Karen Hanover’s TV production company, Karen Hanover TV Productions, is currently in production on a new courtroom reality TV show with a BIG twist!

Court reality shows (also known as a judge show, legal/courtroom program, courtroom show, or judicial show) is a television programming sub-genre of either legal dramas or reality legal programming.

Court TV shows present content mainly in the form of legal hearings between plaintiffs and defendants presided over by a pseudo-judge.  At present, these shows typically portray small claims court cases, produced in a simulation of a small claims courtroom inside of a television studio.  Plaintiffs and defendants sign arbitration agreements so the judgment is legally binding.

Karen Hanover TV has cast a sharp-tongued, convicted white collar felon as the Judge.  This irony should create some dramatic moments in the courtroom as “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.” says Karen Hanover, CEO of Karen Hanover TV Productions.

Widely used techniques in court shows have been dramatizations and arbitration-based realities. The genre began with dramatizations and remained the technique of choice for roughly six decades. By the late 1990s, however, arbitration-based realities had overwhelmingly taken over as the technique of choice within the genre, the trend continuing into the present. Dramatizations were either fictional cases (often inspired from factual details in actual cases) or reenactments of actual trials. The role of the judge was often taken by a retired real-life judge, a law school professor or an actor. Arbitration-based realities, on the other hand, have typically involved litigants who have agreed to have their disputes aired on national television so as to be adjudicated by a television show “judge.” Due to the forum merely being a simulated courtroom constructed within a television studio as opposed to a legitimate court of law, the shows’ “judges” are actually arbitrators and what is depicted is a form of binding arbitration. The arbitrators presiding in modern court programs have had at least some legal experience, which is often listed as requirement by these programs.

These television programs tend to air once or twice for every weekday as part of daytime television and often cost little to create (under $200,000 a week, where entertainment magazines cost five times that). Like talk shows, the procedure of court shows varies based upon the titular host.

In most cases, they are first-run syndication programs. In 2001, the genre began to beat out soap operas in daytime television ratings.[6] While all syndicated shows are steadily losing audiences, court shows have the slowest rate of viewer erosion. Accordingly, by the end of the 2000s, the number of court shows in syndication had, for the first time, equaled the number of talk shows.[7] As reported in late 2012, court programming is the second highest-rated genre on daytime television.[8] The genre’s most formidable competitors in syndication have been the sitcom and game show genres.[9]


Early stages of televised court shows

As television began to transcend radio, the previous era of radio broadcast court programming had waned. By 1948, court programming had begun to relocate and appear on television for the first time, and thus, the television court show genre was born. In its early stages, television court shows largely followed the same “dramatized” format as radio court shows, though with the new element of physical- and visual-based entertainment. The vast majority of these court shows were depicted in black-and-white.

Dramatized court show

This court show type is a subgenre. For its broader, collective genres, see legal drama and dramatic programming.

In the same way as some films are based on true stories, featured cases on courtroom dramas are based on real-life cases. On the other hand, some are altogether made up, though often drawing on details from actual cases. To recreate cases and make them up, staff members working for the court shows would research the country’s court cases. From the cases they felt would make for captivating television, they derived ideas or simply cases to recreate. Typically, the role of judge on these programs was played by a law school professor, an actor, or a retired judge. The roles of litigants, bailiffs, court reporters, and announcers were always performed by actors and actresses. While some of these court shows were scripted and required precise memorization, others were outlined and merely required ad-libbing. In outlined cases, actor-litigants and -witnesses were instructed to never get too far off the angle of the case.[3][4] Under its dramatized format, the early court show genre shared more of a resemblance to legal dramas than the programs that have come to represent the modern judicial genre.

Modern TV court show genre (1996–present)

Arbitration-based reality court show

This court show type is a subgenre known as reality court show. For its broader, collective genres, see reality legal programming and reality television.

