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Judge Judy Sheindlin was born on October 21, 1942, in Brooklyn, New York, to German-Jewish parents Murray and Ethel Blum. Sheindlin described her father, a dentist, as "the greatest thing since sliced bread" and her mother as "a meat-and-potatoes kind of gal." It was reported in October 2012 that Sheindlin had a $45 million yearly contract with CBS Television Distribution, in effect until 2015 and up $20 million from 2007. It was later reported in October 2013 that Sheindlin was the highest paid TV star, earning $47 million per year for Judge Judy, which translates into just over $900,000 per workday (she works 52 days per year). In 2018, Sheindlin reportedly earned $147 million; $100 million from the sale of the present and future video library of her show to CBS, in addition to $47 million, her regular salary.
After Joseph Wapner was released from The People's Court on May 21, 1993, Sheindlin called up the program's producers, Ralph Edwards-Stu Billett Productions and Warner Bros. Television, and offered to do the show in his place, to which the receptionist responded, "Are you crazy, lady?". A Los Angeles Times article on Sheindlin's reputation as one of the toughest family court judges in the country caught the attention of 60 Minutes, which aired a segment on her on October 24, 1993. The segment brought her national recognition and first led to an offer for her to write her own book. Sheindlin accepted the book offer, writing Don't Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining.
In early 1995 two former People's Court producers, Kaye Switzer and Sandi Spreckman (who later sued Sheindlin and CBS for compensation for discovering her), asked Sheindlin if she would like to preside over her own courtroom series, and she eventually accepted. Sheindlin and her producers originally wanted the show title to be "Her Honor" but the production company, Big Ticket Television, decided on calling it "Hot Bench" instead, even promoting the show as "Hot Bench With Judge Judy" for some time prior to the show's début. However, Big Ticket ultimately decided on "Judge Judy".
Judge Judy went on the air in September 1996. By the end of October of that year, the show was averaging only a 1.5 rating, putting it in the mid-rank of the 159 syndicated shows on the air. At that time, it was never expected that the show's ratings would ever compete with highly successful daytime TV shows of that era, such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Rosie O'Donnell Show and The Jerry Springer Show. According to Biography's documentary film on Sheindlin, "Judge Judy: Sitting in Judgment" (aired February 21, 2000), producers of Judge Judy were disappointed that the show was barely making it on the radar. However, it did not take long for the court show to pick up momentum as Judge Judy rose to a 2.1 rating by the end of that first season. By its 2nd season (1997–98), the court show had already risen into the 4 ratings ranges, averaging a 4.3.
Judge Judy, which premiered on September 16, 1996, reportedly revitalized the court show genre. Only two other arbitration-based reality court shows preceded it, The People's Court (its first life canceled in 1993 from low ratings) and Jones & Jury (lasting only the 1994–95 season, short-lived from low ratings). Sheindlin has been credited with introducing the "tough" adjudicating approach into the judicial genre, which has led to several imitators. The only two court shows that outnumber Judge Judy's seasons, The People's Court and Divorce Court, have both lasted via multiple disunited lives of production and shifting arbiters (and in its pre-1999 form, the latter was dramatized via court transcripts of past proceedings). Thus Sheindlin's span as a television jurist or arbitrator has lasted longer than any other—a distinction that earned her a place in the Guinness World Records in September 2015. With no cancellations or temporary endings in its series run, Judge Judy also has the longest-lasting individual production life of any court show.
It was due, in part, to this early success that daytime television began to feature more court programming, such as a revival of The People's Court that re-debuted in fall 1997. In 1999, Judge Judy moved from Worldvision Enterprises to Paramount Domestic Television, which also distributed her stablemate Judge Joe Brown and eventually Judge Mills Lane. Many other retired judges were given their own court shows in syndication due in large part to Sheindlin's popularity. These include Greg Mathis, Glenda Hatchett, Alex Ferrer, Maria Lopez, Karen Mills-Frances, Cristina Perez, David Young, and many others. In addition, the series helped to spawn various nontraditional court programs. These include the reality-based revival of Divorce Court, which was originally presided over by Mablean Ephriam from 1999-2006 and Lynn Toler from 2006-2020 and will be now helmed by Faith Jenkins; the short-lived Power of Attorney, capturing various high-profile attorneys arguing cases for litigants in front of Andrew Napolitano; Street Court, which took litigation outside of the courtroom; Jury Duty, featuring an all-celebrity jury hearing cases presided over by Bruce Cutler; etc. Furthermore, the role of Judge Judy in the rise in popularity of daytime court shows enabled several other non-real life judges to preside over courts, such as Nancy Grace, Jeanine Pirro, and Gloria Allred.
