Judge Joe Brown is an American arbitration-based reality court show starring former Shelby County, Tennessee, Criminal Court judge Joe Brown. It premiered on September 14, 1998 and ran through the 2012-13 television season. Joe Brown was the second highest paid daytime television personality behind Judge Judy during the time the show was running. The first-run syndication series entered its fifteenth and final season on September 10, 2012, also regularly airing in high-definition for the first time beginning in that same season as well.
Joe Brown is the first African American male to preside over a courtroom television show and the first African American person to preside over a long-running courtroom series. However, former New York prosecutor Star Jones is the first African American person to preside over a court show (Jones and Jury 1994-95).
With all of its seasons having aired consecutively, solely under Brown, Joseph Brown was the second longest running television jurist for many years prior to his cancellation, just behind Judith Sheindlin. While there are court shows that outnumber both Judge Joe Brown and Judge Judy in seasons within the judicial arena, namely Divorce Court and The People's Court, they are also programs with multiple lives and multiple "judges" in their histories.
The set of Judge Joe Brown was directly beside the set of Judge Judy within the same facility, Sunset Bronson Studios. After Judge Joe Brown's 2013 cancellation, however, the space was used for the courtroom series Paternity Court for a season (2013–14), followed by the court show Hot Bench (2014–present). As Judge Judy was and still is, Judge Joe Brown was both produced by Big Ticket Television and syndicated by CBS Television Distribution (CTD), the successor company to their previous distributors: Worldvision Enterprises, Paramount Domestic Television, and CBS Paramount Domestic Television.
The show was syndicated in the US, and aired during daytime hours. It aired on CTV in Canada and Fox8 in Australia. Like the majority of television court shows, Judge Joe Brown is a form of binding arbitration. The show's producers maintain the appearance of a civil courtroom.
As far as ratings in the legal/courtroom genre go, Brown's program ranked in second place during its entire run, typically just above The People's Court and significantly below Judge Judy. Consequently, Judge Joe was the highest rated male-arbitrated television series during its run. It should be noted, however, that Brown was paired with the highly rated Judge Judy series and that when paired with a program of this caliber, any TV show has the potential to draw at least decent ratings.
For the most part, Brown has a languid and perfunctory nature about him, particularly while gathering all the facts and trying to figure out the case. Occasionally, however, once he's suspected a party of being guilty, Brown has become particularly cantankerous as shown in his irritated, quarrelsome communication. Brown has also subjected these litigants to harsh tirades and judgmental commentary. At several intervals throughout many of the cases, Brown has been seen up on his feet in the midst of a tirade, pacing and raging around the bench area. In these moments, he's also been known to sit atop the desktop of his bench to add emphasis to his long, angry tirades. The harshest of Brown's tirades have generally been delivered to men whose behavior he regards as particularly irresponsible or egregious. In these moments, Brown flings out his personal values and guidance at men, such as: grow up and be a man, you don't know nothing about manhood, quit acting like you haven't got any "home training", be a civilized human being and stop trying to be "cool", quit acting like a "thug", take responsibility, have a sense of class and decency, etc. Brown has been criticized for these behaviors as "lacking self-control."
Brown tends to allow "victimized" or "wronged" litigants ample opportunity to also berate "guilty" litigants, often delighting in this and listening in amusement; moreover, he allows audience applause and laughter at the guilty litigant's expense so that the whole courtroom is against the guilty party. With brasher litigants than other courtroom programs, however, perhaps due to the nature of the cases or at least Brown's approach, guilty litigants on Judge Joe Brown have been known to act out. On past episodes, many litigants who were perceived as guilty by Brown and treated accordingly have not hesitated to chuck items around the courtroom, such as water; disrespect the judge; threaten the other party or spectators, etc. In fact, in February 2010, Brown himself was sued by one of his former television show litigants for alleged slander and fraud, but won the case because of the waivers the court show has its litigants sign prior to the televised proceedings. On the series, Brown has typically responded to most of the aforementioned behaviors by telling the litigants they'll be receiving a ticket or demanding that the litigant be arrested and thrown in jail for violating statute that requires proper behavior and decorum in arbitration.
The program also featured a news reporter and bailiff. Holly Evans, was the bailiff from 1998 to 2006. Sonia Montejano replaced her for the rest of the run in 2006. Jacque Kessler, was the show's news reporter from 1998 to 2010. Former FOX Sports and current MLB Network freelance reporter Jeanne Zelasko succeeded Kessler as the reporter in 2010. Ben Patrick Johnson was the show's announcer from 1998 to 2005. Rolonda Watts succeeded him as announcer in 2005. Popular musicians Coolio, Ike Turner, and Rick James have all been litigants on the show. As of 2014, Sonia Montejano now serves as the bailiff on the new panel court series Hot Bench, while Rolonda Watts now announces the long running series, Divorce Court.
It was reported in mid-2012 that Brown was the second highest paid daytime television personality, earning $20 million a year, only second to Judge Judy, who earns $45 million a year. In April 2013, however, following the show's cancellation, Brown disputed these reports claiming that CTD was only paying him $5 million a year.
Salary negotiation conflicts and series cancellation
As reported on February 27, 2013, by Broadcasting & Cable, CTD had told Brown that the salary amount they were paying him–of $20 million (though Brown disputes this, claiming that CTD has never given him a salary of any more than $5 million)–would be cut in the wake of his declining ratings, license fees, and advertising revenues.
Ratings for Judge Joe Brown were declining during its last several seasons on the air. In the 2013 February sweeps, the show was down 20% to a 2.4 live plus same day rating from a 3.0 last year according to Nielsen Media Research. Brown refused to do the show under the new terms. Rather, he shopped his program to other distributors. Station executives told Broadcasting & Cable they were less than happy to be learning about the dissension at the end of February 2013 when their options for replacing the show were limited.
CTD announced on March 26, 2013 that they would be cancelling the court show and cease distributing the series after its summer 2013 reruns. The final CTD-produced episodes were taped on March 14, 2013. Fox station owners (that had contracted to air the program) were reportedly not interested in a CTD-chosen replacement judge.
Brown later called out CTD for their treatment of him, claiming they had reneged on contract agreements, cheated him out of money, failed to give him sufficient advertising in favor of concentrating their advertisements in Judge Judy, and engaged in several other unjust, underhanded and unethical business practices.