Far more realistic than their dramatized predecessors, arbitration-based reality versions do not use actors, scripts, or recreations. Rather, they feature litigants who have legitimately been served and filed lawsuits, presenting their cases to an adjudicator. Behavior and commentary from all participants involved is self-directed as opposed to script-directed. As such, these types of court shows fall into a subcategory of reality television. It is for these reasons that many of these particular programs make clear claims to authenticity, as text and voiceovers remind viewers that the cases, litigants, and outcomes are “real.”[7]

Despite possessing certain real-life elements, however, arbitration-based reality court shows are less credible than “unaffected” reality court programs, which draw on footage from actual courtrooms holding legal proceedings to capture the legal system as naturally as possible (e.g., Parole, On Trial). The “judges” in arbitration-based court programs are not actual judges, but rather arbitrators or adjudicators. For one to be considered an acting judge, he/she must be operating within a court and thus bound by the rules and regulations of the legal system. The setting in these types of court shows is not a legitimate court of law, but rather a studio set designed to look like a courtroom. In this respect, arbitrators are not legally restricted to mandatory courtroom/legal policies, procedures, and codes of conduct; rather, they can preside in ways intended for entertainment. Moreover, they have the power to act by their own standards and enforce their own rules and regulations. This power is reinforced through agreements signed by the parties prior to the case proceedings. Once waivers have been signed, arbitrators gain jurisdiction over the litigants, and thus these litigants are bound by the rules and regulations set by the arbitrator.[22][23]

One study noted, “In exchange for streamlining the process (and likely sacrificing some legal rights), litigants surrender their fates to the media apparatus and experience a justice system ruled by the conventions of television drama and personality of the presiding television judge.”[7]

Arbitration-based reality shows guarantee monetary relief if the judgement is won. The show pays the judgment from a fund reserved for each case, paid for by the show’s advertising and syndication revenue; the defendant is also compensated a lesser amount for the appearance. In actual small claims courts, however, winning the judgement is frequently only the first step as judgments do not ensure the victor the money he/she is owed. Getting the defendant to pay his or her judgment can be taxing and courts typically do not get involved, which means it is left up to the victors to collect.[24]

Rise of arbitration-based reality court shows

During its first 1981–93 life, The People’s Court with Joseph Wapner existed as a nontraditional court show, featuring real-life arbitrations in an era of dramatized court programming. It is the first “arbitration-based reality” court show to air, beginning in 1981. In addition, it is the first popular, long-running “reality” court show. Prior to the arrival of The People’s Court, real life elements were next to nonexistent on court shows, with the exception of a few short-lived nontraditional court shows; these precedent reality court shows, however, were only loosely related to judicial proceedings, except for one: Parole (1959), which took footage from real-life courtrooms holding legal proceedings. Since the advent of arbitration-based reality court shows by The People’s Court, numerous other duplicate courtroom programs have been produced. Its revolutionizing impact, however, was not immediate. After The People’s Court’s cancellation in 1993, a second arbitration-based reality court show surfaced the year following, Jones & Jury (1994–95). This was the only arbitration-based reality court show airing during this time and short-lived in its existence. The two other court shows in production during this time were nontraditional programs Kids’ Court (1989–94) and Judge for Yourself (1994–95).[6]

In 1996, a 3rd arbitration-based reality court show emerged, Judge Judy.[6] Upon debuting, it was described as an “edgier” version of The People’s Court, adding attitude to the bench.[25] It was only after the ratings boom of Judge Judy in the late 1990s that a slew of other arbitration-based reality court shows arrived on the scene. In fact, due to the popularity of Sheindlin’s court show, dramatized court shows became next to nonexistent. Among the influx of other reality court shows included the resurrections of the previously cancelled and defunct People’s Court and Divorce Court (adopting the arbitration-based reality format of its counterparts). Following after Judge Judy, most court shows began using personal show titles consisting of the judge’s name, and the popularity of impersonal titles dwindled considerably. Judge Judy has remained the highest rated court show since its debut. It has been the highest rated show in all of daytime television programming since 2009–10 television season. Justice David Sills noted in one opinion that “daytime television in the early 21st century has been full of ‘judge shows,’ where ordinary people bring a dispute for decision before a celebrity jurist.”[26]

