If you frequently see commercial breaks that hawk diabetes medication, car insurance, and landline phones for one dollar a month, then you're probably a huge fan of the guilty pleasure that is courtroom reality TV. Let us be honest with each other: we like these shows. We know that this is a glamourized and unrealistic version of the dry, boring American judicial process, but we don't mind. Judge shows draw us in because we get to play judge, too. We get to stare at the screen, shake our heads, and say, "No way that girl didn't make those cigarette burns on that carpet. She has a Def Leppard tattoo on her neck." There is an innate quality in all of us that just likes to watch some idiot get his ass handed to him from a charismatic, often sassy, all-powerful judge who tells it like it is. The sassiness of the judge, the moronic cases, and the promise of a public shaming all factor in to our decision to let our favorite judge shows preside over our lives.
Judge Joe Brown grew up in South Central Los Angeles, explaining in his website biography, "If you saw the movie 'Boyz 'n the Hood' that was the way I grew up." That's his selling point–that he relates to the defendents facing criminal charges because he experienced a tough life and chose education as his way out. While his courtroom cases and the antics of the attendees often make the show as ridiculous and unruly as an episode of Jerry Springer (certainly one of the show's draws), his attitude, sense of humor, and the respect he shows those who step foot in his court actually lend him a level of credibility beyond that of most other daytime TV judges, quite a feat, especially considering the thugs and white trash featured in Judge Joe Brown's "Bad Boys" segment.
Judge Mathis' website describes Mathis as a "jail to judge" story. While this background leaves out a lot of details, namely why Judge Mathis was ever in jail, what seems apparent when you watch Judge Mathis is his sincerity and compassion. This sounds silly, but when compared to Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown, Mathis is evem-tempered, fair, and understanding, despite the ridiculous characters who tromp in and out of his courtroom acting like fools. In addition to his show, Mathis writes a thoughtful and well-written weekly newspaper column, which is featured on his website blog.
"The People's Court"
The pioneer of the judge show genre, previously presided over by Judge Wapner (of "Rainman" infamy), still enjoys ratings success—the official website boasts "over five million women each week and over nine million total viewers," emphasizing the show's obvious slant toward the female demographic. Judge Marilyn Milian, "the first Latina judge to host a nationally syndicated television court show" (whatever that means) is actually a low-rent, less hilarious version of Judge Judy. She's kinder, but has less personality, and while the courtroom antics certainly offer the viewer a fix of observing the degeneration of society, Milan's success seems to depend more on the show's history than her personality.
Judge Karen wears (are you ready for this?) a red robe. And she's a sassy black woman with unnatural blonde hair. Enough said. Seriously.