Top TV judge courts viewers
SIXTEEN years into her career as television’s chief justice, Judy Sheindlin is as comfortable in her role as the US appears to be with her. Without her black robe, Sheindlin can walk down a Manhattan street undisturbed. 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 in the US.
Those 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.
‘‘They want to do the right thing, most people. 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. I’m your girl,’’ she says.
Cases have changed over the years – she appeared 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.
That report caught the attention of Hollywood syndicators, who turned Sheindlin into a celebrity earning a reported $US45 million a year with homes in New York, Connecticut, Florida and Wyoming.
Self-certainty and the willingness to say things others suppress drives her appeal.
‘‘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 says.
‘‘If I wasn’t right most of the time, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.’’
Sheindlin has signed to continue Judge Judy 2015, but that’s not a deadline.
‘‘I’m not tired,’’ she says. ‘‘I’m still young – 70 is the new 50. I hope I’ll know when to say goodbye. Right now I’m not there yet.’’
Her transition to TV felt complete one day a few years ago when she stopped at a bagel restaurant with her husband Jerry, a retired justice on New York state’s Supreme Court. They overheard two women arguing about Judge Judy. One watched and hated her; the other loved her. Sheindlin realised she could take it either way.
‘‘I like it a lot better if you like me,’’ says Sheindlin. ‘‘But if you don’t like me and watch me every day, what’s the difference?’’
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Judge Judy Sheindlin