Despite her widespread popularity, Sheindlin's behavior and treatment of the parties that have appeared before her has often been the subject of criticism. Regular viewers of the program have also been criticized as sadistic for their delight in watching Sheindlin engage in her typical behaviors. One such example of criticism has come from the first star of arbitration-based reality court shows, Joseph Wapner. Wapner, who presided over The People's Court from 1981 to 1993, was a long-time critic of Sheindlin. On November 26, 2002, Wapner criticized Judge Judy's courtroom behavior, stating "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."
Sheindlin appeared again on 60 Minutes on April 30, 2003. During the interview, Sheindlin stated:
Each opening music video consisted of voice-over artist Jerry Bishop stating: "You are about to enter the courtroom of Judge Judith Sheindlin. The people are real. The cases are real. The rulings are final. This is Judge Judy." Originally between the statements "The rulings are final" and "This is Judge Judy" was the statement, "This is her courtroom." This was removed in 2004. Beginning in September 2012, the show made a switch to high definition with its 17th season. The bumpers between commercials are also in HD, although most on-screen graphics such as plaintiff and defendant descriptions are framed to fit a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Two DVDs, featuring "memorable cases," had been released by the show: the first in 2007, "Judge Judy: Justice Served," and the second in 2008, "Judge Judy: Second To None."
In December 2007, Jonathan Sebastien, a former producer of the Judge Judy show of seven years, filed a lawsuit against the production company in L.A. County Superior Court for wrongful termination. Sebastien claimed that when he proposed certain cases for the show involving black litigants, Douthit turned them down with his alleged reasons being he did not want to see any more black people; their behaviors were too ghetto and more suited for television jurist Joe Brown; and they needed more pretty, upscale white people. Sebastien claimed that in January 2007, he objected to the alleged discrimination in a meeting and was verbally abused by Douthit. Three months later on March 30, Sebastien stated he was fired with the reason given that rating numbers were down. Sebastien claimed that the real reason he was fired was because he opposed his boss's alleged "discriminatory selection process".
That same day in December 2007, the show's former associate producer Karen Needle was also fired. She later sued Douthit, claiming that she was wrongfully terminated because she was too old, 64 at the time. Sheindlin was not named as a defendant. Needle, who helped book audiences for the program, stated the reason she was given for being fired was "unspecified conflict from her audience work." Needle said she began suffering from back pain, sometimes even resorting to lying on the ground in pain, and when she asked her bosses for a new chair, nothing was done. According to the complaint, two weeks before Needle was fired, she took off four days to assist her ailing 88-year-old mother. Needle stated, "There is a lot of terrible stuff going on if two people file separate lawsuits. It's a toxic situation over there. This is supposed to be Judge Judy, the voice of justice, and yet her own staff isn't treated well. What is she getting paid all that money for if her own staff is treated with such little decency?"
In August 2010, rapper, singer and songwriter Nicki Minaj stated that she has an obsession with Judge Judy and that all of her free time is spent watching the program.
Three days every other week (two weeks a month), Sheindlin and her producers taped the court show. They usually produced ten to twelve cases for each day they taped the show. This makes for about a week's worth of episodes, all done within one day. Anywhere from thirty to thirty-six cases were taped over three days during the week. Sheindlin appeared as a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on September 13, 2011. When asked by Kimmel how many days a month she works, Sheindlin replied, "Five days." Sheindlin and her producers sometimes taped only five cases per day and two days per week. The show had fifty-two taping days a year. For each season, some 650 claims were brought to the set to be "presided" over by Judge Judy. This means approximately 15,600 claims had been brought to Judy Sheindlin's Hollywood set as of the end of its 23rd season (2018–19).
For its 12th season (2007–08), Judge Judy averaged a 4.8 rating (4.8 HH AA%/7.4 HH GAA% rating) and 9.9 million average daily viewers. Judy was the only first-run syndication program to increase in ratings for that season from the previous, leading CBS to immediately extend her contract through the 2012–13 season. For its 13th season (2008–09), the show averaged a 4.2 rating (4.2 HH AA%/6.5 HH GAA% rating) and 9.02 million average daily viewers. Its 14th season (2009–10) marked the first season in nearly a decade since the 2000–01 season that any daytime television program had been able to surpass The Oprah Winfrey Show's ratings (Judge Judy is also the show in question that during the 2000–01 television season surpassed The Oprah Winfrey Show in daytime TV ratings): Judy broke Winfrey's near decade-long streak with a 4.4 rating (4.4 HH AA%/6.9 HH GAA% rating) and 9.6 million average daily viewers. It was also at that point that Sheindlin's courtroom series became the highest rated show in all of daytime television programming. Judy secured this title in its 15th season (2010–11) as the program remained ahead of Oprah in her [Oprah] final season and the highest-rated daytime television offering, averaging a 5.11 rating and 9.6 million viewers. During this season, Judy also became the highest rated show in first-run syndication. Late that same season in May 2011, as a result of continued high ratings, CBS again extended Sheindlin's contract, this time through the 2014–15 season (the show's 19th).
