|Presented by||Greg Mathis|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||17|
|No. of episodes||5,394|
|Running time||42 minutes|
|Distributor||Warner Bros. Television Distribution|
|Picture format||480i 4:3 (SDTV)
480i 16:9 (SDTV)
|Original release||September 29, 1999– present|
Judge Mathis is a long-running scripted syndicated arbitration-based reality court show presided over by retired Superior Court Judge of Michigan's 36th District Court, Greg Mathis. The syndicated series features Mathis adjudicating small claims disputes. All judgments are predetermined and have no legal standing.
The series was originally produced by Black Pearl Productions but is currently produced by Syndicated Productions and Telepictures Productions, while distributed by Warner Bros. Television Distribution. It is taped at the NBC Tower in Chicago, but includes cases and litigants from other U.S. jurisdictions.
Each Judge Mathis episode runs for one hour and typically consists of 4 cases. The show is broadcast five days a week in every U.S. state, as well as Canada through Omni Television. The show has been on the air since 1999 and has taped well over 2000 episodes.
By 2014-15, the court show made it to its 16th season, making Mathis the longest serving African American court show arbitrator, beating out Judge Joe Brown whose program lasted 15 seasons. Moreover, Mathis holds a record of second longest serving court show arbitrator ever, just behind Judith Sheindlin of the court show Judge Judy. Judge Mathis is among few courtroom programs able to boast a long, successful run as most court shows suffer the fate of early cancellations. It is the fourth longest running courtroom series behind Divorce Court, The People's Court, and Judge Judy, respectively. Though both Divorce Court and The People's Court have suffered cancellation(s) and shifting arbitrators whereas Judge Mathis has not. Consequently of the court shows with only one production life, Judge Mathis is the second longest running, second only to Judge Judy.
Judge Mathis entered its 17th season on Monday, September 7, 2015.
The cases on Judge Mathis are classified as tort law, civil disputes with a maximum $5,000 claim, a typical amount for small claims court. The producers of the show select the cases. To acquire cases, the show solicits real-life litigants with pending disputes or individuals with potential disputes. If litigants agree to be on the show, they are paid a talent fee ranging from $150-$300, they receive travel accommodations, food vouchers, and minor plastic surgery or dental work if needed. Regardless of the outcome of the case, both parties receive any money they are suing for.
Mathis does have prior knowledge of the cases. In all cases, litigants give their prospective case managers all evidence in advance. The case workers write a script for both litigants and warn them to "stick to the script or find your own way home". All scripts are signed by the litigants. An acting coach, referred to as the main producer, meets with all litigants and reviews their script and focal points. The outcome of the cases are predetermined by the producers, thus have no legal standing in any legitimate court. As with most court shows, there are no lawyers present and litigants portray themselves. Any real legal case pending must be dismissed by both parties. Typically, Mathis asks for documents that have been predetermined by the producers to be "juicy" enough for TV. He occasionally leaves the courtroom to deliberate and then returns with his verdict. Upon final judgment, he may briefly explain the legal principle guiding his decision, especially if his ruling is based on a particular state's law. Reportedly, Mathis' rulings conform to the laws of the state where the case was originally filed.
Incorporation of life story into court show
It has been stated that the key to Greg Mathis' success as a judge and arbiter is that he's relatable. As a unique role model and personality, he stands out from other court show arbiters. So concerned is the arbiter with helping steer troubled youth in the right direction, the show's second season featured a documentary on Greg Mathis' life:
- Mathis was brought up in one of the worst housing projects in Detroit. During his youth, he was involved with gangs, dropped out of school and spent time behind bars. Growing up as a gang member and heroin dealer in the mean streets of Detroit, Michigan, Mathis had done plenty of time in juvenile detention centers before age 17. All this changed when a judge gave him an ultimatum: either get a G.E.D. or go to jail. At the same time, Mathis found out his mother was dying of cancer. Rushing to her side, he promised her he'd turn his life around and so did: he attended college; passed the bar and earned a law degree; became the youngest judge in Michigan’s history and then served as a Superior Court Judge for Michigan’s 36th District.
Mathis has frequently used his courtroom series to highlight his troubled-youth-turned-success-story as a way of motivating and inspiring his audience (especially youth audience) that there's no adversity that they can't pick themselves up from. It is from his background where Mathis derives much of his courtroom formula. For example, his show's opening theme was formerly a brief documentary of his powerful life story. As another example, he takes a liking to litigants who've seen the err in their ways and have made efforts to improve and better their lives.
Mathis believes rehabilitation is within almost everyone's reach if they just receive the right guidance, which is what he tries to provide. In addition to upholding the rule of law in court, he makes a point of emphasizing that education is key to a brighter future. The continued success of his courtroom series has led to the growth of a new generation of younger court show viewers. People understand that it's his concern for their futures that motivates many of his decisions.
Success and longevity in struggling genre
The success of Judge Mathis is particularly noteworthy in that, generally speaking, courtroom programming has a very limited shelf life. The programs in this genre are lucky to make it past a few seasons.
