Judge Judy, television’s highest-rated syndicated show starring TV’s best-paid host, ended after 25 years earlier this year. On Nov. 1, Judy Justice premieres on Amazon’s IMDb TV, offering “a whole new program with a whole new cast and an exciting energy,” as Judge Judy Sheindlin said in an announcement.
Twenty-five years is a long time to do anything, especially when that thing is being perpetually exasperated by the regular people who make your job exist. So I can understand why Judy Sheindlin would want to do something brand new.
Enter Judy Justice. The exciting energy of this fresh new format floods the courtroom set, which has swapped chairs for benches, and wood panels for paneled wood. Now, the nameplate that says “Judge Judith Sheindlin” is written on one line instead of two. Her desk chair is slightly taller. The door to her chambers set now says “Chambers” so everyone will know where to go when they never go in there.
Instead of a black robe, Judge Judy is wearing a maroon robe while she interrogates the litigants, summarizing their cases for them, allowing them to briefly answer questions, and occasionally yelling at them creative new phrases such as “You were wrong!”
This may seem familiar, but the mics on the defendants’ desks are slightly smaller. An excerpt from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 has been replaced as the theme song by something that sounds vaguely similar, and the announcer is new, too.
Judy is now flanked by two people, a stenographer and a law clerk, who never talk or do anything, and who I assumed were extras and/or mannequins based on their silence and terrified expressions in the first three cases I watched.
However, an IMDb TV press release identifies them as “court stenographer Whitney Kumar, a board-certified court reporter in the state of California, and Sarah Rose, a law clerk and Judge Sheindlin’s granddaughter, extending the legacy of the television and courtroom pioneer by bringing in a new generation of legal analysis.”
Rose does eventually speak a sentence or two. After the litigants talk briefly to the camera at the end of the episode, there’s a brief scene in Judy’s chambers—just follow the sign—for the kind warm, familiar conversation that comes when a multimillionaire TV star grandmother invites her granddaughter in for some heavily coached banter.
“One of the things I’ve learned is ever lend a significant other money without a written loan agreement, because we’ve seen how they turn badly far too often,” Sarah Rose says. Judge Judy responds, “You’re right; and I especially wouldn’t lend a boyfriend money who didn’t have a job.”
Another major change: there’s a new bailiff.
Why is Byrd not on Judy Justice?
Bailiff Kevin Rasco has replaced Baliff Petri Hawkins-Byrd. I wouldn’t have have blamed Byrd for leaving because, during his 25 years, he only rarely got to do something exciting, like put a videocassette into a VCR. Most of the job is announcing cases and then passing papers back and forth.
It turns out that, despite being Judge Judy’s bailiff since 1996, Byrd was dumped because he made too much money, and Judy didn’t even tell him that she was leaving to do another show.
“She informed me I was not being asked to come along on the project. I didn’t inquire as to why, that’s her choice. But she did inform me that fundamentally, I was priced out as the new bailiff on her new show. My salary would have been too much. I was curious: How would she know? She didn’t ask me. She didn’t give me an opportunity to have accepted a lower salary,” he told EW.
Of course, Judy is now on a budget. Having been reportedly paid $47 million for 260 episodes every year for Judge Judy, The New York Times reported “Amazon is paying her about $25 million for the first 120 episodes, analysts estimate.” So that means she’ll only be making $208,000 per episode, compared to $180,000 before.
If that’s not it, perhaps they used some of Byrd’s salary to allow plaintiffs to sue for up to $10,000, instead of the old limit of $5,000. After all, as the credits make clear, “monetary awards are paid form a fund maintained by the producer”—meaning that while decisions “are binding and final,” people who lose don’t pay a cent.
They just submit to 30 minutes of humiliation in exchange for a free trip to L.A. and having their cases erased. Not a bad deal.
And for fans of Judge Judy, to be honest, Judy Justice is not a bad deal, either: It’s Judge Judy but with “half the ads of linear TV,” according to IMDb TV, which is where Judy Justice will be on-demand, streaming new episodes free every day. (Amazon will apparently be changing IMDb TV’s name sometime soon, because no one knows what it is and the connection to IMDb makes no sense, nor does the fact that you can find it as part of Amazon Prime Video.)
Judy Justice is the same show, delivering all the same thrills of watching Judy Judy shred litigants who, even today, 25 years later, think they’re somehow going to convince her. Sometimes Judge Judy discovers inconsistencies; sometimes she seems to just lock into a version of events and then shuts down any attempt to challenge that narrative. There’s something compelling about her confidence, which persists even when she’s expressing confusion about, say, being paid via an app.
Does any of this really matter? Or to use Judge Judy’s words, as she says to one of the litigants: “Do I look like I need any help from you?”
After all, I doubt anyone will watch or not watch Judy Justice based on a review; you’re either in on Judge Judy or not.
On Judy Justice, Judge Judy is doing what Judge Judy always did, which has been wildly successful, so making only superficial changes is the point: a little freshening up, but still the same acerbic TV judge you’ve either loved or ignored for 25 years.
On Judy Justice, Judge Judy does exactly what she used to do on Judge Judy, so it’s just fine for what it is. B
What works for me:
- Not having to learn a new show
- The thrill of seeing Judge Judy find an inconsistency and/or idiocy and verbally shred someone for it
What could be better:
- Allowing the law clerk and stenographer to go home because they have nothing to do here
- Not gaslighting viewers about how this is a new show