Secrets of Court TV Shows...from a professional audience member.
It's 4pm Central Time, do you know where your author of this article is? Watching our lord and savior Judge Judy on CBS, of course along with millions of other Americans every day. Although in my post-grad years and desperate for cash, you'd most likely find me sitting at the aisle seat of a similar court tv show instead, staring vacantly behind the defendant. Apart from learning how to fall asleep with my eyes open, here's a few other tidbits I learned in my time as a Court TV audience member.
1. If the intro didn't give it away, much of the audience are paid seat-fillers. Not all though-- people can get free tickets to attend the show live. The seat-fillers are mingled throughout, sworn to secrecy or fear losing the entire day's pay. Filming days are about 7 hours long, which covers multiple episodes. Because of this, producers will shuffle extras around between cases so it's less obvious. If the extras manage to sit and mingle quietly without revealing themselves as such throughout the 7-hour shooting day, they get paid cash outside the studio. Not the worst gig.
2. Production pays for whatever the verdict amount is. If you've ever asked yourself, "Why would someone expose themselves on national TV like this??" it's because their plane ticket, swanky ride to the studio, and ultimately whatever the Judge says they owe is all paid for. If someone files a case against you and you have neither the money nor valid defense to beat it, embarrassing yourself on TV it is.
If ever the defendant isn't committing to defending their case seriously (because they know it's paid for either way) the Judge may threaten to stop filming and turn back the case to their local court (where they likely would be found responsible and actually have to pay) in order to entice the party to start pleading their case with more gusto for the cameras.
3. The court cases are real with real people representing themselves, though not submitted by the actual parties involved. Producers comb through pending small-claims court filings around the country for interesting stories and then reach out directly to invite both parties onto the show. They're obviously all separated backstage before being brought in (and separately afterward, as things can get pretty sour.)
4. The courtroom is fake but the court of law is still real. So, anything can and will be held against you...especially if you admit to a major crime. (This one may seem obvious, but apparently isn't.) During one case, a defendant had printed off a text message exchange from his phone and presented it as evidence for some silly small-claims issue du jour. But the guy must've accidentally printed off too much of his texts, because when the Judge started reading through the text messages...then kept reading...they read aloud part of a text wherein the defendant admitted to a very serious, wildly heinous crime. The Judge got the guy to confirm it was true in person, then filming stopped. Legally, they were obligated to turn everything over to the police and the man went to jail. Naturally, that part of the show never aired.
More things I learned from other's mistakes made visible on the show: Save your receipts. Start recording when a tense situation goes south. Take pictures of everything. Document everything. A handwritten note on a napkin IS a contract. Take pictures of your apartment when you sign the lease and when you leave. Keep your dang dog on a leash. Neuter your non-breeding dogs. Saying you don't like someone online doesn't count as defamation of character. What you say in text messages matter. Small-claims court is a lot of hassle, no one really comes out satisfied. Except if you're paid to watch it.