Judging nine TV judges
I just never got into soap operas. Well, there was that period decades ago when I spent the summer home with a broken foot before the advent of the internet. But I digress. What I watch these days during the daytime hours tend to be the judge shows. Well, to digress a moment again -- WGN airs Homicide: Life on the Street at noon here. I can't miss that, of course. But then it's justice served. Who judges the judges? I do, naturally!
Gallery: The TV Judges
The real-life courtroom drama began back in the '80s with The People's Court and the TV judge who started it all -- Judge Joseph A. Wapner. It was a new dawn, a new day, for those of us who desperately needed something outside of the soap opera offerings on daytime television. As time went on, the judges changed ranging from Mayor Ed Koch to Judge Jerry Sheindlin (the husband of the infamous Judge Judy) to the present day Judge Marilyn Milian. But it was Judge Wapner who started it all, thus he's the number one judge on my list.
Oh, yes. I'm ranking these from my favorite to least favorite. Hey, if I started the other way around, you'd see my surly nastiness right of the bat. It's best to save that for last, I'm sure. I don't want people to realize I'm the cranky curmudgeon I am. So, here's my ranking --
1. Judge Joseph A. Wapner, judge of The People's Court from 1981 to 1993. His shtick? He didn't really have one. After all, he was the original judge in the genre. He didn't need no steenkin' shtick. Judge Wapner was pretty much no nonsense, but yet not into the one-liners which later characterized the courtroom shows. Perhaps he was the childhood boyfriend of Lana Turner during his schooldays, but he was the epitome of a dedicated family man and the ultimate judge for the TV viewing world. He later became a judge for an Amimal Planet show, but it just didn't seem the same for me. I'd love to revisit some of the early cases of The People's Court with Wapner. He started it all.
2. Judge Judy takes my second place slot. I consider her the impetus for the one-liners in the genre. Her self-named show, Judge Judy, has been on the air since 1996 and is still popular. Her shtick of one-liners has spawned books and even sneaked into my own personal vernacular. "Does it say stupid on my forehead?" She's been nominated ten times for Daytime Emmy Awards and we can expect to see her at least through 2010 based on her contract renewals. I've grown a bit weary of the insults she slings in the courtroom, but it's due to her quick insulting quips that she makes the ranking of second on my list -- she did it before anyone else and does it so well. I'd be horrified if treated that way in a trial in real life circumstances. However, it's entertainment and not personal for me. It's been those very insults which turned her into a leader in the field of TV judges. The latest buzz has it that she doesn't want black litigants on the show. Yikes. Since that news came out, I've noted the lack of litigants of color while the other judge shows are rampant with them. Hmmm ... not sure what I make of that, but I never claimed the genre is all that real despite the fact it's supposed to be real. Well, now I'm just confusing myself.
3. Judge Marilyn Milian, the current judge of the now syndicated The People's Court, makes this slot for me. Her shtick is her Cuban-American background and various Cuban sayings handed down by the generations before her. I enjoy her sense of humor on the show, but sometimes her spontaneous bursts of loud laughter frighten me. She's the first Hispanic judge of a national show of the ilk and has been presiding over The People's Court since 2001.
4. Judge Joe Brown is a Los Angeles based judge with his self-named show (apparently the way to go in the genre). His real life judge experience was mainly in Tennessee, but he was a young child growing up in South Central L.A. with all of its gritty urban life at his disposal. So, that's his shtick along with the ever present "be a man about it" lines to ne'er-do-wells, street thugs, and those men who do a woman wrong. In a way, he's a fatherly figure. In another way he's street smart, albeit a bit removed from the times and temptations of the present day ne'er-do-wells. But I like him anyway.
5. Judge Greg Mathis comes from Detroit and isn't about to let us forget it. His shtick? Detroit and a vow to his dying mother that he would stop his criminal activities. While he's reminiscent of Joe Brown, apparently Mathis spent some time himself as a hoodlum, thug, and ne'er-do-well. Again, though, we have a judge somewhat removed from the sort of life claimed in the shtick. Yet, the show entertains me when I happen upon it.
6. Judge Hatchett with her self-named show gives us a bit different view. Her shtick is compassion and trying to solve the world's problems one defendant at a time. From the times I've watched her show, she seems to concentrate on juvenile offenders whose families want to give them a bit of tough love or something. She often sends the youthful offenders off on field trips to open their eyes or give them new hopes and dreams. Does it work in the long run? I don't know. But Scared Straight it usually ain't.
7. Judge Lynn Toler currently presides over Divorce Court, a branch of the genre outside of the basic small claims circuit. The show itself is the oldest in the genre, but it didn't really kickstart it all like The People's Court did. Variations ran from 1957-1969 and 1986-1992. The latest version began in 1999 with Judge Mablean Ephriam wearing the robes. Judge Toler is a fairly recent addition as she came aboard in 2006. I think I enjoy more of the wacky marriages which never should have been than the different judges on the show. Why do people put up with nutso spouses? They don't. They bring them to Divorce Court.
8. Judge David Young has earned the ranking of next to last on my list here. Oh, he's not so bad. But I thought he'd be more. You see, he was touted as the first gay TV judge and the shtick is "justice with a snap" and all. For me, as I watch him preside, there just isn't much there there. Occasionally he'll come up with something witty, occasionally he'll reach out to his inner gayness. Sometimes he shows compassion, sometimes he's very judgmental. I think what happened is they promoted a shtick without really reinforcing it in the every day cases. A show like Texas Justice did better -- they chose a shtick and stuck with it.
9. Judge Maria Lopez hits my dregs of the TV judges placing last with her syndicated self-named show. I suppose I shouldn't even list her as I've never been able to watch an episode in its entirety. But I've never watched a whole episode because the show causes me to sneer in disdain. I can't keep doing that or my face will freeze that way and I'll lead a life of scaring small children. I find her show to be a low budget take-off of Marilyn Milian with little or no personality.
No matter which courtroom judge show you watch, the defendants all seem pretty much the same. Well, perhaps one show doesn't seem to have any litigants of color, but I'm talking besides that issue. As for me ... if I'm ever suing or being sued, I'll thank you not to televise the event.
The shows are yet another guilty pleasure for me during my one weekday home. I don't watch them enough to bother recording them, but I find them better than soap operas. How about you?
|Joe Wapner||195 (9.9%)|
|Joe Brown||130 (6.6%)|
|Judge Judy||509 (26.0%)|
|Greg Mathis||220 (11.2%)|
|Lynn Toler||59 (3.0%)|
|Mablean Ephriam||79 (4.0%)|
|Ed Koch||14 (0.7%)|
|David Young||75 (3.8%)|
|Judge Hatchett||68 (3.5%)|
|Maria Lopez||18 (0.9%)|
|Jerry Sheindlin||6 (0.3%)|
|Judge Larry Joe of Texas Justice||44 (2.2%)|
|Mills Lane||46 (2.3%)|
|Judge Alex||130 (6.6%)|
|Marilyn Milian||367 (18.7%)|