A fragmented nation has at last found a unifying figure. Our new Chief Judge, Judith Sheindlin. No, not our Chief Justice. That is someone else. He is hardly unifying anything and, besides, not many people know who he is. And I am not talking about that other Sheindlin, who main claim to fame is something called a Zubalake, which might be a dance or something you order in a Bulgarian restaurant, I don’t know. I am talking about someone with real power. As she says in her own words: “Half of prime time would be thrilled to get our numbers.” While other television judges are fading fast, Judge Judy’s ratings are only increasing. Why? According to the Judge and the New York Times:
“People take comfort in order,” she said. “I also move swiftly, as opposed to a justice system and a government that is slow and meandering.” In other words, “Judge Judy,” which features real small-claims cases, offers people a fantasy — a legal system as they would like it to be.
Swift justice, delivered with a kick-ass attitude. An important insight that offers tips for financing the other justice system, the one that increasingly also seems like a fantasy. Judges should be chosen not alone for their legal acumen, but also for their ability to deliver zingers with the dexterity of stand-up comedians, while imposing that all-important order on society. The Courts can charge a nominal admissions charge and sell the television rights.
Televised justice has a long history. Many of us old timers can remember the excitement of the original Divorce Court, presided over by Voltaire Perkins in 1957 and still going strong (although no threat to Her Honor.) The original Court TV was an innovation that ultimately brought us the OJ Network. But it was the People’s Court that really paved the way for our new Chief Judge, because it was for the People, like the extremely successful People’s Court of the former Soviet Union.
Because it is, after all, about that longing for order. And ratings.
In the interest of full disclosure, as well as ruthlessly exploiting a minor connection to a celebrity, I should reveal that I actually met Judge Scheindlin when she was a real, not a fantasy judge. It was after her “60 Minutes” profile appeared in 1993. I went with my first wife, a television producer, to pitch an idea for a television series starring her. We watched the morning session in her court and then met with her in chambers. A few months later, we learned that “Judge Judy” had been born. Oh, what might have been!