‘Judge Jerry’ Springer moves from talk show ‘circus’ to courtroom
Jerry Springer trades his talk show “circus” for the relative decorum of a courtroom when “Judge Jerry” premieres Monday.
While Springer can still be seen on previously taped episodes of his raucous “Jerry Springer Show” (which continue to air), his new endeavor finds him wearing a black judge’s robe and presiding over small claims cases on the daytime court show, taped in Stamford, Conn. and airing weekdays on WPIX/Ch. 11 (noon-1 p.m.)
Springer, 75, took some time out from taping “Judge Jerry” to talk about the new show.
Was a court show something you had in mind?
Honestly, at 75 I thought I’d be retiring. NBC had been talking to me for years about doing something else, and they thought the judge show was a natural fit because I started out as a lawyer and it’s a daytime audience — the same audience with me in a different role, but a role that I believe people can accept. Even though [“Jerry Springer”] was crazy I never got crazy — I’m always wearing a suit, I don’t curse and I wasn’t in fights throwing Jell-O. I love doing [“Judge Jerry”] because it’s the first grownup job I’ve had in 30 years. I have to do research and I have to remember what I learned in law school and practicing law. I really do my homework.
How does one become a TV judge?
There was a day of reviewing how it works. You get special certification, and I’m a lawyer. You have to be certified [to be a judge]; it’s a day thing and if you’re a lawyer it’s almost automatic unless you’ve killed someone.
‘I love doing [‘Judge Jerry’] because it’s the first grownup job I’ve had in 30 years.’
What’s the schedule like?
We tape 30-35 cases a week and we do it every other week. The off week is when I have to study and research these cases, which come from all 50 states, so whatever the case is before us I have to apply the law from that state — what are the parameters of the decision I can make? The litigants don’t know they’re going to be on TV when they file [their cases]. They didn’t even know I had a judge show. It’s not like, “Let’s create this controversy so we can be on television.” These are real cases, and whatever I decide that’s it, therefore I’m real conscious of treating these people with respect because these issues are important to them. The judgments are $5,000 or less, and for a lot of people $5,000 isn’t chump change.
How would you describe your style on the bench?
Look, invariably I crack jokes because I can’t help it. So there’s a little bit of that, but I treat these litigants like I would treat my own child or grandchild — in other words, even if I have to be stern I’m never going to be mean. I always explain my decision; I never just slam down the gavel and say “Guilty!”
Does the audience shout “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” like they do on “The Jerry Springer Show”?
When I first go out there for the warmup there’s a little of that — we want to get that settled so it doesn’t happen during the show. I explain to [the audience], “This is me in a little different role, but it’s still me.”
Do you feel that this show “legitimizes” you on TV?
It’s another form of entertainment. You’re never defined by your job. I don’t think differently of a person who’s a truck driver than I do of someone who’s a scientist. People have jobs, they work hard at their job, get paid and make sure they do it to the best of their ability. The point is, my personality hasn’t changed. Everybody has different ways of behaving in different social situations; that’s what you call being socialized. So when I was hired to do a circus, then I was the ringleader of that circus and did that to the best of my ability. If I walk down the street and people are always chanting “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” I don’t go home at night and say that I must be wonderful. But they like what they see on TV. I’m appreciative, of course, but I don’t think, “Gee, I must be a nice person because they chanted my name.”
“Judge Jerry” Series premiere at noon Monday on WPIX
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