If there’s one thing the team behind “Judy Justice,” Judge Judy Sheindlin’s IMDb TV courtroom series premiering Nov. 1, want you to know about the series, it is that “it’s a new show and it can’t look the same as the old show.”
This is why executive producer and director Randy Douthit says they hired a new bailiff (Kevin Rasco, who previously served as the head of security at Sheindlin’s syndicated courtroom series, “Judge Judy”) instead of bringing Petri Hawkins-Byrd over from “Judge Judy.”
Douthit may say it simply, but the transition from working on a 25-year run sow to a new streaming series hasn’t come without major adjustments beyond cast changes.
Although the premise of the show would remain the same — Sheindlin adjudicating small-claims cases — everything from the set to the episode structure to the size of Sheindlin’s cases got a makeover for “Judy Justice.”
The new courtroom incorporates a different wood color, marble columns and monitors that are built into the set, co-executive producer Amy Freisleben points out. “It looks like a modern courtroom that you would find in any major city.”
The monitors are a particularly important upgrade because over the past two-and-a-half decades that “Judge Judy” was teaching the average viewer about everything from leash laws to the benefits of eschewing roommates, video evidence became more prevalent. Douthit and Freisleben witnessed these changes first-hand, as both previously worked on “Judge Judy.” (Douthit started there in 1996, while Freisleben joined the team in 1998.)
Now, everyone has the ability to film their altercations with their cell phones, in addition to video doorbells and other security cameras. When that evidence is admitted, “decisions can be absolute because there it is,” Douthit notes. The key for working with that evidence on “Judy Justice,” he says, is “building up to those videos” so the case is not over immediately, but the viewer can still better understand how she made her ruling.
Another “Judy Justice” update is Sheindlin’s look — from her pulled-back hairstyle to her burgundy robe. And this time around, she is surrounded by a trio of other cast members: Rasco, her granddaughter and law clerk Sara Rose, and stenographer Whitney Kumar.
Having this on-screen team around Sheindlin offers production “more opportunity to have more action on the bench and more elements to work with,” says Freisleben. This includes being able to clarify certain matters of the case as Rose sometimes has to look up certain values, definitions or statutes on the spot during proceedings and later sits down with Sheindlin in the judge’s chambers to recap what they just experienced. The latter, which is the final scene of each episode, is an idea Douthit says came directly from Sheindlin.
“Sometimes viewers will watch the show and maybe wonder why the judge ruled the way she did, so this gives a window into what Judy was thinking — what she found to be credible, not credible. And having her granddaughter there, it’s more conversational and familiar — less stuffy,” Freisleben explains.
The casting of these three supporting players was to fulfill the “new energy” Freisleben says the new show required.
“There’s a more youthful fanbase that may come with IMDb TV, on all streaming devices,” Freisleben explains.
Rose, in particular, should appear to that audience because she is in her mid-20s and “can talk about social media,” Douthit notes.
Producing “Judy Justice” as a streaming series for an Amazon Studios-owned entity doesn’t just provide potential to expand Sheindlin’s audience; it also affected the kinds of cases the show could take on — and how many.
“Judge Judy” could only consider cases whose litigants were suing for $5,000 or less, but with the support of Amazon, “Judy Justice” has double the jurisdictional limit ($10,000). This allows “a wider pool of cases for us to search for the program and get the best possible case for Judy,” Freisleben says.
In order to get the litigants ready to present on camera, they are each assigned to a producing team, Freisleben continues. This team “will find out in advance of tape day what evidence they are planning on bringing to support their case.” That producing team also has access to a production attorney to see “if the evidence is going to be presented in an efficient and proper way for the judge to look at.” However, the litigants themselves do not work with that attorney.
The flexibility of being a daily series on a streamer also means not having to be as rigid about episode length as in syndication where one is cutting to commercial breaks multiple times within a half-hour time slot. Producers can also linger longer on the cases that are particularly complex or interesting.
“On the older show we would have probably two cases per episode. I would say the majority of the cases we do now, it’s one case for a half hour,” says Douthit. “It provides an avenue of going in depth — backing up the story and seeing how we got to this situation and all of the other elements: more details, more focus on what the law is, more explaining what the law is.”
“Judy Justice” may become an even bigger teaching tool than Sheindlin’s previous series.