Divorce Court is the only show in the genre to have utilized both popular formats (“dramatized” and “arbitration reality”) during their heyday. Moreover, of all the shows in the modern judicial genre, Divorce Court is the oldest. It has also had the most seasons in the entire genre. The series has had three lives in syndication, from 1957 to 1969 (dramatized); from 1985 to 1992 (dramatized); and currently since 1999 (arbitration-based reality). Altogether, as of the 2013–14 season, the court show has had a grand total of 34 seasons. In second place is The People’s Court with 29 seasons and two lives as of the 2013–14 season. With no suspensions in its production history, Judge Judy has had the longest lasting individual life of any reality court show. The program entered its 18th season on September 9, 2013.[27]

List of present-day arbitration-based court shows

The following court shows all follow a basic setup that represents the most widely used approach in the present-day judicial genre. Beyond the use of arbitration, other key elements include a simulated courtroom as the main setting in these programs (in some of these court shows, an area just outside the courtroom is regularly used to tape litigant feedback after their case), and one to four hearings typically take up the entirety of the program. The court cases that are captured all operate in the form of small claims court. For example, only small-scale civil matters are heard and ruled on, such as back rent, unpaid personal loans or wages, minor property damage, minor consumer complaints, etc. As another example of the small claims format, relief that is sought is money or recovery of personal property. As another example, litigation is conducted in the form of a bench trial (as opposed to its more common counterpart, the jury trial) as only the court show’s arbiter may rule on the dispute. Another example, there are no lawyers present and litigants must defend themselves. An additional example, the maximum award limit is $5,000.

As indicated below, the only traditional court shows still remaining on the air from the 1990s or prior are The People’s Court (1981), Judge Judy (1996), and Judge Mathis (1999).

