"Most people did it to be on TV, embarrass the other party on a national audience, get their story out, or to not have to pay anything in real life," says Jack. That bit about not having to pay in real life is important -- we have more on that below. Then there are all of the people who manufactured cases specifically in the hopes of getting "discovered" by a TV court. "Some people would make up fake fights, go to court, and sue for a low amount, but act crazy and then get noticed in hopes of a free trip and a split of the money."
If you're thinking that it takes a special type of person to try to pull off a scam like that, you're right. "There were two sets of brothers arguing over renovation costs to an apartment. I think this was in Philadelphia. We were thinking of having them on, because 'Brother vs. brother in the city of brotherly love' is one hell of a commercial. But when we saw them briefly fight, the two of them obviously pulled their punches, because as we found out, they knew we were there ... They probably could have gotten away with it and earned a free trip, but one brother fought worse than William Shatner ..."
The Judge Has Total Power ... But Nobody Actually Has To Pay
So what transpires during the commercial break when the judge is formulating their verdict?
"The judge would consult with our lawyers working the law department and the producers," says Jack. "The judge would give their input on the case, the lawyers would show precedent and give info on how a normal courtroom would decide this, and the producer was there to say which side winning would be better for the show (although they didn't have much input)."
Sometimes, though, the judge could still go rogue, which is their right under the actual law, if not the law of reality TV. "And since it was legally binding, there were no second takes -- whatever they decided, they decided," says Jack.
"Judge Maria Lopez would do that. We had a good ending planned for the end of an episode, with a voiceover saying, 'Sometimes we have to wonder if tearing a family apart is worth a little money,' because it was believed she would rule in favor of this son over his father over some sort of money issue. She ruled in favor of the father without telling anyone, blindsiding legal. For the next five minutes, there were people up there going, 'DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS?' 'FUCK, GET [voiceover guy] ON THE PHONE,' 'GET [lawyer].' It also meant more work for us, because now we had to stay later and make a new ending."
OK, but when the judge does drop the hammer on some dickhead, they get nailed with the bill, right? Nope! The show pays the "winner" on behalf of the "loser." So that's the other way they get people to sign up: There's no risk, as long as you don't mind looking like an asshole on television. "No matter how angry the judge got, the loser never would pay. In fact, they always got a free trip to New York out of the deal -- both sides."
Some people even got an appearance fee if the producers wanted them badly enough, up to a few hundred dollars. A few minutes of being harassed by a snarky judge in exchange for a free trip to New York and maybe a modest payday? If we didn't know any better, we'd say that's the new American dream.
Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, journalist and interview finder guy at Cracked. Have an awesome job/experience you'd like to see? Hit us up on the forums today!
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