Tuesday, October 4, 2016
LEGAL/COURTROOM JUDGE SHOWS: AN ANALYTICAL LOOK AT TELEVISION'S FASTEST GROWING NEW GENRE! (What? No, they're actually that big and growing, it's probably time to notice, seriously.)
I should've gotten to this a lot earlier than now.
I know, it doesn't seem like something serious, but... you know, I know there's been quite a bit going on elsewise, the primetimes Emmys, the fights against critics, the comic book movies, fans doing more stupid bullshit than ever, it seems, the Presidential election, blah, blah, blah, that of course, I wouldn't get to the courtroom shows. There's no reason to cover them; they're not on the mainstream entertainment film and television radar, and nobody talks about them in any Facebook groups, and that all might be, somewhat true, but it's not really, and besides that, I shouldn't simply be reacting to the parts of pop culture that make the hit counter go up every time, I'm not interesting in that anyway. There's dozens of other blogs who work on that. You can't just focus on the same aspects of the entertainment world that most fascinate and intrigue the loudest voices of the populace, even and especially within just film and television there's so many little different aspects, and trends within patterns within genres going on, and yeah- I don't know, if anybody's really noticed, but the legal/courtroom show as the Daytime Emmys call them; (I call them "judge shows"), has really taken over Daytime television.
I know that doesn't sound like a big thing, but actually, it really is. You see, television ratings overall have just fallen off a cliff. There's exceptions here and there, but generally, more people are streaming and binge-watching their TV more than ever and fewer shows are actually being watched regularly on television. That said, that's also, partly because, most shows are most easily accessible online and streaming, other shows, like daytime shows, use "The Today Show" and those other similar Special Class News Series as a good example here, they're mostly not watched by streaming viewers, even when that option's available, because it's a live and immediate show that's more likely to be watched everyday on the air, live and on television still, and most of daytime TV, is like that. It's actually not really that necessary or relevant to watch it later; it's greatest impact is in the fact that people are watching it now as it happens. There's other shows like that, game shows, I don't know anybody who binge-watches "The Price is Right", there's talk shows, they definitely date quickly, especially these five-days-a-week shows, they age quickly and there's a lot fewer than there's been in decades and but there audience usually watches everyday; there's no need to catch up on what you missed on Jerry Springer or even on Ellen DeGenerous really. There's those aforementioned morning news shows, they age immediately. Even soap operas, what few are left, there's a couple online daytime soaps but, I don't know how successful they are, they're the most likely to get viewers through alternative means, but the genre is constantly getting less and less popular as Primetime dramas adopt more of their tropes and overall, just create better products. Want more proof, the highest-paid television performer, is not Jim Parsons, or anybody on Primetime, and hasn't been for years. It's Judge Judith Sheindlin, and that's not new; she held that record and has been getting raises since, when Oprah still had her talk show! Yeah, she makes more money than Oprah, and she's the major figure in the genre that's the highest-rated and fastest-growing new genre of television and she's the richest performer in the medium of television, so maybe it's long, long overdue that we take a closer analytical look at this genre, which has suddenly taken up a huge enough section of the Daytime Television market that it now has it's own Daytime Emmy categories.
Speaking of, the Daytime television segment it took up, let's start at the beginning with-, well, how the hell did that happen? You see, when I was growing up, there wasn't a reason to concern or think about courtroom shows taking over the airways, because there was only one courtroom show, "The People's Court". (We're not counting "The Judge" because that show was a "Dramatization" not actual cases with people involved in the suit) I remember the original version and I always enjoyed it. It was different than all the game shows and talk shows that were on at the time, and yeah, it wasn't much more than Small Claims Civil Court cases, but that was enough, it was interesting to see the courtroom process and if you ever happen to find an old episode of the series, it, it holds up. You could argue it as a early forerunner series of modern reality television. And then one day it was canceled, and that was sad, but I didn't think too much about it; Judge Wapner, was noticeably getting a little too old to do the show as well as he could, although for those who don't know this, he's still alive today at age 97, and he even had a second court show in the late nineties, a more fun one that focused on animals, but still, impressive. It lasted twelve years and I missed it; it was one of a kind and you didn't have other real life court series; it was unique, it stood out, it was informative, enjoyable, entertaining, and there was nothing else like it, and I and I think everybody presumed that that was how it was gonna be. It was one unique show idea that lasted for a bit, but didn't survive long term, but you can look back on for how good it was as a remnant of the era. Kinda like "Love Connection" or 'Unsolved Mysteries", one of those kind of shows. So what changed that led us to, well, this huge list of court shows that have been on television over the years at the link below:
Well, "The People's Court" ended in '93, there was "Jones and Jury" a brief short-lived half-court/half-talk show in '94 that introduced America to Star Jones, yeah that one, she started as a TV judge as well, but that didn't take off. "Judge Judy" was '96.... and then she exploded, between then though, I can think of one major highly-watched thing involving courtrooms on daytime television at the time....
