"What you are about to witness is real. The participants are not actors. They are the actual people who have already either filed suit or been served a summons to appear in a California (or New York Metropolitan) Municipal Court. Both parties in the suit have agreed to dismiss their court cases and have their disputes settled here, in our forum — The People's Court." [Current version: "...They are actual litigants with a case pending in civil court. Both parties have agreed to drop their claims, and have their cases settled here, before Judge Marilyn Milian..."]
The Ur Example of the judge talk show, The People's Court had its pilot episode taped in October 1980 and premiered on September 14, 1981 when Judge Joseph Wapner took the court to the TV. The premise is that two parties, a plaintiff and a defendant, that would otherwise take their cases to small claims court would instead agree to have their case settled on television by Judge Wapner. After the verdict was given, each side would be interviewed by host and court reporter Doug Llewelyn, who would often end the show with the Catch Phrase "Don't take the law into your own hands: you take 'em to court." note (On the other hand, if a case ended with a verdict for the defendant, Llewelyn would instead end the episode by saying "If someone files a lawsuit against you and yet you're convinced you've done nothing wrong, don't be intimidated. Just be sure to stand up for your rights: go to court.") The show's other two regulars were bailiff Rusty Burrell and announcer Jack Harrell. The show was created by John Masterson, who previously created and produced Queen for a Day. It was executive produced by Ralph Edwards (who previously created and/or produced The Cross Wits, Truth or Consequences, and Name That Tune) and his production partner Stu Billett. Both men packaged the show under their own separate companies until 1987, when the companies merged. The show was originally distributed by Telepictures until 1986, when that company merged with Lorimar, creating Lorimar-Telepictures. Lorimar-Telepictures continued to distribute until 1989, when it was purchased by Warner Bros., who continued to distribute until the show's cancellation in 1993.After Judge Judy started the judge show revival in the mid-1990s, one of the first shows on the block was a revival of The People's Court. Former New York City mayor Ed Koch initially took the bench for the first two years, then was replaced by Jerry Sheindlin (husband of Judge Judy). He was replaced by Marilyn Milian in 2001, who presides over the court today. The bailiff during the Koch-Sheindlin years was Josephine Ann Longobardi. After Milian took the bench, she was replaced by Davy Jones, who only lasted relatively briefly and was in turn replaced by Douglas MacIntosh. Curt Chaplin took over the interview duties and became the new announcer, while host Harvey Levin, who worked on the Wapner version as the show's legal consultant, explains the legalese behind the judges' decisions while polling fans gathered outdoors.The original is best known nowadays for being the favorite program of Raymond Babbit.
This show provides examples of:
Catch Phrase: From the first episodes from the original series (in the fall of 1981) onward, it has always been, "Don't take the law into your own hands. Take them to court."
Harvey Levin, after explaining the summary of the reason behind the verdict: "And that will do it for this case; litigants for the next case coming into the courtroom right now."
Like Judge Judy, Marilyn Milian has her own set of catch phrases:
"Did I breathe and give you the impression I was done speaking?"
"You redefine chutzpah!"
"As my grandmother used to say, Un clavo saca el otro clavo - One nail drives out the other." (And various other "dichos," or short sayings/proverbs in Spanish. The judge is very proud of her Cuban-American heritage.)
"Who am I gonna believe, you or my lying eyes?"
"I wouldn't believe you if your tongue came notarized."
"NOT here! NOT today! And NOT in my courtroom!"
"If everyone can stop playing 'quien es mas macho' we wouldn't be here"
Early-Installment Weirdness: In addition to the judge-bailiff turnover, Levin originally had a co-host, Carol Martin, who previously was an anchor at New York City TV station WCBS. Unlike Levin, however, Martin hosted from a studio.
In the original series, the first couple of seasons saw most of the cases being simple arbitrations, with rather bland, dull cases being heard. At least one episode – likely from the fall of 1981 – uploaded to video sharing websites was a simple dry cleaning dispute. In most of these cases, the litigants simply answered the judge's questions and did not try to interrupt or call the other litigant names, etc. Wapner rarely if ever accused litigants of outright lying, although he would call them on testimony he thought didn't seem to fit the evidence, and he would point out whether the lack of crucial evidence (such as, in once case, a piece of bone found on a pizza) would hurt their case. When the judge delivered his decision, the litigants – except to answer a direct question – simply listened respectfully, and while some of the litigants were understandably disappointed with the outcome, they generally accepted Wapner's decision in good stride or chalked it up as a lesson learned.
Epic Fail: For one Wapner-era plaintiff. Said plaintiff sued a store owner for $5000. The reason? The plaintiff had bought a candy bar from the defendant's store, took a bite, and found maggots inside. The store owner had offered to either refund the plaintiff's money or replace the candy bar, but the indignant plaintiff insisted that the store would be hearing from his lawyer, because the store had sold him a product that could have made him sick. Wapner got the plaintiff to testify that he ultimately did not consume any of the candy bar and, therefore, did not become sick. Still, the plaintiff kept insisting that the store owner was to be held accountable for the tainted candy bar and practically accused the man of willfully trying to poison him and other people. Wapner did find for the plaintiff... in the amount of 50 cents, the cost of the candy bar.
This, to date, is the smallest award ever paid out in show history. Though the store owner technically lost, he understandably felt vindicated by the ruling.
Every Episode Opening: "This is the plaintiff..." "This is the defendant...he's accused of (insert horrible pun here)." "(Insert page quote here)". Bailiff: "All rise, the honorable judge (current judge here) presiding." Judge: "You may be seated."
Keep Circulating the Tapes: The Wapner version has not been seen since the late 2000's, when it was reran on In2TV, an internet television service jointly owned by America Online and Warner Bros.
October 15, 2007: A University of Miami law student says her ruling is "your opinion". Milian goes postal.
Judge Milian: No, that's my RULING, pal. And let me tell you something, Mr. University of Miami Law School! I taught at U-M for many years, and you, right now, are embarrassing us. You do not show that kind of disrespect, okay? If you don't like what the judge is doing, you take it to the next forum, but you do NOT stand there and say "That's your opinion" like a BABY, when a judge rules against — DON'T EVEN UTTER ANOTHER WORD!! — ... You've got a lot to learn about what it means to be a member of the Florida Bar, and if you think that this kind of petulance and babyness on your part, to tell around and tell a judge who you disagree with "WELL, THAT'S YOUR OPINION!" is going to get you anywhere, you are sorely mistaken. If there's nothing you should have learned in the last two years as a law student, that's something you should have learned as a human growing up, that you do not show that kind of disrespect. You don't like it, take it to the hallway, but you do not look a judge in the face — because, I don't care what you think of me, you've gotta RESPECT THIS PROCESS! And if there's anybody who I expect to respect this process, it's a second-year law student at the University of Miami. Verdict for the plaintiff, $450 and court costs.
Compared to the current version and its contemporaries (particularly Judge Judy), Judge Wapner from the original series rarely did this – almost never in the first few seasons but it became somewhat more common (although still comparably rare) by the late 1980s. But it was a sight to see when he got pissed – and when he did, Wapner didn't hold back.
"Don't take the law into your own hands; take 'em to court - The People's Court."