At 74, the former family court judge turned reality TV host has transformed the face of daytime television with her hit show, Judge Judy. The program, which just began its 22nd season, has a pretty simple formula: Sheindlin presiding over two cases per episode involving small court claims.
The claims are usually for small amounts (the highest Sheindlin is allowed to grant the winning party is $5,000), but emotions run high in her court as most involve suing relatives, ex-lovers and former best friends.
That kind of personal tension between plaintiff and defendant in a courtroom could be recipe for disaster, but Sheindlin has earned a reputation for keeping everyone in check.
Interrupt her? You’ll be met with a terrifying, “I’m speaking!” Lie to her? You’ll most likely hear a “Baloney!” or “You’re a fibber!” And if you’re unfortunate enough to, well, not be very smart in how you articulate your claim she’ll have absolutely no qualms calling you a “moron.”
That kind of audacious tough talk has made her the host of the #1 program in American daytime television with 10 million viewers an episode and earned her a hefty paycheck reported to be $47 million a year.
She’s also the producer of another courtroom reality TV show, Hot Bench, and the author of numerous best-selling books including Beauty Fades, Dumb Is Forever: The Making of a Happy Woman. On the surface, her show may appear to merely allow viewers to bask in the stupidity of others. However, her program transcends most daytime television because of Sheindlin’s devotion to highlighting the need for people to be responsible for their own actions.
Her show’s popularity is not only due to the fact that episodes are timeless and reruns do incredibly well during the summer, but also because of her sense of humor.
“Take your hand away from your heart, who do you think you are? Julio Iglesias?” she snapped at one defendant who attempted to convey the sincerity of his testimony. She is also a woman who values her own worth and isn’t afraid to ask for what she wants. To wit, she recently inked a deal with CBS television selling her library – 5,200 hours of old and new episodes – for a reported $200 million. And, like clockwork, Sheindlin negotiates her own deal with CBS every three years.
The process, according to a deposition obtained by the Hollywood Reporter, goes something like this: “And we go to the Grill on the Alley with the president of the company,” says the tough-minded judge about CBS. “We sit across the table, and I hand him the envelope and I say, ‘Don’t read it now, let’s have a nice dinner. Call me tomorrow. You want it, fine. Otherwise, I’ll produce it myself.’ That’s the negotiation.”
Whether in or outside the courtroom, Sheindlin isn’t afraid to call the shots.