I can't believe I've posted this clip more than once. Um, okay, I know some of you younger readers of mine, might now be somewhat more educated on the O.J. Simpson trial now that that miniseries aired, but I don't think it's completely possible to understand just the behemoth that was the trial of the century and how it really did overtake everything, including and especially the television aspect unless you lived through it, 'cause this was ev-er-y-where! (Yeah, trust me, as good as the miniseries looked, what I saw of it, I did not need to relive this, it's all ingrained in me.) This, basically took over television and the world for a good year from mid '94 to October of '95; I distinctly remember TV Guides at one point, just listing that the trial was continuing instead of showing what was supposed to be regularly scheduled and everybody watched this, and it was just...- there's no equivalent to this that I can compare it too, but it caused a lot of television changes in the mid-'90s. There were television shows inspired by it, most notably the short-lived drama series, "Murder One", but it also inspired the birth of CourtTV, which I think is now known as TruTV, but it was basically a 24-hour-channel that covered the most infamous and serious court cases around the clock. We don't have O.J., but we have, Timothy McVeigh, or if you've lived in Las Vegas as long as I have you'll remember the multiple trials involving Rick Tabish and Sandra Murphy, and up until, I think they covered the Phil Spector trial too. And it was a hit originally, and it perfectly fit when the reality boom hit years later, but until then, they needed something to compete with that, so now that they don't have the trial of the century to cover, so.... enter "Judge Judy" and then a couple others showed up,... and now we're here.
And when other judge shows started popping up, I didn't really think much of it, I guess I just assumed that they were all the same essentially, basically following the same formula, and to some extent they are, to some extent more than others, there's a case, you hear both sides, you see the evidence, there's a ruling.... maybe two cases or three a day, but nothing overly different. (Sigh) That's a nice thought, but I-, you know that's really on me, 'cause I should and do know better, there's good and bad in every genre, it's not the genre or subgenre that's the problem, it's how one goes about doing it. And you know, I'm really not kidding when I say that, I should've really gotten to this sooner 'cause, a few years ago, I ran into... (Depressed sigh) "Eye for an Eye".
Um, if you've never come across this show before, I'm so, so sorry for introducing it to you, and unfortunately I couldn't find the episode I really wanted to post on here, which involved two women who worked at a tanning salon fighting over the boss they were sleeping with and surprise evidence included a french maid outfit and a strap-on, and witness testimony included a claim from the boss that one of the girl's was fired because she gave him genital warts and the episode ended in both of them being forced to battle each other in a mud wrestling match refereed by Kato Kaelin, yes, that Kato Kaelin, who was the only nice thing to see on this show, you know, him getting work, that was actually nice, but oh dear fucking god this is one of the worst pieces of shit that's ever been produced on national television! (I SWEAR TO GOD, DEVIL, OPRAH, WHOEVER, I SWEAR I DID NOT MAKE ANY OF THAT UP! I COULD NOT, MAKE ANY OF THAT UP!) Anyway, I posted the first one I could find that had Kaelin as the onscreen "Reporter" of the action, I guess, the Doug Llewelyn role, sorta, (Sigh) this show, I swear...-
Now, if you've watched that video clip, it should be clear to you why this show isn't listed on that list of Legal/Courtroom shows on that Wikipedia link earlier, well, this show was completely staged and faked. It didn't exactly hide it; I mean, no-, Like, say what you want about "The Jerry Springer Show", um, the, "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" chant, that was not then and probably not now, anything that was pre-planned, it organically came about, 'cause the fans were into the show. So, it's got that going for it. This-, abomination, um.... Okay, I'm gonna say some critical and mean things about some of these other more popular courtroom shows, but, as much as I may criticize them remember in context, "Eye for an Eye", is below, rock bottom, fifty feet of dirt and shit, bottom of the barrel, that's at the bottom of the deepest Ocean horrible, and no matter what, they're not that! Just remember that. They're not a fake, badly-stage, badly-acted, badly-produced mockery of a television series, much less a courtroom series like this shit was. This is what I'm talking about when I say I should've gotten to this earlier, this isn't a genre with a couple shows to compare with, there are legitimate tremendous differences between these shows and the quality levels of good vs. bad vs. (Looks up at "Eye for an Eye" clip) a failed abortion covered in shit, can be as wide as any other genre out there.