  • Judge Judy (Syndicated, Big Ticket Entertainment, CBS Television Distribution, 1996–present) A court show presided over by retired Manhattan Family Court Judge Judith Sheindlin. Sheindlin pioneered the genre’s tough adjudicating approach. “Justice with an attitude” promised Big Ticket potential buyers when Judge Judy entered first-run syndication in September 1996. Her reputation as being tough with a gruff nature and saucy commentary led to an L.A. Times article in 1993, followed by a 60 Minutes segment, an autobiography in 1996, and then her retirement from the bench and the television show. Her saucy “on your best day, you’re not as smart as I am on my worst day” approach quickly became popular once on television. Sheindlin’s court proceedings are very controlled, matter-of-fact, less dramatic and less “Springer-like” than other court shows mainly due to Sheindlin’s strict, no-nonsense approach. This can be exampled in Sheindlin’s constant coercion of rules, as well as her coercion of the litigants to be concise and relevant. Three years into her run, Sheindlin was generating US$75 million in revenue for Big Ticket. Her ratings doubled Judge Judy has dominated the genre’s ratings since her debut. Moreover, since before The Oprah Winfrey Show left the air, Judge Judy has been both the top-rated daytime television program and in the 2011–12, 2013–14 and 2014–15 seasons, the top syndicated program.[28][29] It’s also worthy to note that the two court shows that outnumber Judge Judy’s seasons, Divorce Court and The People’s Court, have lasted via multiple lives of production and shifting arbitrators. Thus, Sheindlin also has a record for being the court show genre’s longest serving arbitrator, a distinction that earned her a place in the Guinness World Records in September 2015. She is the first arbitrator or judge to preside over a court show for 20 seasons. Moreover, Judge Judy holds the longest lasting individual life of any courtroom program due to the cancellation(s) of Divorce Court and The People’s Court (the only 2 shows in the genre that outnumber Judge Judys seasons).
  • The People’s Court (Syndicated, R.C. Entertainment, RDF Television, Ralph Edwards/Stu Billett Productions, Warner Bros. Television Distribution, 1981–93, 1997–present) When The People’s Court was revived for a 13th season some 4 years after its cancellation, it was brought back without Joseph Wapner. Rather, former lawyer and Mayor of New York Ed Koch was presiding over the program, lasting two seasons (1997–99); this was followed by retired New York Supreme Court Justice Jerry Sheindlin, who is the husband of Judy Sheindlin, lasting for one and a half seasons (1999–00, winter 2001). Following Sheindlin, retired Florida State Circuit Court Judge Marilyn Milian (2001–present) took over the bench and ratings on the show finally saw improvement. (Portraits of all the show’s previous arbiters as well as Wapner’s bailiff, Rusty Burrell, hang in the hallway where litigant interviews are held[30]). By completion of the 2012–13 season, Milian reached 12 and a half seasons presiding over the series, outlasting Joseph Wapner and officially making her the longest reigning judge of The People’s Court. As the show’s youngest and first female arbiter, Milian is very animated, at times gesticulating and motioning wildly from the bench. In addition, she often departs from the bench to interact with litigants. Milian also displays a good-natured, lively sass while interacting with the litigants; however, she is mostly noted for her soundness of judgment and levelheadedness.[31] Milian has observed that a majority of her cases are emotionally charged for the litigants, not about the money but the principle. Connecting to its title, The People’s Court returns from all of its commercial breaks with a segment in which a crowd of random people, shown outdoors, provide feedback on the ongoing case.[28][29]
  • Judge Joe Brown (Syndicated, Big Ticket Entertainment, CBS Television Distribution, 1998–2013) A court show produced by the same team responsible for Judge Judy and taped directly beside Sheindlin’s courtroom set, within the same television studio. Brown’s half-hour courtroom series dealt with small claims cases and was the second highest rated court show for its entire 15-year run, behind Judge Judy. Most of the time, the cases revolved around relationships. The series consisted of a court reporter who introduced the program, provided regular updates returning from commercials, and closed out the program. The court show tended to add striking new features for each successive season, such as a season in which a system whereby the judge could poll the audience and receive their input was introduced. Brown is a retired Shelby County State Criminal Court judge. For the most part, Brown had a languid and perfunctory nature about him while hearing cases, particularly while gathering all the facts and hearing the conflicting stories. Occasionally, however, once he suspected a certain party of being guilty, Brown became particularly cantankerous with them shown in his irritated, quarrelsome communication style. Brown also frequently subjected certain litigants to harsh tirades and judgmental commentary, sometimes even while up on his feet, pacing around the bench area. The harshest of his tirades were delivered to males on the series. Brown was criticized for these behaviors as “lacking self-control”; he was quoted as once roaring, “You get the devil out of my courtroom! That’s the end of it! Case dismissed.”[28][29][32][33]
