What is a Television Court Show?

Jacob Queen

A television court show is a kind of entertainment program that televises real life court cases. Litigants agree to go on these shows and let the judge decide the outcome of their cases while the show’s producers deal with costs and pay the winner. Most of the cases fall into the small claims category, and the producers look for cases that could lead to entertaining drama. These shows have been quite popular historically.

Television court shows are as much about entertainment as about the legal process.
Television court shows are as much about entertainment as about the legal process.

Many people who watch court shows believe that the loser is forced to pay the plaintiff just like in a real life court decision. Sometimes the creators of court shows often go out of their ways to give this impression. In truth, neither party generally has to pay anything, and in some cases, both parties may even receive some amount of money. The winner does get damages, but he or she is paid by the people running the show.

Judges on television court shows usually do have legal backgrounds but are selected largely for their personalities.
Judges on television court shows usually do have legal backgrounds but are selected largely for their personalities.

The fact that the loser on a court show doesn’t have to pay is a primary reason people choose to let their cases be televised. For example, if someone knows he is likely to lose in a civil case, he may jump at the opportunity to have someone else pay. He may even be willing to go on television and lose a case if that could potentially save some money.

Even though the court is paying the winner of the case on a court show, it is still considered legally binding. This is because the cases are set up using arbitration laws, which allow a neutral individual to decide civil disputes. This also generally benefits the loser because the decision is considered final from a legal perspective, and the plaintiff wouldn’t normally be able to sue again.

When choosing cases, there are a few things that are particularly important to court shows. For one thing, they generally want cases that aren’t too serious for television. They don’t want their show to be deemed tasteless, so they will normally stick to minor stuff. They also generally want cases with interesting personalities so that they can generate television that people will enjoy.

The judges on court shows are usually larger-than-life people with big personalities. Most of them have actual legal backgrounds, but their charisma is often considered more important than their resume. Most of the shows are built around the drama that ignites when the judges interact with the plaintiffs and defendants.

Prior to the development of reality television court shows, there were many court-based dramas presented in a realistic fashion, but weren’t actually real. Some of these were even based on real life cases. Most people consider the first real televisions court show to be "The People’s Court."

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Discussion Comments

@ruggercat68 - I don't know about that. I've watched a few television court shows where the judge seemed ready to rule for the plaintiff until the defendant presented a surprise witness or new evidence. I don't think it was planned out. The judge said she had read their complaints and responses, but those aren't the only things a judge can consider in court. Sometimes a person's demeanor can make a big difference. The plaintiff can come off as a hothead or the defendant can sound like a bully.

I think a television judge knows enough about the law to make a fair ruling before the show starts, but I also think he or she waits to see if someone brings up something new or compelling while the cameras are rolling.


Personally, I think the judges have already read all of the complaints and seen all the evidence before the show even starts. They've already made their legally binding decisions based on case law, but they also want to entertain the audience by letting the plaintiffs and defendants argue on air. I seriously doubt there's anything either party can say or do to change the judge's prerecorded decision.

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