And since, this is a big, prevalent, continuously-growing genre of television, with a bigger fanbase and sphere of influence than we think, let's analyze, what makes a good Legal/Courtroom show? And ergo, also what makes a bad one, other than the, aforementioned obvious? Well, "The People's Court" is the originator and over two long separate runs has lasted, about 30 years on television, let's presume that's the baseline version of a successful version of this genre. Well, the main thing that really distinguished "The People's Court", at least, and especially in the beginning was that, it was real. There's a reason that the original show opened with that famous opening, that they were "Not Actors" and are "Actual Litigants" with a case pending..., that was all true (Still is in most cases). And that was necessary, because for the most part, all other times a series had tried to depict an actual court case on television had been a dramatization of earlier events, not actual arbitration; there had been versions of that going back to radio in fact, which makes sense, 'cause when there was an interesting court case, there usually wouldn't have cameras and microphones recording everything, so it just made more sense to recreate it. This is still done sometimes in fact. But "The People's Court" while, not technically a courtroom, what they did was look for real cases and offer an appearance on "The People's Court" as arbitration, meaning that their cases would be dropped and Wapner would be the settler of the dispute. Now, obviously there's other certain laws involving television, the losing party wouldn't have to actually pay, blah, blah, blah, it's not a real courtroom but instead it's a studio set, yeah, yeah, but the case and the dispute and the judgement, those were all pretty much real and more or less, that's the key to most reality/non-fiction/non-scripted shows in general, how much of the show is based on actual reality and how much isn't; most good ones anyway, do their best to make the main situation and realistic and believable as possible. If tomorrow I woke up and suddenly I found out that every contestant on "Project Runway" didn't actually make their outfits on the show and were just actors pretending to be fashion designers every fan of the show, myself included would be pissed! That's the crossing the line barrier, essentially, and in the beginning, most courtroom/legal shows did that and most of them seem to still do to varying degrees or another.
This is another difference between then and now, you see, with "The People's Court", when it was the only game in town, they could sort through all the cases and files and handpick the best ones for their show, essentially, if the complainants agreed of course, But now that there's a good dozen or two of these shows, many of them shooting in the same areas of the country, there ends up being a lot fewer interesting or unusual cases to spread out. This is when you see shows that, maybe go a little outside the realm of just, the bare basics of the case. This is why, you end up with things like "Divorce Court", or "Family Court with Judge Penny", "Lauren Lake's Paternity Court", which, I'm fairly certain is just a shitty version of every other episode of "The Maury Povich Show" these days. "Street Court", which is arbitration, but they set the series, supposedly where the crimes actually took place, so a dumb gimmick, "Power of Attorney", that was kind of an interesting one 'cause it included high-profile lawyers for the Plaintiff and Defendant, it didn't completely work, but that was funny seeing Marcia Clark defending somebody for giving a bad haircut. "Texas Justice", where the gimmick is, a courtroom in Texas, with a Southern judge? (Shrugs) What's the new one, "Hot Bench", with 3 JUDGES, ooh! (Judge Judy came up with that one btw) "Moral Court", that one's downright obnoxious; it's not based on the law, it's based on which person more morally in the right, which yeah, it was exactly what you think is was, just some preachy judge, yeah, big hit with the family values crowd. Basically the kind of show that was really only good for-eh, something for "Talk Soup" or "The Soup" to make fun of.
Like, I said, the farther away they got from...-, (Wait, what the hell's "Sex Court"? [Clicks Wikipedia link. Shocked expression!] The Playboy Channel had a courtroom show!)
(Ten minutes later)
(Holding back embarrassed laughter) Oh-kay, I cannot post a link to that, but-um, definitely not a legally realistic court show, at all; still way, way, better than "Eye for an Eye" though.
Anyway, the farther away from the basic court premise you get, at least having that as the center of the series, the worst these shows tend to be. I mean, this is as basic a conflict as you can get, plaintiff vs. defendant, there's a reason why lawyer shows in Primetime have worked forever and why detective stories have worked forever and why pretty much anything law-based can work as a show if done right. It's realistic, it actually happens, the conflict is natural. Two sides, having a disagreement, there's not much more you need here.
