Behind the Scenes with Judge Judy

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Judge Judy -- she's harsh, direct, and not afraid to hurt feelings or ruffle feathers. Our Lindsay Allen got a chance to a behind-the-scenes look to see of her show to see how the legal drama all comes together.

If you had a nickel for every great one-liner or personal sting that comes flying out of her mouth, well then you might be as rich as Judge Judy.

With earnings reported at $45 million a year, Judge Judy has been the reigning queen of reality TV for 17 seasons -- not bad for a woman who spent part of her life as a stay-at-home mom.

But almost everything about Judith Sheindlin is a contradiction. Although she stands just over five feet tall, her personality is big enough to entertain an entire courtroom.

While Sheindlin has been known to get a few laughs when questioning litigants about their attire, she was wearing jeans under her black robe when we interviewed her.

But perhaps the biggest contradiction of all is where the sharp-tongued Brooklynite actually hears her cases.

The show is made to look and feel like it was shot in the heart of New York City but the truth is it's taped in Hollywood

Hollywood "came a calling" in the mid 90s after several articles and interviews about her tough- love style as she issued rulings in Manhattan Family Court.

"It didn't surprise me at all," said Sheindlin's sidekick and trusty bailiff, Petri Hawkins Byrd. "She had that "it" factor then, and some folks were pretty smart to put her on TV. "

Byrd actually worked with Sheindlin while she was a judge in New York court room.

"We understand each other," Byrd said. "So when she asked me if I would consider coming on her show, I was like 'yeah.'"

They've been together in court ever since -- but what about all the plaintiffs and defendants who willingly agree to walk into the lion's den?

Randy Douthitt, the show's Executive Producer," says they often make the first call.  

"We have approximately 60 to 65 researchers across the country that go into courts and because of the Freedom of Information Act, we can Xerox those cases and they're sent back to the producers."

From there, Judge Judy producers call the people involved and decide which cases sound like they'll make good TV. Only a few make the cut.

"Probably the return on the cases we actually can use out of everything coming in is only about three percent," Douthitt said.

The key, Douthitt says, is finding people with a prior relationship.

"Boyfriend-girlfriend, mother-daughter, father-son, father-brother, sister-sister," Douthitt said. "That way it pulls in the audience a little bit more, there's an emotional tie that's been broken, and you end up with a bit of a mini soap opera."

The cast and crew will shoot an entire week's worth of episodes in just one day.

Between cases Sheindlin often retires to her dressing room and plays a game of Gin to keep her mind sharp.

The shows are taped three days a week, every other week.

And Sheindlin's rulings are final. Participants sign a waiver agreeing to accept her decision and not to pursue the case anywhere else. They're also paid a flat fee for appearing on her show.

What about the audience?

The seats are filled using an "audience service" -- something very common in Los Angeles.

In fact, most of the people in the audience are aspiring actors.

"If she weren't a judge, she'd make a great standup comedian because her timing is just impeccable," Douthitt said.

She does have great timing and incredibly animated what people love most about Judge Judy is her authenticity.

"She brings an honesty that people are looking for," Byrd said.

Judge Judy denies that she is abrasive. "I don't really think I'm harsh," she said. "I think I'm direct. And I think I just call it like I see it."

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