|Courtrooms as TV Entertainment|
The audience that attended the Forum: Courtrooms as TV Entertainment, learned many things on the night when we hosted Judges Marilyn Milian and Alex Ferrer. First, as an incentive for parties to opt out of small
claims court and to enter the legal arena of reality TV, the producers agree to pay the cost of the losing side–meaning that whatever monetary judgment is handed down, the defendant will not be responsible for paying it. The producers of the show will pay the damage award. Second, these TV courtrooms scour the country for interesting, sometimes salacious cases that are scheduled to be heard in small claims court. Then they determine whether the parties to the action, along with their claims, would make for engaging, compelling television. The
result is binding arbitration–whatever happens on television in resolving the case, whatever judgment the judges reach, is final. There is no appeal. But would this formula work with more complex cases, those that are not heard in small claims court? And why is it that people choose to opt out of the essential privacy of a state court proceeding in order to be humiliated in front of a national television audience?
A fair amount of the lively discussion was devoted
to the question: If the courtroom cases are serious, and they are intended to impart important moral lessons about the differences between right and wrong, then should it matter who the plaintiffs and defendants are, and how they, and their claims, come across on the TV screen? Both of our judges were quick to point out that their producers recruit interesting cases and the people attached to them. These courtrooms shows may be authentic demonstrations of dispute resolution, but they also have the burden to hold the attention of TV audiences, who might otherwise switch to a soap opera, a cable movie, or even worse, a competing courtroom TV show. There is always the power and prerogative of the remote control. But this invites the question: Aren’t all disputes interesting in some way, or is it that what’s most important are the personalities behind the disputes. Judges respond to people as people; they don’t merely, and coldly, only deal with the legal claim as a matter of law, divorced of the emotion that is an indispensable part of the cases before
Judge Marilyn Milian, from “The People’s Court, and Judge Alex Ferrer, from “Judge Alex,” were fantastic guests of the Forum. Everyone in the audience was treated to two articulate, telegenic, passionate, and hilarious jurists. Indeed, while their syndicated television shows are wildly successful, I think they both agreed that when not filming their TV shows they should consider taking their act, as a pair of TV judges, on the road. Even a sitcom would work. They are obvious friends who finish each other’s sentences and almost know what the other is about to say. It was funny when Judge Milian, at one point, invoked
Lucy at the chocolate factory, because the good judge is very much cut from the same cloth as the charismatic Lucy Arnez/Ball, which is ironic, since both Milian and Ferrer are Cuban Americans, as was Desi Arnez. The rapport and chemistry of our TV judges, and their ease in front of a live audience, was interesting to observe, because unlike our past Forum guests, these judges are on television, so they have a burden to entertain in front of the camera, whereas our
prior guests were mostly writers whose words are read by others and who live mostly on the page.