So, what are the shows that add more? Well, the only "Non-Traditional Court Show" to win the Emmy award for best Courtroom Series was "Last Shot with Judge Gunn". This show, didn't seem to last long, and I'm going off the notes and what few clips I can find, it is basically "Celebrity Rehab", without the Celebrities, or really the rehab, and it's based around a courtroom. Now it's intentions are interesting, it's actually on a program, a television program, that Judge Mary Ann Gunn implemented in her state Arkansas, but this is basically a reality program which is disguised as a court show, where the defendants are all drug users, (In fact, it's often been criticized for calling itself a "Drug Court" and they must go through this program and we see the results of that program and they must stay sober throughout the whole time.) Despite the Emmy win, this show was pretty panned even from many drug court advocate groups and frankly, watching this episode I found on Vimeo, uh, this is basically a melodrama reality series and it's pretty much just preaching through the tool of exploitation. Not that drug abuse isn't a problem that shouldn't be admonished, and that's not even inherently a bad thing to weave into a courtroom show, but "non-traditional" is right. If this show, was in a regular 4 white walls room and the judge was in normal t-shirt and jeans, and the people talking to her, updating on information were just her associates, also in common clothes, not much really changes. If anything, this is a better idea for a soap opera than a judge show! Or, a segment on "Dr. Phil." or something like that.
That's where these shows tend to go, you know how I mentioned that there's fewer and fewer talk shows than their used to be on daytime? Well, that's true, but lately, if you watch some of these lesser judge shows, you basically can look at them and the plaintiff and defendant and realize, that they basically are just talk shows now. Instead of a moderator, you have a literal judge. Let's take, one of the more popular shows "Judge Mathis", that's been on the air for 17 years, one of the longest lasting courtroom series and judges on television, and, it's barely a courtroom show. I mean, even looking at the introductions of the litigants when they walk up to their podiums, let's grab a random episode here, and just listen to how the narrator discusses their case, and compare that to an old "The People's Court" episode. (Or even, most new ones for that matter)
Yeah, there's talk about, the two litigants bitching about the other and their personal lives and how they feel about each other, and then, "Oh, by the way, the case is about a phone bill." Did you catch that? All this, how horrible she is, how horrible she is worst," and we're suing over a phone bill. Yeah, imagine this isn't a case, and this was, an old episode of "Sally Jesse Raphael" would you know the difference? (And no, most of the cases themselves, they rarely ever focus on the case, just the character and behaviors of the litigants and then, maybe talking a bit about what they're suing over) Now, it's seventeen years later after the show originally aired and sure things change, and a lot of "Judge Mathis"'s appeal is that, he's got a decent backstory, somebody who started as a criminal and then dealt with a lot of these issues and demons that his litigants deal with but also overcame it to become a lawyer and then a judge, there's a certain appeal to that. Come to think of it, it also sounds like a lot of the appeal of Montel Williams back when he had a talk show. Yeah, you see what I mean when I say, these courtroom shows are basically modern-day talk shows? Mathis is Montel Williams, without those annoying Sylvia Browne episodes, Judge Judy is Morton Downey, Jr. yelling and flipping out and insulting the litigants every chance she gets, Judge David Young, who was a good judge the first season despite a wonderfully flamboyant personality, just became Maury Povich by the end 'cause every episode had a lie detector test. (There's a couple shows that are basically revamped Maury Povich shows, and more importantly, lie detector test results aren't valid pieces of evidence in court!) And obviously, "Eye for an Eye" was just, Jerry Springer meets bad years of Jenny Jones, meets, who's that other awful one, the British guy that's on now? That guy. Judge Hatchett's probably Sally Jesse Raphael, always trying to fix and get to the root cause of things, often involving helping people, Judge Pirro is, well, she's just a publicity whore it seems like most of the time, but she's probably that guy on "Loveline", not Adam Corolla the other one. Dr. Drew Pinsky, only political legal consultant instead of, just a random former celebrity psychiatrist, sorta who shows up in weird places for interviews and to keep what's left of his fame. I'm sure this game could go on and on really but, that's what happened, this genre didn't necessarily take over, it evolved, or devolved into a meld of some of the other shows it was surrounding, to the point where those shows, have kinda begun to get faded out as these other exploitative shows, based around a courtroom, have taken over.
