Along with Double Dare and COPS, The People’s Court was one of my 1980s addictions, television that pulled me in with the promise of watching real people deal with real life.
In Judge Joseph Wapner’s courtroom, justice was rapid and fair, with real money (albeit provided by the producers) and raw emotion at stake, and after he ruled, the dejected and/or elated litigants would exit the courtroom and into Doug Llewelyn’s waiting, outstretched arm.
Llewelyn was Jeff Probst decades before actual Probst—true audience surrogate Probst, not the controlling-producer-Probst—asking the questions we were thinking as the litigants revealed their true feelings about what had just happened.
Then he’d shuffle them on down to meet with Bailiff Rusty Burrell and clear the way for new people and a new case.
At the end of the episode, Llewelyn addressed the camera, often telling us: “don’t take the law into your own hands, you take ’em to court.” That’s the first television catchphrase I remember.
The show was, alas, cancelled after 12 seasons.
When it was reborn in 1996, Llewelyn was gone, replaced by two men: Curt Chaplin, the announcer who also interviews litigants briefly (and condescendingly) in the hallway, and the show’s legal adviser, Harvey Levin, who went on to become responsible for the scourge on our culture known as TMZ, who interviews people on the street about the case during breaks.
The show burned through two judges before giving the bench to Marilyn Milian, who has ruled since 2001.
I’ve dipped in to the show over the years, but rarely watch; the pacing and the aggressiveness of its stras—Milian, Levin, and Chaplin—lacks the inviting warmth that the original courtroom had.
But now there’s a reason to start watching again today, Sept. 5, the start of the show’s 20th season:
Doug Llewelyn’s triumphant return
This year is the 20th season of the syndicated revival, not counting the Wapner years. While Wapner is retired and 96 and Burrell died in 2002 at 76, Llewelyn is back in the courtroom today.
That courtroom is now at the Connecticut Film Center in Stamford, Connecticut, not a Los Angeles soundstage.
Still, Llewelyn is back in his role, replacing Chaplin almost 36 years after the pilot was filmed in October of 1980, and 23 years since the show was first cancelled.
Llewelyn now 77 years old, but it doesn’t seem like a day has passed.
What Doug Llewelyn has been doing since People’s Court
In a press release, Llewelyn says his return is “the most shocking and pleasant surprise of my entire career … who would ever have thought I’d be back in that courtroom hallway again?”
As to working with a new judge, he said, “I love Judge Milian. She has such compassion for people. She’s amazing … even when she’s mad!”
The release also refers to “his break from The People’s Court,” and says that Doug has:
“…travelled the world reporting and directing news stories, featurettes and TV specials on over 200 major Hollywood productions, including hits such as E.T. The ExtraTerrestrial … 007’s A View To A Kill … Rambo: First Blood Part II … Conan The Barbarian and several editions of the annual Academy Awards.
For the past decade Doug has specialized in creating TV productions for corporate America, including such giants as Apple Computer, MacDonald’s, Hallmark, The Shriner’s Hospitals, and others. He has specialized in producing and hosting 24/7–The Business News Magazine Show. In the process he has created profiles on, and interviewed the chief executives of, well over 1000 companies and professional services throughout the United States.”