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 her courtroom. This is Judge Judy.
Why is it underrated?
The problem from which Judge Judy (the program) suffers is that everyone who’s either never watched it or only seen a promo for it thinks that it’s entirely about the Springer-like set of plaintiffs and defendants that bring their small claims squabbles out into the public eye.
Sure, to a great degree, the appeal of the program is the endless parade of morons and malcontents that march their way through her courtroom. It’s not entirely clear from under which rock these people crawl, but it is clear that they don’t see the light of day too often. But if you’re looking for morons and malcontents, there’s no shortage of them on TV, no matter what time you’re watching. That’s not the only thing getting people to watch this program.
Presiding over it all is former supervising judge in the Manhattan division of family court Judith “Judy” Sheindlin, a wise-cracking, fast-acting woman whose icy stare can shrivel the testicles of any man and shrink the tits of any woman that dares cross her. Standing beside Judy is her ever faithful bailiff, Petri Hawkins-Byrd (who she calls simply “Byrd), whose main responsibility is swearing people in, fetching their evidence and bringing it to the judge, and playing comic foil to the judge herself. Judy frequently refers to Byrd while asking questions of the participants (“Officer Byrd and I can’t wait to hear how you pulled that one off ”). He shows quiet disdain for just about everyone that enters the courtroom.
While most other daytime hosts are more than happy to have the show be about their guests reveling in their own grand mal shitheadedness, Judy actually exerts control over the people on her show. She has zero tolerance for their idiocy. Make no mistake: Judy’s made her decision before she even sits down in her chair. They’re almost always open and shut cases, whether she’s sympathetic to the person that she’s ruling for or not. She’s read the sworn statements of the people appearing before her, she’s gone through the evidence and she’s entirely familiar with the case. The people themselves are almost an afterthought. They are there entirely for her amusement, which she freely admits, often telling them to knock of their nonsense because "this is [her] playpen."
It’s Judy herself that people tune into see. And she’s entertaining as hell.
She’s the attraction. And that’s what makes it work. If all she was doing was settling a dispute over a broken cell phone and $265 of rent money between two people who probably can’t even count that high, it wouldn’t be anything even a little bit worth watching. Judy is both judge and counselor, doling out both verdicts and advice, whether people ask for it or not. She’s got no problem telling someone that they’re full of it. She’s got no issue telling a mother that her son is a loser, but she’s also got no problem telling young women not to get mixed up with the schmucks to whom they find themselves attracted because they’ll wind up in the same position over and over.
And frankly, the show wouldn't work any other way. Sure, they'd get regular viewers looking to hang in for the occasional train wreck case, maybe watch Byrd break up a fight or something, but that's not what has the show entering its 15th season as the highest rated courtroom show in TV history.
Will the real Judge Judy please stand up?
Judge Judy made a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, during a sketch spoofing her show (with Cheri Oteri playing Judy). She came on to rule in favor of stripper Lucy Lawless who had been hired to work a children’s birthday party and to deliver her line “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” Tracy Morgan played the role of Byrd.