Of the long list of court shows, the only programs still existent in the genre originating from the 1990s or prior are Divorce Court (1957), The People's Court (1981), Judge Judy (1996) and Judge Mathis (1999). Of those four, only Judge Mathis and Judge Judy have not suffered temporary cancellations in the midst of their series run. Also of the four, Mathis and Judy Sheindlin are the only two to have hosted their program for their entire run. This makes Greg Mathis the second longest serving court show arbitrator ever, Sheindlin being the longest. Mathis also holds a record for longest serving African American arbitrator in the courtroom programming genre.
Of the court shows that have only had one production life without cancellation, Judge Mathis boasts the second longest run, three years behind Judge Judy. The People's Court 's second production life premiered in 1997 and thus outnumbers Judge Mathis by 2 years, though The People's Court 's second life has also been presided over by three different arbitrators.
Judge Gregory Mathis
Mathis typically begins proceedings by having litigants expound on their side of the dispute, so as to gain insight into the matter. Cases on Judge Mathis tend to be deeper and more revealing than those of most other court shows.
Typically, Mathis displays a relaxed, understanding, and open-minded nature. Never missing an opportunity to create a laugh or poke fun, however, Mathis is given to wisecracks, ridicule, and gibes that frequently rouse his audience to laughter. He often cuts the tension in his courtroom–even tension that he himself has fostered–with wisecracks or taunting remarks. Mathis has bantered directly at audience members, resulting in laughter. He also calls attention to peculiarities or juicy details revealed throughout the proceedings to make cases more interesting to the viewing audience. He uses a high pitched voice to suggest that certain litigants have not recognized the obvious.
Combined with his teasing and comedic tendencies on the bench, Mathis has stern moments as well. In moments in which Mathis has found a litigant guilty of a particularly reprehensible act, he takes on a very resentful attitude along with lecturing and shaming behaviors. Sometimes in these moments, Mathis makes a point of solemnizing his courtroom due to the prior laughs and lightheartedness, letting all litigants and everyone else on hand know that he's no longer joking and to be taken seriously. The last portion of the case sees Mathis at his roughest, providing an explanation behind the direction of his verdict in the form of a sharp tirade, unbroken in delivery so as not to allow anyone to get a word in edgewise.
Like many TV court shows, only the bailiff, besides the judge, is in a recurring position. The first bailiff on the series, Brendan Anthony Moran, died on December 19, 2002, after he fell to his death from the balcony of his 24th floor Chicago condo. His death was ruled a suicide, but his family feels it may have been an accident.
Since then, Judge Mathis has had two bailiffs. The current bailiff is Doyle Devereux. Sharing a somewhat similar nature as the judge, bailiff Doyle often acts as a comic relief for the show, interjecting lighthearted observations about the litigants and the cases. Among the recurring humorous motifs, both Doyle and Mathis frequently banter back and forth. As just one example of their jocular relationship, he and Mathis will often insinuate that Doyle enjoys smoking marijuana and has an eye for pretty women. As the bailiff, Doyle oversees the parties after the judgment is made out in the studio court room hallway. In this capacity, the litigants respond towards the camera to Judge Mathis' ruling.
In the first season of the show, court reporter Leslie Merrill would appear at the end of each case to interview the litigants after their judgement. She was ultimately dropped from season 2 and onward.
Aspiring singers and rappers who appear on the show may even be granted a moment to showcase their talents from the lectern. In recent years, the show has begun to conduct paternity testing in disputes about child custody, and drug testing in applicable cases. Mathis often offers or compels drug treatment and family counseling for parties.
In other media, the Judge Mathis show appeared in an episode of The Steve Harvey Show. Romeo, Bullethead, and Lydia sued Steve and Regina over a damaged computer that Steve confiscated from them during class. Since Judge Mathis had appeared at the school earlier in the week, the kids took their case to the Judge Mathis show (and won).
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- "Judge Mathis Bio". Judgemathistv.warnerbros.com. September 11, 2006. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- Judge Mathis website. Online at: "About the Show". Accessed May 8, 2007
- Judge Mathis website. Online at: "When its on". Accessed March 5, 2011
- Omni Television. Ontario "Judge Mathis" Accessed May 8, 2007
- "Judge Mathis 1999 TV SHOW". TV Guide. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
- The A to Z of African-American Television - Kathleen Fearn-Banks - Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- Judge Mathis interview. Online at: "Interview with the Judge Mathis". Accessed March 5, 2011
- Gun-Toting Judge Greg Mathis Was Arrested As A Teenager – Showbiz Spy
- Encyclopedia of Television Law Shows: Factual and Fictional Series about ... - Hal Erickson - Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- Roger M. Grace (October 2, 2003). "Seven Courtroom Shows Appear on TV’s Fall Docket". Metnews.com. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- [dead link]
- PERNELL WATSON Daily Press (July 26, 2003). "Bailiff On 'Mathis' Killed In Fall - Daily Press". Articles.dailypress.com. Retrieved September 9, 2013.