Judge Judy is only her stage name, her honor’s full name is Judge Judith Sheindin, and her famous show premiered back on September 16, 1996. It took less than two years before she was able to top the famous Oprah Winfrey show in the Nielsen ratings. To this day she continues to dominate.
Her most ardent fans know her cases the way sports fans know players. From the Tupperware Lady and the eBay Cell Phone Scammer each show has a story to tell. The story many fans don’t know is about the woman behind the bench. But Judy has just as many stories as her caseload.
20 Years Of Experience
What do Judge Judy's fan's love about her? It's her straightforward and no-nonsense style in her courtroom. Before taking on television, she spent 20 years in the family court system in New York City. She was always known for her bluntness, her tough talk, and her very real impatience. "I can't stand stupid, and I can't stand slow," has always been a favorite quote of hers.
She offered warnings to the attorneys who came before her in court. "I want first-time offenders to think of their appearance in my courtroom as the second-worst experience of their lives … circumcision being the first." Her style has never been all for the cameras. That's her style, whether the case is being broadcast or not.
Judge Judy is known for her style as well as her severity, having donned her lace collar at the very moment she was appointed to the bench. She got as many fashion points as any judge could. Back before taking on TV, Judy and her husband took a two-week vacation to Greece to celebrate her new job. The white lace collar was a purchase on the trip, from a local kiosk and craft vendor.
The inspiration came from the white shirt collars many male Judges had poking out of their own black robes. The white lace might also make people get the wrong impression, “That nice little lady with the lace collar sitting behind the bench couldn’t hurt a fly.
"New York, New York"
Don't trust your eyes, there can be anything on the TV. Though the screen shows New York, Judge Judy is actually filmed in California. It takes approximately 52 days to tape the entire show for a season. Don't trust the Manhattan bridge or the New York state flag that sits behind Judy's chair. Every so often a California earthquake interrupts filming and, if the editing team misses it, it appears that it's New York state shaking.
Judy is in residence in the sunshine state every other Monday, overseeing cases on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, occasionally a Thursday. Each week of shows is filmed in a single day.
Before arriving on set, Judge Sheindlin does not go unprepared! Producers will FedEx the sworn statements and all relevant information on each upcoming case to her home. She familiarizes herself with some details to provide background, but not enough information so that the case doesn’t seem “fresh” when she first questions the litigants during filming.
She doesn't want to seem stale when she begins her questioning during production.
Stranger Than Fiction
There's no way to make up the cases you see on Judge Judy's TV show because they are all read. More than 60 researches scour lawsuits from across the globe, from small claims courts from across the country. The Freedom of Information Act has made it possible for all the researchers to photocopy cases they think will play well on television. These copies are then sent off to producers.
3% of the cases suggested go on to be contacted by the show to see if they may be interested in skipping a civil court hearing, and instead take a free trip to L.A. along with $850 for their appearance and $40 per day during filming.
A Live Studio Audience
The audience is real, but they are only so lively. For real fans it's not surprising to see some of the same people seated to watch a Judge Judy case. These real live people are also well-paid extras, who hope one day to go into acting themselves. They get $8 a day to sit and watch Judge Judy work.
Any extra who wants to sit and look interested have to email their contact information and a headshot to the show's production coordinator.
The Judge is known for offering scathing attacks to litigants who show up looking anything but professional in her courtroom. Don’t' try wearing a casual shirt or a short skirt, she'll notice. But under those fancy black robes? Judy is usually wearing nothing mores than jeans and a t-shirt of her own.
You'll never see it on camera though; such are the tricks of television.
Real World Real Jobs
Who else on set is as real as Judy herself? Officer Byrd is both a bailiff on the show and a bailiff in real life. He earned his BSc from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1989. He started his career in Brooklyn Family Court before moving to the Manhattan Family Court where he first met the woman we all know as Judge Judy.
“We [the court officers] used to call her the Joan Rivers of the judicial system,” he mentioned in an interview in 2004. “She was just hilarious.”
