retort as Judy. Not quite, but almost there. She’s definitely opinionated, as are just about all of the television judges of today. I find her entertaining, animated and generally agree with her decisions. I suppose, in some ways, she’s a bit of a Judge Judy type of personality. But I find she offers her own flair to her show. She’s not as acidic as Judy and often draws on her Cuban roots for a new aspect to what can be a tired format. I find her lively and even a bit perky (not necessarily in a cheerleader kind of way, though). She is the first People’s Court judge to attract my attention since Judge Wapner. She’s doing something right, for sure!
Oh, what can I say about good old Judge Joe Brown? I like this guy, but his shtick is that he’s a successful black man who came up from the streets to be a judge. Judge Greg Mathis uses the same shtick. Both are very quick to judge litigants on the basis of “being a man” about things. I’ve noticed that recently Brown is polling the audience, and using those results to rule on the cases. I’m not sure I like that approach. I can only guess that they might have wanted to update things a bit to enhance the show before it jumps the shark. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like Judge Joe Brown. He seems like a decent man, a smart man. But I fear the wave of newer and younger judges may be hinting that his days on the bench are numbered. Wapner didn’t have those issues – he was older when he started and there was no competition out there for many years.
As for Mathis, I enjoyed the start of his show some years back, but I feel these days there’s “no there there.” There’s nothing new on the show; several of the cases seem to be treading paths trodden before. I’m finding him neither lively, nor entertaining. Are his days numbered? Is it just me? I can’t help but thinking “same old” every time I watch the show as of late. Oh…and I’m tired of hearing his juvenile record at the beginning of each show, as well as his promise to his deceased Mom. Call me heartless, but after so many years, it’s become almost trite. The man must be 50 years old or so. Obviously, what crimes he committed as a juvenile were nothing which gave him a permanent record or he wouldn’t have been allowed to be a judge. Enough already with that, Mathis!
It’s laudable that both Mathis and Brown both overcame many obstacles in their paths and set an example for young folks, but enough is enough. There’s more to each of them than “raised in the ghetto.” I want to see a fresh approach now that each of them has been on television for so long. They’ve both been more years in the success story era rather than their childhoods. What’s happening now in their lives? In a way, although it’s great both Brown and Mathis are good role models, it’s reminding me of “when I was young, I walked to school 10 miles uphill through blinding snow” as I watch each of these shows’ opening sequences. It’s a different world now compared to when they were coming up. While some values remain the same, the world itself has changed.
Stay tuned right here as I look at more of the television judges. After all, I said there was a plethora out there these days. I can’t do justice to the justices in just one article!