Judge Judy's dominance is in many ways dependent on the plum time slot she snagged early on. But it helps that her competitors haven't come close to matching her ratings. Sheindlin's ornery personality probably has something to do with this, of course, but the real key to the show's triumph may lie in its simplicity.
Judge Judy's competitors have often tried to differentiate themselves by adding bells and whistles, to poor effect. The short-lived Power of Attorney, for example, invited such legal superstars as Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden to represent the litigants. We the Jury placed the decision in the hands of an audience panel. There was even a show called Moral Court, in which a former talk-show host clad in black judicial robes decided such pressing cases as whether a young child should be told the truth about Santa Claus.
Talk about missing the point. Court-show viewers don't seem to want moral conundrums or technical wrinkles. They love Sheindlin's show because she offers them a fantasy of how they'd like the justice system to operate—swiftly, and without procedural mishaps or uppity lawyers. They get to see wrongdoers publicly humiliated by a strong authority figure. There is no uncertainty after Sheindlin renders her verdict and bounds off the bench, and there are certainly no lengthy appeals.
TODAY IN SLATE
Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man
The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.
Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.
Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution
Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show
Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada
Now, journalists can't even say her name.
Lena Dunham, the Book
More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.