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How a 1993 Los Angeles Times profile launched Judge Judy's TV career

  • After taping her final episode of her long-running syndicated court show in April, Judy Sheindlin thanked her staff. “Let me start by thanking the two people who actually started my journey,” she told her staff. “Josh Getlin and Heidi Evans.” Josh Getlin is a Los Angeles Times reporter, who in 1992 was based in New York when his wife, New York Daily News reporter Heidi Evans, suggested he write a profile of Sheindlin. "Intrigued, I called Sheindlin to ask if I might write a profile about her," Getlin writes in a story published Tuesday. "She agreed. It helped that she was the only Family Court judge who allowed the press into her courtroom. When I asked if there were any rules to follow, I got my first dose of what later would become familiar to millions: 'No chewing gum,' she snapped. 'And leave your gun at home.' I watched Sheindlin in action for three weeks, handling 50 to 60 cases a day. She popped eight Tylenols each morning to prepare for an onslaught of juveniles who had been charged with violent crimes, custody disputes and child abuse cases. She smoked and worked out like a fiend to ward off the stress. There were no relaxing moments, not even during lunches we shared in her chambers. One day, Sheindlin — who’d ordered her usual sushi — watched, appalled, as my giant burrito began spurting sour cream and guacamole after I bit into it. 'And you wonder why you get heartburn,' she said. 'Men!' After finishing the article, I needed a vacation. But a larger story was just beginning — a Great Chain of Serendipity that would change her life and mine. The profile ran on Valentine’s Day 1993, and I got an early morning call from the judge. She loved the piece, saying it was honest and fair. I learned later that she’d found a Manhattan newsstand that sold the Sunday Los Angeles Times and snapped up all the copies." Getlin recalls hours later receiving a call from a 60 Minutes associate producer asking to be put in touch with Sheindlin, which resulted in a Morley Safer profile of her. The 60 Minutes segment led to a book Sheindlin co-wrote with Getlin, titled Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining: America's Toughest Family Court Judge Speaks Out. "But the biggest surprise was still around the corner," says Getlin. "In 1993, Judge Joseph Wapner ended his 12-year run on the syndicated courtroom show The People’s Court. Two of its producers told Judy, who was looking to leave Family Court, that she could star in her own show. Larry Lyttle, head of Big Ticket Television, shot a marketing reel and the rest is history: Three years later, Judge Judy was the highest-rated show in daytime TV."

    TOPICS: Judge Judy, 60 Minutes, Judy Sheindlin, Los Angeles Times