Officer Byrd is nothing but professional as he appear on the television, but he is known off screen for his sense of humor. According to the judge herself he is particularly well known for his impressions. One time his humor went a little too far and almost cost him his job.
While he was still working in New York with Judge Sheindlin, he put on her robe and glasses and began to imitate some of Judy's best lines. The Judge Judy her fans know and love happened to walk in on the display.
Drama And Fame
Not everyone who appears on Judge Judy is a no one scraped up by researchers. Roz Kelly, old star of "Happy Days," appeared on an episode in 1996 as a plaintiff when she was suing her plastic surgeon. She claimed she was given leaky breast implants that had all but finished her acting career.
It wasn't just actors, but rock stars that appeared on the show. John Lydon of the Sex Pistols acted as defendant against his drummer Robert Williams, who was hired to work during Lydon's solo tour and later sued Lydon for lost wages. More recently, meaning 2017, Amy Schumer even appeared before the Judge.
The show was not originally intended to be named after its star but rather, "Hot Bench", which is actually a real term in appellate court. Judy actually insisted the show not be named after her. Producers, however, didn't think Hot Bench would mean anything to casual viewers with no background in the courts.
They considered the title, "Judge Justice" for a little while, but producers continued to push for their star and eventually she allowed her name to go on the show. She has been irreplaceable from the start.
A Good Sense Of Humor
Judy Sheindlin says that her sense of humor comes from her father. Judy's father was not involved in the law but was instead a dentist, who calmed agitated patients with his own sense of humor.
Years of listening to her father tell jokes across the dinner table obviously inspired her. Judge Judy's humor is part of what has always made the show so popular.
In The Beginning
Judge Judy has now been on air for almost a quarter of a century. The People's Court had only just been cancelled when Judge Judy came on air in 1996 to fill the void it left behind for reality court drama.
It was quite a void, and Judge Judy has been holding the television world up since the beginning.
Imitated But Never Duplicated
The People's Court, Divorce Court, they've all come and gone, trying to be Judge Judy and more, but no one has ever been able to keep up. Judy has outlived all her imitators. Judge Judy now holds the Guinness World Record for longest running television show in the court genre.
It doesn't look like anyone is likely to take that crown away for a long time.
Money Money, Money, Moooney!
Do you know who the highest paid television star is? It happens to be Judge Judy herself. She earns over $47 million a year starring in her own program. That means she earns $900,000 a day, and that's for working only 52 days in a single year.
Being a judge on TV pays quite a bit more than being a judge in real life.
It's All In The Advertising
In 2012 alone the Judge Judy program took in $230 million in advertising money.
The star herself is not the only one making money; she has been very profitable for her network as well.
Tell The Truth, And Nothing But The Truth
How does the Judge tell if anyone in her courtroom is lying to her? It's no secret. The judge herself stated, When you can’t look at me in the eye and tell me the story, that means you’re lying.”
This is something all the plaintiffs who come before her should know in advance. As Judy herself says when calling someone out on TV, "baloney."
The Two Most Famous Judges In America
Lady's rule when it comes to judgment in America. Who is better known than Judge Judy and Supreme Court superstar, Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Ruth Bader Ginsberg was once asked if she would consider swapping places with Judge Judy. Would she want to be on television instead of on America's highest court?
Both judges are considered tough and wise by the American public. What did Ginsberg have to say to this? A simple "No" was her answer.
Shout Out To The Los Angeles Times
What was Judy's reputation before she ended up on television? She was still considered one of the toughest family court judges in the country. Who said so? The Los Angeles Times. It was Josh Getlin, a reporter for the LA Times, who wrote the article that jump-started Judy's rise in the entertainment world.
The article Getlin wrote about Judge Judy Sheindlin was read by producers at 60 minutes. The television news magazine aired a story in 1993 that highlighted the New York judge and her tough talk.
It wasn't just television that found a star in Judge Judy, the 60 minutes piece also lead to national recognition and a book offer for Sheindlin.
