Early re­al­ity star on Peo­ple’s Court, 97

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS -

LOS AN­GE­LES — Joseph

Wap­ner, the re­tired Los An­ge­les judge who presided over

The Peo­ple’s Court with steady force dur­ing the hey­day of the re­al­ity court­room show, died Sun­day at age 97.

Son David Wap­ner said his fa­ther died at home in his sleep. Joseph Wap­ner was hos­pi­tal­ized a week ago with breath­ing prob­lems and had been un­der home hospice care.

The Peo­ple’s Court, on which Wap­ner de­cided real small claims from 1981 to 1993, was one of the grand­dad­dies of the syn­di­cated re­al­ity shows of to­day. His af­fa­ble, no-non­sense ap­proach at­tracted many fans, putting The Peo­ple’s Court in the top five in syn­di­ca­tion at its peak.

Be­fore au­di­tion­ing for the show, Wap­ner had spent more than 20 years on the bench in Los An­ge­les, first in Mu­nic­i­pal Court and then in Su­pe­rior Court. At one time he was pre­sid­ing judge of the Los An­ge­les Su­pe­rior Court, the largest court in the United States. He re­tired as judge in Novem­ber 1979, the day af­ter his 60th birth­day.

“Ev­ery­thing on the show is real,” Wap­ner said in a 1986 in­ter­view. “There’s no script, no re­hearsal, no re­takes. Ev­ery­thing from be­gin­ning to end is like a real court­room, and I per­son­ally con­sider each case as a trial.”

By the time Wap­ner left the show, in 1993, in­ter­est in the genre had cooled, but tri­als such as the O.J. Simp­son trial and the court­room the­atrics of Judge Judy re­vived the TV­court craze start­ing in 1997.

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