  • Judge Mills Lane (Syndicated, Paramount Domestic Television now known as CBS Television Distribution, 1998–2001) A real-life Nevada District Court judge for more than eight years and a professional boxing referee with more than 100 championship fights under his belt, Mills Lane was supremely cut out for his TV role when the series premiered in August 1998. The court show was taped at WPIX-TV in New York. The court show was in many respects a typical example of its genre, with Lane presiding over small-claims cases for which a $3000 jurisdictional limit had been imposed. What set Judge Mills Lane apart from the rest of the courtroom shows, however, was Mills Lane himself: Although he claimed not be as “strict” as rival TV jurist Judith Sheindlin, he was nonetheless as tough and sassy as they come, sometimes even fierce and frightening presence. This was especially to home viewers, particularly at points when the camera would zoom in on the Maximum Mills mug as Lane chewed out litigants. He started out each case with his famous locution: “Let’s get it on.” Reportedly, whenever Lane began shaking his gavel at a plaintiff or defendant, you could be sure all “hell” was going to break loose. On more than one occasion, the bailiff would be forced to clear the courtroom in the roughneck manner of a nightclub bouncer. Lane would sometimes let loose with so rapid verbal barrage that no one knew what he was talking about but they knew he was mad. Ratings for Judge Mills Lane were never anything to brag about however. Despite this, the series managed to hang around for three years; reportedly, the only reason it was cancelled was because viewers were “repelled by the new season three theme song.”[11]
  • Judge Mathis (Syndicated, Telepictures Productions, Syndicated Productions, Warner Bros. Television Distribution, 1999–present) A court show described as bringing a unique perspective, Judge Mathis is a daily, hour-long, NAACP Image Award winning program. The show’s star, former Michigan Superior Court Judge Greg Mathis is the longest reigning African American court show judge as of the 2014-15 season (the show’s 16th). Moreover, he is the second longest serving arbitrator in the court show genre, just behind Judith Sheindlin. His program also holds a record of having the second longest individual life of any court show. Early on in the series, Mathis highlighted his troubled youth turned success story through his theme song as a way of motivating and inspiring his audiences (especially youth audiences) to believe that there is no adversity they cannot pick themselves up from. It is from his background that Mathis derives much of his courtroom formula. Up-close and personal in approach, Judge Mathis prompts litigants to recount their case as far as intimate and emotional details go, before getting into what’s directly pertinent to the lawsuit. In this manner, cases on Judge Mathis tend to be deeper and more revealing than those of most other court shows. Full of comic relief moments, however, Mathis often cuts the tension in his courtroom, including much of the tension he himself fosters, by throwing in jokes, wisecracks, ridicule, gibes, etc. His courtroom audience is regularly heard in fits of laughter. Mathis sometimes even banters directly at audience members.[28][29] Mathis has also been noted to shift between formal and informal speaking styles during his cases, as examples, having wisecracked, “Y’all out here having catfights, tryin’ to become jailbirds,” and “Don’t nobody know what choo’ did. Shoot! Choo’ just didn’t get caught.”[34]
  • Judge Hatchett (Syndicated, Sony Television, 2000–08) A court show that delivered a diverse mix of family court, juvenile court and unusual small claims cases. Each case on the show was explored in-depth, which often brought forth hidden, unpredictable angles that cut to the heart of the conflict. What distinguished the series apart from other shows in the genre was its trademark “intervention segments.” These were creative sentences handed out by the arbitrator to help litigants understand the implications of their actions and learn how to better handle problems. These reality-check experiences were shot on location around the country from the waters in New York’s harbor to the streets of Los Angeles’s inner city and offer guidance that can be blunt, confrontational, enriching or motivational. The cornerstone of the series was retired Georgia State Court Chief Judge Glenda Hatchett. Hatchett started out on the program as a gentle and compassionate jurist before later becoming a scurrilous and scalding disciplinarian. Hatchett came up with her innovative sentencing approach during her years as head of one of the country’s largest juvenile court systems.[28][29]
  • Curtis Court (Syndicated, King World Productions, 2000–01) A court show presided over by James Curtis. Curtis, a former California prosecutor, ran his TV court with a kinder, gentler hand than those of his competitors. Although a traditional court show, the series stood out for its use of expert witnesses, single-trial episodes, and on-location examinations of evidence. The program was shot in New York and used pending cases from that area. Uniquely, Curtis acknowledged himself as an arbitrator as opposed to a judge. He was known for looking beyond the end result to find the source of the problem. After the cancellation of Curtis Court, he became an anchor on Court TV.[28][29]