That's not to say exploitative is bad, I like most of those talk shows and hosts I mentioned, there's exploitation going on from all sides when you get into these non-fiction programs and it's really not as bad as some may claim, for the most part. (Have I mentioned how awful "Eye for an Eye" is in the last five or six paragraphs? I have? Multiple times? Really doesn't feel like I've gotten that point across enough yet, to me!) But, talk shows can get away with that, really the only limitations those shows have, they can set for themselves; all you need for them, is to have people come on and then they talk about, whatever they talk about. Now, I should mention that before the invention of the Legal/Courtroom Series category at the Emmys, these shows would submit as talk shows, which makes some sense, actually, there wasn't an equivalent, and yeah, it is basically talking, it's just talking within a parameters of a courtroom setting through the conversation format of arbitration, so there's an argument to be made that this isn't that big a stretch, but I'm not 100% sure I buy that. You expect those kinds of guests to randomly come in and out and air their grievances on a talk show, on a legal/courtroom show, I expect the case to be the focus and the central aspect, and all the best judge shows I've seen they tend to stay that way. It's shocking and surprising for a minute to start watching what you think is a judge show and then to suddenly see it burst into Jerry Springer, or Sally Jesse Raphael but after the novelty's over, I can get that elsewhere;
I'd rather watch the actual arbitration and trial. I mean, there's nothing wrong with having a different judge and approach to the case, the same thing there's different talk shows hosts and that's definitely the x-factor when it comes to these shows too, the judges themselves, which ones are really the best and better suited for this format on television than others. There's a few good examples, I miss "Judge Alex" for instance that was a very underrated courtroom show, he seemed like a good, intelligent judge, who did focus as much on the law and the case at hand as possible and still seemed like a human being; he's one I always liked. While "Judge Judy", technically doesn't stray as far as some of her competitors from the arbitration and case aspects of the classic formula, she's so damn abrasive and bitchy, especially lately where she just looses it against litigants at times without any real justification, that I find her unwatchable especially lately, she just seems to flip out and yell and be so above-it-all that, I honestly don't understand her appeal, at all, anymore, but for a better example of how a judge can effect the quality of a judge show, let's go back to "The People's Court", 'cause this show in it's current incarnation has had had multiple judges over the years, so we can compare and analyze them. It started with former New York Mayor Ed Koch as it's first judge, and you know, Ed Koch is not exactly politically somebody I agree with, but as a judge and a character, he was an entertainment flamboyant curmudgeon, and going back to watch over some of his episodes, 'cause I don't honestly remember too much of his reign on the show, he's entertaining and fun; I don't know if he liked doing it, that's probably the biggest problem with him, but he seemed affable enough, but he was eventually replaced with Judge Jerry Sheindlin. If that name sounds familiar, he was and is "Judge Judy"'s husband and he was a former New York State Supreme Court justice, ("Judge Judy" was mostly a family court judge when she wasn't a prosecutor.) and was a little less abrasive and cruel than his wife on the show, but I still remember him, often just stopping in the middle of the case for some preachy anger-filled rant about who did what most of the time. I mean, it wasn't with the confrontational wit of his wife or just an overall aggressive approach to being a judge that she brought but I didn't care for it and the ratings fell, and unlike some television judges like Christina Perez, who's had like three or four different shows it seems, (All of them seem good btw) he didn't find any other work on television as a judge and that's probably for the best. So, three seasons in, and they then decide to switch again to their current Judge, Marilyn Milian, who is, for my money is the best of these Judges on TV. Her run has actually outlasted Judge Wapner's long run, and she's funny, smart, deals with the case, and sure, she can get angry and upset at times, even lash out at the litigants, but it's always within the context of the case and arbitration, and yet, unlike Judge Judy, she's got more of a logical and analytical approach to the law, judges, what seems to be a very fair judge most of the time, (I didn't even think that of Wapner much of the time to be honest) and yet has clearly got a distinctive personality and even a sense of humor. She's doesn't seem to be so above and beyond the litigants,- I can't find many faults with her as a Judge on a courtroom show. Her own personality and approach sure, but it's still about the case and the litigants and the law more than anything, and she doesn't take over the show more than necessary, and she's not boring; she wants to be there; she's inserts herself and she overtakes the show when necessary and not more or less.
So, what is the verdict here? Well, I think a good courtroom show is a good courtroom show, and a bad one is a bad one, that's nothing new. But I do think it's important to look at them critically instead of just as mindless unimportant daytime entertainment, 'cause there's a lot more going on in this genre that people seem to notice and it's time for people to notice, especially since these kinds of show are probably the future of television. I know that seems a bit much and hard to believe, but television at it's best is a medium of immediacy, and for better and for worst, daytime television, with a constant rotation of news shows, talk shows, game shows, and now courtroom shows is at the core of modern television, the shows that get people to turn on their television and those that watch those shows, watch them everyday. It's probably best to keep an eye on how this newest major genre of daytime is going and continues to evolve and devolve, 'cause it's not going away and there's a slew of wannabes and imitators coming in on the genre, and if you think we're overrun with the genre now, well hang tight folks, 'cause this is still young and it's only gonna get bigger in the immediate future.