She took the opportunity to write "Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining," a well received and well paid project.
It was back in 1993 that Joseph Wapner was released from his work on the popular "The People's Court" program. Judy took it on herself to ring the network and ask if perhaps they wanted her to host the show instead of Wapner.
The receptionist on the other end of the line wasn't very impressed with her somewhat insane caller and quickly hung up on the future superstar. The rest of course in history.
When It Began
Not as short sighted as their receptionist two People's Court producers, Kaye Switzer and Sandi Speckman, called Judge Judy Sheindlin and asked if perhaps she would be interested in starring in her own televised court drama. This was back in 1995, a year before the Judge Judy show actually premiered.
It took awhile for Judy to accept, but in the end everyone was pleased with her final decision.
Lawsuits On And Off TV
Those two producers, Kaye Switzer and Sandi Spreckman, who offered Judge Judy her show, well they are currently involved in a real life lawsuit against their star, Judge Judy, and the CBS network. It all began in 2018 with compensation claims. The two producers say they were never paid for discovering her back in the 90's.
The pair wants $4.75 million and adds that they never received their share of the sale of the Judge Judy's show library sale back in 2017. Real life imitating art it seems. Much less fun for the woman on the bench though.
A decade after her first segment on 60 minutes, in 1993, Judy again appeared on the program in 2003. In 2003, Judge Judy appeared on 60 Minutes again. She told viewers, “I have a contract with the company to do the program through the 2006 season. At that point, we will have produced this program for 10 years.
Right now, I would be satisfied with a good 10-year run. I think that would really be phenomenal. It would be lovely if we could end on a high note and for me to say ’10 years and I still had people watching and I had a second career that was a blast’.”
The Joy Of Success
Judy's success has continued. Another 10 years has come and gone. In 2015 the show and the judge celebrated not one decade, but two decades of success. It's the first court genre program that has reached the two-decade milestone without being cancelled.
The show is also well known for lasting two decades without having to replace its star.
It's All In Presentation
A litigator has to follow a lot of rules in the courtroom, but there are special rules when you appear on TV. If you come before Judge Judy you are not allowed to hesitate while speaking before her. You are also required to maintain eye contact with Judy throughout.
She's intimidating enough on television; it must be quite an experience in person. Other rules in the room include, no speaking out of turn, and no speaking to anyone but the judge herself.
It's not just the defendants and litigators who must follow special rules in Judge Judy's presence. The extras that sit in the audience must also follow rules of the court. Like defendants the extras must be dressed to impress when they come on set. They cannot wear anything with logos or brand names. To quote the judge herself, “I am not going to ask you to leave.
But, the next time you come into my courtroom, dress more appropriately. You are not going to a beach party.” Everyone needs to be on their best behavior when they come before Judge Judy.
The audience has to keep up appearances when the cameras are on. They even have to make fake conversations before and after hearing a case to show interest and concern about the goings on.
It's all for show so when the bailiff calls out, "Order! All rise," he has something to put in order and people to command.
Keep It Down!
In the rules of Judge Judy that well cast audience is not supposed to react to anything said during the case. Sometimes the drama is a little too much and reactions are unavoidable. The best reactions come from lines spoken by the star herself.
When the reaction is for her the Judge rarely makes a scene. It makes for a good show, these natural side notes from the audience.
Low Production Costs
Judge Judy has been both a successful and inexpensive for its over two decades of existence. The show generates a lot of its income by being inexpensive to produce.
To film a whole week's worth of episodes producers only need to pay about half the cost of a single sitcom episode.
In The Timing
Many of the cases that Judge Judy hears are short and sweet. Most cases run between 12 and 45 minutes in total.
That's not terribly long, especially for defendants who are personally invested in the outcome. So much drama for so few minutes.
The Great Reward
In any small claims court in America there is an award limit of $5,000. That holds true in Judge Judy's television courtroom as well.
The Judge Judy producers are the ones who shell out the money to winning litigants. There is a special fund reserved for paying the winners of each case.