  • Texas Justice (Syndicated, Fox Broadcasting Company, 2001–05) A court show that dispensed Texas-style justice. Larry Joe Doherty ran the series as arbitrator. Doherty is a senior partner with Houston‘s Doherty & Wagner and a former Houston attorney. He earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston in 1970 and was licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas that same year. “I want to educate the public that there is a way to get your disputes resolved quickly,” Doherty said of his courtroom debut. “I’m going to try and dispense broad justice without harshness or hostility.” The program focused on a cross-section of relationship and general dispute cases from the Southern and Southwestern regions of the country. Living up to the court show’s title, Doherty had an innate country drawl and a Walker, Texas Ranger like aura about him. As arbitrator of the series, Doherty was both criticized and praised as being “folksy.” He has also been criticized for making “smart aleck wisecracks” on the series. Doherty addressed litigants by their first names and ran a “rowdy” courtroom with audience members hooting, hollering, laughing, sighing, and groaning. In addition, the multitude of camera shots on the program’s eye-rolling baliff, William Bowers, was also criticized.[28][29][32][35]
  • Judge Alex (Syndicated, 20th Television, 2005–2014) A court show presided by former police officer, attorney, and Florida Circuit Court Judge Alex E. Ferrer. When Ferrer took the job as television arbitrator, he not only became the second Hispanic arbiter on English-language television (Marilyn Milian of The People’s Court, who’s also a Cuban American, is the first) but the first and thus far only former police officer to preside over a court show. At 19, Ferrer became Miami-Dade County‘s youngest police officer when he was hired by the city of Coral Gables. At 24, he graduated from the University of Miami with a law degree and left the police force to practice law. At 34, he was elected judge, making him the youngest circuit court judge in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court, where he oversaw family and criminal cases. While Ferrer handled cases that ranged from armed robberies to kidnappings and first-degree murders, his cases on Judge Alex are described as far tamer, entertaining, and by the arbiter himself as oftentimes “bizarre.” Every three weeks, he tapes 10 cases per day over three days in Houston, where the show is based (once Texas Justice was cancelled, its courtroom set and theme song was used for Judge Alex); Ferrer then flies back to his home in Miami, where he lives with his wife and two children. According to Variety magazine, Judge Alex averages 3 million viewers per week. Personable and sensible with a sense of humor, Ferrer is less harsh and vocal than some of his judicial counterparts, though he does keep a firm control over his courtroom and does not tolerate misconduct.[28][29] The arbiter has been characterized as “handsome” and given to telling it like it is. Ferrer’s rulings are often prefaced by his explanation of the law at hand to his audience.[5]
  • Cristina’s Court (Syndicated, 20th Television, 2006–2009) Cristina Pérez had hosted the very popular court show, La Corte de Familia (Family Court) for Telemundo prior to Cristina’s Court. The former lawyer was marketed as the first TV judge to ever cross over from the Spanish-language to English-language market. Cristina’s Court focused on both small claims cases, conflicts, and legal arguments between families, couples, friends, business partners, and co-workers. Pérez’s decisions were injected with her own morals and family values. The series was not only the first in the genre to win a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Legal/Courtroom Program but the only court show to win the prize more than once, winning three consecutive years in a row, one of those years even after the show’s cancellation. According to the Syndicated Network Television Association, Perez ranked as the second most trustworthy and influential host in syndication among adults 18–34, ranking just behind Oprah Winfrey.[36]
  • Judge Maria Lopez (Syndicated, Sony Pictures Television, 2006–08) Like her contemporary, Judge Alex Ferrer, Maria Lopez is a refugee of Castro’s Cuba, arriving in the US at the age of 8 and learning to speak fluent English within three months. In 1988, Lopez became the first Latina appointed to the Massachusetts bench and two years later, the first person of Latin origin on the state’s Supreme Court. Lopez was forced to resign the bench for refusing to apologize for alleged judicial misconduct after convicting a transgender defendant of sexual assault. Her show used the same production staff responsible for the long-running Judge Hatchett. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the courtroom!” was Judge Lopez’ motto, and it must have struck a chord with viewers: within a month of its debut, Judge Maria Lopez was earning higher ratings than any other new syndicated offering. The series was unable to sustain this early momentum and was cancelled after only two seasons.[11]
