'Judge Judy' Ruling Daytime Television

CBS Television Distribution's Judge Judy is such a familiar part of daytime TV that now, in the post-Oprah Winfrey syndication world, it's easy to overlook how dominant it is. The show averaged 10.1 million viewers each day during the third week of January, a typical week, more than the next three courtroom shows combined.
Associated Press,

NEW YORK (AP) — Sixteen years into her career as television's chief justice, Judy Sheindlin is as comfortable in her role as the nation appears to be with her.

"Judge Judy" is such a familiar part of daytime TV that now, in the post-Oprah Winfrey syndication world, it's easy to overlook how dominant it is. The show averaged 10.1 million viewers each day during the third week of January, a typical week, more than the next three courtroom shows combined, the Nielsen company said.

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Without her black robe with the white lace, Sheindlin can walk down a Manhattan street undisturbed on a chilly winter afternoon. Just try that with Dr. Phil, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Oz or Katie Couric. Each have daytime shows with an audience less than half of what "Judge Judy" draws each day.

The people who choose to have their disputes settled on camera by Sheindlin know to expect a sharp tongue and sharp judgments. She believes most people take comfort in order, like newborn babies swaddled tightly in a blanket.

"They want to do the right thing, most people," she said. "For that little core that doesn't want to do the right thing and gets away with it routinely, most people want to see them get a good whupping. And I am your girl."

Some of her cases have changed over the years — she appeared uninterested and a little befuddled during a recent discussion about an Xbox hard drive — but Judge Judy doesn't. It's instructive to watch Morley Safer's 1993 feature on "60 Minutes" about Judge Sheindlin of Manhattan's Family Court to see how similar it is to the "Judge Judy" courtroom today. Same Brooklyn attitude and impatience. Same steamrolled plaintiffs (or lawyers, or defendants) muttering under their breaths. Almost the same robe. Safer even coined a phrase, "the evil queen in a lace collar," that's just as applicable now.

Brand Connections

That report caught the attention of Hollywood syndicators, who turned Sheindlin from a Tylenol-popping public servant to a celebrity earning a reported $45 million a year with homes in New York, Connecticut, Florida and Wyoming.

"In the field in which she works, I would put her in that class of people throughout the history of broadcasting who really manage to appeal to millions of people at a time yet give you that sense in some way that they're intimately relating to you, like you can go out and have chili with them," said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture.

Thompson admits to underestimating Sheindlin, saying he predicted the growth in DVR usage would be Sheindlin's downfall because many people watched because there was nothing else on. Apparently not.

The self-certainty and willingness to say things others might suppress drives her appeal like it does for Simon Cowell, he said.

"I don't mind getting my hands dirty and I don't mind getting to the truth of a situation and saying, 'you're right, you're wrong, next case,'" she said. "If I wasn't right most of the time, we wouldn't be having this conversation today."

As a girl growing up in Brooklyn, Sheindlin said she got her moral compass from her dentist father. He worked part-time for the city and suggested the government could save money by making some of its own dental equipment instead of contracting it out to people who charged more than it was worth. It earned him death threats. He wanted to persist pushing it but backed off because his wife was scared. The effort made an indelible impression on his 8-year-old daughter.

On "Judge Judy," Sheindlin will rapidly cut through arguments and counter-arguments to get to the heart of a case, often with moral judgments attached. "You can't go into a lease with someone and stick 'em," she said to former roommates squabbling over back rent.

A tattooed bartender who asked her roommate to drive her children to school because she had worked late stood no chance recovering damages when that roommate got in a car accident. She cared less about the accident than the notion the bartender had passed on her responsibility. If Sheindlin is confronted with a young woman who has multiple children with different fathers, she doesn't hesitate to say: "You have enough children."

"I believe it," she said. "You may disagree with me. But I think if you're 26 years old and you're unemployed and your children have no stability and one lives with grandmother sometimes and you have different men coming into your house fathering these children, the chances that you are going to have a successful person come out of that house, with that upbringing, is diminished. You're not supposed to say it."

Knowing people and their behaviors is her strong suit, certainly not judicial temperament, she said. She admits to being "bratty," in classic ends-justify-the-means style, recalling a Family Court case where she dumped lengthy motions written by expensive lawyers in the trash and told them if they didn't reach a settlement, she would tell their clients the lawyers wanted to bleed them financially.

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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 25, 2016
  • 1.
    5.5/18
  • 2.
    2.6/8
  • 3.
    1.2/4
  • 4.
    0.9/3
  • 5.
    0.5/2
  • 6.
    0.2/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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