In April 2013, former litigants from a 2010 airing of the show revealed they conspired together in fabricating a lawsuit in which the logical outcome would be to grant payment to the plaintiff. The operation, devised by musicians Kate Levitt and Jonathan Coward, was successful: Sheindlin awarded the plaintiff (Levitt) $1,000. The litigants involved also walked away with an appearance fee of $250 each and an all-expense-paid vacation to Hollywood, California. In reality, all the litigants in question—plaintiffs and defendants alike—were friends who split the earnings up among each other. It was also reported that the show's producers were suspicious of the sham all along, but chose to look the other way. The lawsuit was over the fictitious death of a cat as a result of a television crushing it.
A three time Emmy Award winner, Judge Judy won its first Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Legal/Courtroom Program in 2013, its 15th nomination. It was the first long-running, highly rated court show to win an Emmy. The court show won Emmys in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
In February 2013, the head football coach for the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Harbaugh, was asked about the importance of truthfulness and enthusiastically remarked, "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?"
In March 2013, a lawsuit was filed against Sheindlin by Patrice Jones, the estranged wife of Douthit. Jones alleged Douthit and Sheindlin had conspired to permit Sheindlin to buy Christofle fine china and Marley cutlery owned by Jones. She said Sheindlin had paid Douthit $50,815 for the items without her knowledge to deprive her of her valuables, and she sought $514,421 from Sheindlin. The suit ended after Sheindlin returned the tableware to Douthit and Jones agreed to pay Douthit $12,500 and have the tableware handed back to her.
On October 17, 2013, Big Ticket Television and producers of Judge Judy filed a lawsuit against Ignacio De Los Angeles. The suit was made against the individual for posting an episode of Judge Judy on YouTube. Ignacio ignored the command.
On Wednesday, March 12, 2014, Sheindlin filed a lawsuit of her own for the first time in her life. The suit was filed against Hartford, Connecticut, personal injury lawyer John Haymond and his law firm. In the lawsuit, Sheindlin accused Haymond and his firm of using her television image without consent in advertisements that falsely suggested she endorsed him and his firm. In March 2013, Sheindlin's producer allegedly told the firm that the use of her image was not permitted, but ads continued. The lawsuit filed in federal court sought more than $75,000 in damages. Sheindlin said in her statement that any money she wins through the lawsuit will go toward college scholarships through the Her Honor Mentoring Program. Sheindlin described the unauthorized use of her name as "outrageous", stating, "Mr. Haymond is a lawyer and should know better." Haymond later filed a countersuit for punitive damages and attorney's fees, alleging defamation of him and his firm by Sheindlin. Haymond insisted that local affiliates asked him to appear in Judge Judy promos to promote Sheindlin for which he obliged. On August 8, 2014, it was reported that the case between Sheindlin and Haymond settled out of court in a resolution that favored Sheindlin. Haymond will be donating money to Sheindlin's charity, Her Honor Mentoring Program.
As of 2014, the Judge Judy set was located directly beside the set of the courtroom series Sheindlin created and produces, Hot Bench. Both shows are taped are the same studio. Previous to that, the space directly beside Sheindlin's set was used for the courtroom series Paternity Court for the 2013–14 season. Prior to that, the space was used for Judge Judy's long-running sister show Judge Joe Brown until Judge Joe Brown's 2013 cancellation. Like Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown was also produced by Big Ticket Entertainment. The two shows alternated taping weeks. Despite the show being taped primarily in California, it displayed various images of New York City upon returning from commercial breaks, including a subway train and official signs bearing "State of New York" and "Family Court" (Sheindlin was previously a New York family court judge) within the letterbox-like graphics used going to and from breaks since the ninth season. The set featured an American flag and New York state flag behind Judge Judy Sheindlin's seat.
On May 20, 2014, CBS aired a one-hour special called Judge Judy Primetime which aired at 8 p.m. ET/PT. The special was a combination of reshown clips from the 1993 60 Minutes Special on Sheindlin, as well as a few never-previously-seen cases. The special marked Judge Judy's first airing in primetime, a landmark for court shows which are typically limited to daytime or late night hours. Although the special didn't rank nearly as high as Dancing with the Stars (14.86 million) and The Voice (11.57 million), it brought in 5.66 million viewers, enough to make it the night's top rated show on CBS. In addition, the special came in just behind American Idol, which brought in 6.61 million viewers.