  • Judge David Young (Syndication, Sony Pictures Television, 2007–09) A court show presided over by retired Miami-Dade County Judge David Young, the first openly gay television “judge.” Playing off this fact, much of the arbitrator’s behavior was comically camp as he dealt out such warnings as “There’s only one queen in this courtroom and that’s me,” and “You go girl.” In fact, the show’s tagline was “Justice with a snap” as the judge regularly finger-snapped the litigants upon sassy remarks. Young was criticized for this behavior as perpetuating gay stereotypes. However, he insisted that he was intending to be a role model for LGBT youth. Zany and full of courtroom antics, David Young would randomly break out into show tunes during the hearings and was rarely very serious on the bench. In regards to his courtroom antics, Young described himself as merging his two dream jobs of theater and the law and never being able to get away with the behavior he got away with in his television courtroom in a real-life courtroom. He had a strong and playful chemistry with his bailiff Tawya Young who shared his last name but had no relation to him.[37]
  • Judge Jeanine Pirro (CW Network, 2008–09, syndication, 2010–11, Telepictures/Warner Bros.) A court show that was later shortened to Judge Pirro by the 2nd season. The daily, 60-minute series was taped in Chicago and headed by former District Attorney and judge of Westchester County, New York, Jeanine Pirro. Pirro had risen to TV prominence as a legal commentator for the Fox News Channel and was the Republican nominee for New York Attorney General in 2006. Most of the court show’s small claims cases were lurid, many of the litigants coming off like Jerry Springer rejects.[citation needed] Pirro’s many years on the bench, specializing in domestic abuse and sex-offense cases, did not seem to prepare her for the shocking revelations made in her television courtroom. In fact, the first episode was a rape case, leaving the judge dumbstruck. Pirro spent much of her time on the show shouting “Let’s back up a minute!” as litigants popped out one surprise after another. According to an analysis of court shows, the series came off as contrived and the judge’s responses sounded rehearsed. And at times, it appeared as though Pirro’s responses had been taped separately, rather than during the actual testimony (the producers however insisted that show was totally unrehearsed).[11]
  • Family Court with Judge Penny (Syndicated, Program Partners/Sony Pictures Television, 2008–09) Retired Fulton County, Georgia Judge Penny Brown Reynolds was discovered by TV producers after she was shone on Dr. Phil. Reynolds was one of four daughters raised in hardship and poverty in a tough New Orleans neighborhood by a single mother. She never met her father and grew up watching her mother violently abused by her boyfriends. Reynolds soon became a single mother herself and the patterns in her mother’s life began repeating themselves in her own life as well. These circumstances inspired her to enter law where she earned three degrees, all with honors. When Hollywood came a calling, Reynolds was in the middle of her seminary studies where she was earning her Master of Divinity degree. She told TV producers any future show would have to wait until she finished seminary.[38] The cases on the court show involved matters that affected families, from husbands vs. wives to parents suing children.[39] A more sentimental and deeper installment of the court shows, Family Court with Judge Penny was promoted as a show that took the viewer past resolving a lawsuit but to the hearts of the matters, repairing and mending broken families and relationships. Acting as more of a psychologist, Reynolds possessed a soulful, tenderhearted, nurturing, and empowering nature.[40]
  • Judge Karen (Syndicated, Sony Pictures Television, 2008–09) Karen Mills-Francis hailed from the same Miami, Florida, jurisdiction as fellow television arbitrator David Young. In fact, it was David Young who recommended Mills-Francis to his court show producer as the next rising judicial star. In 2000, Karen was appointed administrative judge in Miami-Dade County. She is also a foster mother and former public defender of underprivileged adults and minors. Few court shows could lay claim to being as colorful as Judge Karen. As examples, the show intro consisted of Mills-Francis remarking “Justice isn’t always black and white”; the arbiter is black with blonde hair; the arbiter wore a burgundy court dress; and the arbiter sat before a light purple backdrop. Moreover, Judge Karen introduced several innovations to the court show genre, such as witnesses being sequestered until summoned (so as to prevent witnesses from simply playing off the testimony of their comrade), litigants cross-examining the witnesses, etc. Several of the cases brought before Mills-Francis allowed her to plead the cause of children’s rights. On the program, Mills-Francis was known for her heartfelt caring, as well as her humorous and catchy sass, often delivered in the form of homilies such as “God protects babies and fools—and you’re no baby.” And whenever a litigant took to behaviors Karen found objectionable, she was quick to deliver saucy scoldings, such as “Stay in your lane—I can drive.”[11]