Defendants and Plaintiffs both receive appearance fees for being on the show, so no one goes home empty handed, no matter who wins the case. The appearance fee can vary and has been rumored to be anything from $100 to $500.
They also get paid per day they appear on the show, usually reported between $35 and $440.
5 Days A Month
Judge Judy appeared on another stage in September 2011. Judge Judy joined Jimmy Kimmel on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and was asked, but Kimmel himself, how many days a month does she actually has to report for work.
"Five days," she told the late night host. If only we all could live so well.
Doing The Math
How does Judge Judy maintain such a short and compact schedule? She enjoys five days of filming because she only has to film three days every other week during a single month. That's about two weeks a month, though that also means filming up to 12 cases in a single day.
The Judge doesn't seem to mind. Three days of filming can mean up to 36 taped cases in one month.
A Number Of Cases
Each season of Judge Judy sees about 650 cases presided over by Judge Judy herself. As of 2009 that means there have been over 8,450 cases that have felt the justice of Judge Judy.
It's 2019; can you imagine how many plaintiffs and defendants have come before Judy in over 20 years on television?
Improvement Over time
Each year Judge Judy premieres in September. Episodes are not aired in the order in which they were filmed. The best episodes are the ones that are chosen to begin a new season. If you want to see Judge Judy at her best, the first few weeks of a new season are when you should watch. When you are at dinner you start with the best cocktails.
As the judge says herself, “It’s like drinking wine. You don’t serve the really good bottle of wine third.”
Judge Judy was immortalized in Hollywood in 2006, receiving her own star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Her star was the 2304th star to be added to the famed walk.
It was given out to the judge right around the show's 10th anniversary. The show has now been around twice as long as the star.
The Whole Library
As the show continued Judge Judy wrote two more books for her adult viewers. The titles are in the Judge's own witty voice. One was called, "Beauty Fades, Dumb is Forever" and "Keep It Simple Stupid: You're Smarter Thank You Look."
The books are supposed to be just as witty as their titles. I bet you will read both in the Judge's own voice, that's quite a thing to have in your hear.
Fake It 'Til You Make It
In April 0f 2013 some litigants who had first appeared on the program in 2010 revealed that the lawsuit they had brought before the court had been falsified. They organized the case so that the award had to go to the plaintiff. The pair were musicians, Kate Levitt and Jonathan Coward. Judge Judy did see in favor of the plaintiff and awarded Levitt $1,250. Along with their $250 appearance fees and their free trip to Hollywood.
The Musicians, friends in real life, split the award equally. It seems the producers knew of the fakery but let it all come to pass despite this knowledge.
Judy's own popularity led to the old producers of "the People's Court" to reach out to her husband, Judge Jerry Sheindlin, to replace their former star Ed Koch on the other popular court genre program. Jerry premiered in the show's 15th season in 1999.
This led to a battle in the ratings between famous husband and more famous wife. Husband was no match for wife in the end though. After only four seasons Jerry was replaced by new star, Marilyn Milian.
Careers And Cancellation
Judge Judy was never the only court genre show on television. There was "Divorce Court," and "The People's Court," but only Judge Judy and Judge Mathis have avoided temporary cancellations during their television runs. Judy and Mathis are also the only two television judges that have hosted their own programs for the entire run of their respective series'.
Judge Judy is now the longest serving courtroom judge on television. Mathis holds a strong position as the second longest serving judge on TV.
In January of 2018 Judge Mathis claimed in an interview that Judge Judy benefited from white female privilege for all her success. Mathis cannot claim the same. He said in particular, During a January 2018 interview, “I tried to be like Judge Judy. And she was mean all the time. And then ultimately [my] producers said, ‘Well, no, an older white woman can talk to white folks like that, but a young black man can’t.’ So I learned that lesson early on.
White folks love to see black people sing and dance and crack jokes. They do not want you to be too serious and political.”
In The Crowd
Who keeps Judge Judy on TV? Who watches her shows day in and day out. It's mostly women who watch Judy on their television sets everyday, about 75% to 25%.