Judge Judy's daytime audience was composed of approximately seventy-five percent women and twenty-five percent men. In February 2014, it was reported that Judge Judy's audience was mostly composed of older women, African Americans and Latinos.
On September 14, 2015, Sheindlin began celebrating her 20th season anniversary presiding on Judge Judy. The program is the first in the court show genre to make it to 20 seasons without cancellation as well as the first to make it to this extent under one arbitrator. Three years later by September 2018, the Judge Mathis court show entered its 20th season and became the second and only other court show to accomplish this feat. Sheindlin's distinction as television's longest serving judge or arbitrator rewarded Sheindlin a place in the Guinness World Records on September 14, 2015.
By the 20th season beginning in September 2015, the show began using a shortened, scanty version of the same intro it had been using for 10 years since its 9th season. Both the Beethoven remix and intro had been curtailed. The present intro only stated "You are about to enter the courtroom of Judge Judith Sheindlin. This is Judge Judy." In addition to not using much of an intro theme any longer, a "20th anniversary" caption was depicted above the "Judge Judy" logo in the intro. These were the only two updates for season 20.
In March 2015, Sheindlin and CBS Television Distribution extended their contract through the program's 25th season (2020–21). Sheindlin revealed in a March 2020 interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that Judge Judy will officially conclude its series run, followed by the new Judy Justice program.
On March 14, 2016, talent agency Rebel Entertainment and its president, Richard Lawrence, filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against CBS Television Distribution, claiming the media giant failed to pay the agency its contractually-agreed-to share of the show's profits, totalling millions of dollars. Rebel also claimed they were owed for their contributions to launching the program and discovering Sheindlin through their terminated employees Kaye Switzer and Sandi Spreckman. The lawsuit alleged that CBS hadn't paid Rebel for the past six years, claiming that the show operated at a loss, and alleging that this was primarily due to Sheindlin's annual salary boost to $45 and then $47 million. The lawsuit went on to attack Sheindlin's salary as being far too high. Rebel described it as "exorbitant" and "grossly inconsistent with customary practice in the television industry" and claims that similarly successful talk show hosts weren't paid nearly as much. Further, Rebel claimed they were entitled to be consulted before any spin-offs of the show were produced, but were not when Hot Bench (another courtroom-arbitrated show) was launched by Sheindlin and her producers in 2014. In response to the lawsuit, Sheindlin had stated:
On January 19, 2018, a breach-of-contract lawsuit—similar and loosely related to the case filed by Rebel Entertainment—was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court against Sheindlin, CBS Corporation, CBS Studios and Big Ticket Television by Kaye Switzer and the trust of the now deceased Sandi Spreckman. Switzer and Spreckman are former employees of Rebel Entertainment, terminated by the employer. Switzer and Spreckman's trustee, Jay Robinson, claimed they "discovered" and introduced Sheindlin to producer Larry Little, asserting that if not for this move that there would be no Judge Judy and thus they are owed monetary royalties. The lawsuit also stated that Sheindlin sold "The Judge Judy Library" to CBS Television Distribution for over $95,000,000. Switzer and the Spreckman's trustee contend that they were not paid any monetary rewards by Sheindlin, CBS or Big Ticket related to this transaction. The two women have a long history of filing lawsuits over the same matter against Sheindlin and her Judge Judy business partners dating back to the year 2000.
Each episode of Judge Judy began with an introductory preview of the main case, sensationalizing various moments of the case with dramatic music, voice-over commentary, graphics, etc. This was followed by the show's opening music video. At the beginning of each court proceeding, information regarding who is suing whom and what for was revealed originally by voice-over artist Michael Stull, who was replaced by voice-over artist, Jerry Bishop from the second season onwards. Bishop remained the show's announcer from 1997 until shortly before his death in 2020. As of the show's final season, Steve Kamer was the announcer. Sheindlin typically began each case by questioning the parties as to dates, times, locations and other facts central to the lawsuit. Monopolizing the discourse throughout the cases, Sheindlin would sometimes only listen to bits and pieces of each of the testimonies as she was quick to reply, impose her spiel and disallow responses that were not concise or made during her desire to speak. Sometimes, however, Sheindlin would allow one or both of the opposing litigants to recount the entirety of their testimony. While delivering their testimony, litigants were not allowed to hesitate and had to maintain fixed eye contact with Sheindlin at all times. Further, litigants were not allowed to speak out of turn or talk to each other.