  • Swift Justice with Jackie Glass (Syndicated, CBS Television Distribution, 2010–12) A court show originally known as Swift Justice with Nancy Grace, it captured HLN host and former procecutor Nancy Grace resolving small claims disputes. The show debuted with strong ratings.[41] Unlike other court shows, Grace did not don a court dress and operated without the use of a gavel and bailiff. Moreover, the show had its arbitrator stand behind a glass podium, Grace adding to this by roaming about the studio. Grace was known for her fast rulings without allowing the litigants a word in edgewise, reportedly leading to several lawsuits against the program by its litigants.[42] After the first season, Grace amicably bowed out of the series due to CBS’ decision to move production from Atlanta (where Grace lives) to Los Angeles.[43] After this, Jackie Glass (former Nevada Eighth District Court/Clark County judge, who sentenced former NFL star O. J. Simpson for armed robbery and kidnapping in 2008) took over as arbitrator of the series.[44] The court show used technology, polygraph testing, and expert witness to help the arbitrator in settling disputes. The series was not renewed for another season under Glass, cancelled due to low ratings.
  • Judge Karen’s Court (Syndicated, Litton Entertainment, 2010–2011) In Karen Mills-Francis’ return to the judicial genre after the cancellation of her previous courtroom series, she was promoted as not having lost any amount of pizzazz or razzle-dazzle. In fact, upon returning to the genre, she snapped, “Ya’ll thought I had left the bench for good. Ha! I was on vacation.” Promoted as razor sharp with plenty of style, Karen’s compassion and catchy sass from her previous court show were highlighted in promotions for her second courtroom series: “I can run a circle around you faster than you realized I started drawing a circle.” In keeping with the arbitrator’s trademarked innovativeness, Judge Karen’s Court also introduced new elements, such as “You Be The Judge”: A segment in which gadgets are used by the courtroom audience to weigh in on who they think should win the case just before Mills-Francis’ ruling. In spite of promotions to colorfulness, however, her second series courtroom and overall look was much duller and drearier than her previous courtroom. Mills-Francis’ second try was unfortunately unsuccessful and the series was cancelled after only one season, despite reports of renewal for a second season.[45]
  • L’Arbitre (V television network, 2011–present) A French language court show adjudicated by Canadian and former family law lawyer Anne-France Goldwater. Goldwater is renowned for helping legalize same-sex marriage in Canada. Promoted as Quebec‘s version of Judge Judy, Goldwater is noted for a humorously rough and abrasive manner and rapid wit on the bench. Goldwater is, however, critical of Judge Judy, stating “I love Judy Sheindlin, but I don’t like the direct insults to people. My job is not to sit there and be disdainful and say ‘You fool. What are you doing here.'” The show features petty small claims disputes, such as couples arguing over who gets the big screen TV and neighbors with broken fence issues. Beyond the entertainment value, Goldwater has stated one of her goals is to show people how to resolve petty issues and squabbles without resorting to overburdening the legal system.[46]
  • Judge Rinder (ITV, ITV Studios, 2014–present) An hour-long British reality court show that has aired since August 11, 2014, it stars the criminal barrister Robert Rinder as the arbitrator. Rinder oversees cases about disputes on a variety of different issues in his small claims courtroom. Issues have involved everything from money and pets to issues involving serious relationship breakdowns and conflicts over wills. By the end of Rinder’s first season (or “series” as it is worded in British English), Rinder had already earned the title of “Daytime King” for racking up high ratings. Filmed in Manchester, Judge Rinder has been lauded for his entertainment value as well as engaging the British audiences with their own legal system, bringing small court proceedings into popular culture. Explained Rinder, “The show has triggered discussion about the legal issues we can be faced with, across the board. You may have a consumer rights issue – ‘can I take this back? What are my rights against the company?’ Or I lent money to a friend and now I need it back. Or I’ve got a deadbeat ex-husband and how do I get him to pay the child support he owes?’ Then there’s personal injury, contracts; just about everything.”[47]
  • Judge Faith (The Torante Company, Trifecta Entertainment & Media, 2014–present) A court show that features Faith Jenkins, a former New York City Prosecutor and legal analyst for MSNBC as the judge.[48]

Daytime Emmy Awards

The judicial genre became a category in the Daytime Emmy Awards for the first time in 2008, titled Outstanding Legal/Courtroom Program. Previously, if nominated for an award, court shows were matched up miscellaneously against a series of talk shows. Cristina’s Court (only lasting three seasons, from 2006 to 2009) was the first court show to win a Daytime Emmy Award, and to date, the only court show to win more than one Daytime Emmy Award. The court show won the Outstanding Legal/Courtroom Program Award in 2008 (two seasons into its run), 2009, and 2010 (the series cancelled by this period). Judge Pirro (2008–2011) won in 2011, upon being cancelled just two seasons into its run. Last Shot with Judge Gunn (2011–present) won in 2012, only a season into its run. To date, this represents the earliest into production that any court show has ever received a Daytime Emmy. Moreover, Last Shot is the first nontraditional courtroom series to receive a Daytime Emmy. Up until 2012, all of the annually presented awards all went to freshman court shows that had only recently emerged in the genre at the time of their rewarding. On June 14, 2013, however, Judge Judy became the first long-running, highly rated court show to receive an Emmy, which landed on its 15th nomination.