The breakdown as of February 2014 said that the audience consisted mostly of older women, home during the day, as well as blacks, and Latinos.
Joseph Wapner, the original judge on "The People's Court," for over 10 years between 1981 and 1993, has for years criticized the success Judy has found. Wapner criticized Judy's show openly in 2002, saying publicly, “She is not portraying a judge as I view a judge should act.
Judge Judy is discourteous, and she’s abrasive. She’s not slightly insulting. She’s insulting in capital letters.”
A Quick Reply
Judge Judy has never been one to take an attack laying down. Through her publicist she let Wapner know exactly what she thought of his words. And I quote, “I refuse to engage in similar mud slinging. I don’t know where or by whom Judge Wapner was raised.
But my parents taught me when you don’t have something nice to say about someone, say nothing. Clearly, Judge Wapner was absent on the day that lesson was taught.”
A War Of Words
Wapner would not let her more famous counterpart have the last word. It didn’t stop there though, “She is a disgrace to the profession. She does things I don’t think a judge should do. She tells people to shut up. She’s rude. She’s arrogant. She demeans people. If she does this on purpose, then that’s even worse. Judges need to observe certain standards of conduct. She just doesn’t do it and I resent that.
The public is apt to gain the impression that this is how actual judges conduct themselves. It says ‘judge’ on the nameplate on the bench and she’s wearing a robe," Wapner said.
Judy Claps Back
Of course Judy had more to say for herself after Wapner publicized his latest comments.
As a young person, when I had watched The People’s Court. . . I said ‘you know what, I could do that.’ And at least as well because while Joe Wapner is a very good judge, [he] didn’t have much of a sense of humor. And I always knew from a very practical perspective that you have to marry those two things in order to be successful in entertainment," she said.
Nicki Minaj Is A Fan
Back in August of 2010, singer, songwriter, and rapper, Nicki Minaj admitted to an obsession with Judge Judy.
She told the public she spent much of her free time watching the program.
Do You Swear
Jim Harbaugh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, was asked his opinion on truthfulness and its importance. His response was specific. “Somebody that’s not truthful? That’s big to me. I’m a big fan of the “Judge Judy” show. When you lie in Judge Judy’s courtroom, it’s over. Your credibility is completely lost, and you stand no chance of winning that case. So I learned that from her.
It’s very powerful and true. If somebody lies to you, how can you trust anything they ever say after that?” Everyone is aware of the famous television judge and her own wise words.
Life On Set
It took only a few months before Judge Judy heard of her new football fan and invited Jim Harbaugh and his father to appear in the audience on an episode of Judge Judy.
They were also able to visit with the famed television judge, even joining her for lunch, as well as conversations before and after the tapings.
Speaking The Truth
Not everyone is a fan of Judge Judy's style, but her words are often more popular than the star herself.
A critic once said that the show stars an "endless parade of idiots," that the Judge, no matter how famous, must continue to deal with. You have to show some respect for her sheer self-control.
Real Life Court Battles
Executive producer of "Judge Judy," Randy Douthit has found herself in real life court battles as she has been sued twice by former staff members who once worked on the show.
They claim everything from wrongful termination, discrimination, and even simple mismanagement. Real life is sometimes not as fun as the television world makes it seem.
Judy Vs. The Internet
Big Ticket Television and producers of the Judge Judy program both filed a lawsuit in October 2013, against Ignacio De Los Angeles. Why? It was because of an individual who had posted Judge Judy episodes on YouTube.
Big Ticket Television had asked Ignacio to take down the episodes from 2006. Ignacio did not comply and the lawsuit came to be.
CBE President and CEO Leslie Moonves spoke highly of the Judge Judy program, “Over the last few decades, there have been very few shows that have achieved the remarkable success that she has.
Not only has Judy sustained that success year after year, how many shows grow in their 15th or 16th year in syndication? She started as a fresh voice and she’s been a remarkable presence in daytime television ever since.”