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Why Are Court TV Shows so Popular?

On a recent episode of Tyra Banks’ daytime talk show, the topic of conversation centered on court television programs, and their increasing popularity. On the program she invited judicial TV stars such as Judges Joe Brown and Glenda Hatchett, amongst others, to sit on a panel and discuss their respective shows.

Since the late 1980’s, there has been a huge surge in the number of shows wherein the participants are “everyday people” choosing to air their legal grievances on television. As Tyra pointed out, the prominence of these programs on the airways has caused television execs to create an entire Emmy category for this particular genre of show. So what is it exactly that has both judges and plaintiffs scrambling for a coveted spot on daytime television?

“Bite-Sized” Reality TV…

Not everyone is cut out for the grueling physical experiences of Survivor or The Amazing Race. And not everyone is willing to surrender their love lives to producers and other television executives. But through the wonders of the TV court show, people can get a small taste of the reality show experience. Because these shows are typically only 30 minutes to an hour long, there is a limited amount of air-time in which the participants are actually required to contribute to the show. In fact, the real work is done behind the scenes, by Your Honor. The cases may appear to take only 10 to 15 minutes. But the judges’ deliberations, in fact, soak up quite a bit more time. In essence, for all parties involved, the television courtroom is an ideal place to exact one’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame.

Sweet Revenge

The cases being tried on television are of a relatively small nature. In many cases, the maximum amount of money that a person can sue for is $5,000. But a good majority of the cases involve sums of money (or other items) that are quite minute in value. As the judges are very quick to point out, most of the plaintiffs seeking televised trials are more interested in either embarrassing their defendants, or simply proving a point to them. In fact, many plaintiffs even admit that they’ve brought their cases to court “for principle’s sake.”

Real Life Soap Operas

Many people are turned off by the artificial nature of the average soap opera. But one thing that people love about soaps is the never ending stream of scandal and intrigue. Court shows are primarily filled with people who know each other, as opposed to strangers who are having trouble sorting out the intricate details of the law. The people dedicated to rectifying a wrong usually feel betrayed by those whom they might once have loved. Sometimes the things revealed during court television shows are more fascinating than anything conceived by writers. In any event, the details being revealed by scorned lovers, bad neighbors, and scheming relatives always make for entertaining TV.

American “Idle”…

On multiple occasions, television audiences will find themselves treated to an impromptu performance during a court case. Judge Mathis’ (of the CW network) has had many different kinds of performers on his program. Most often one will find the errant rapper or producer who is embroiled in a personal struggle with other artists, or even facility owners. But that isn’t where the talent ends. Singers, musicians, even models whose careers have become “idle” will find themselves behind a podium in a TV courtroom, explaining the plight of being a starving (or not so starving) artist. In the event that a random record label executive or agent happens to be watching the program, these cases provide the perfect opportunities for artists to strut their stuff.

Good Old Fashioned Justice

Seeking monetary retribution in a small claims court is certainly not a new concept. But the idea of taking one’s grievances to a court on television tends to invoke a sense of urgency. The idea that a plaintiff would go to such lengths simply to remedy a wrong implies that he or she is really serious about having their say in court. Observe how passionate most of the plaintiffs are in their narratives. Considering the subject matter in many of these cases, it is no wonder that people feel compelled to shout, interrupt, and even argue with the other participants. On many occasions, the judges spend a great deal of time quieting their “guests”, or removing them from the courtrooms completely. Most of the time, those involved in these cases seem to be fairly satisfied with the end result. But when all is said and done, it is really the audience who becomes the most satisfied participant.

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