The old “People’s Court” turned real-life litigation into a TV game show. During 2,340 half-hours starting in 1981, defendants and plaintiffs pled their cases before Judge Wapner, who then sternly ruled on who had won.
After four years in adjournment, “The People’s Court” reconvened two weeks ago with former New York Mayor Ed Koch on the bench.
Much about this version is the same as the original, including the law governing them both: People love to be on TV.
But also in effect is a second principle of human nature: Everyone, not just the duly appointed judge, likes to hand down opinions.
Particularly when we gaze into the halls of justice, we all think we’re qualified to pass judgment. Thanks to Court TV, cameras in the courtroom, and gavel-to-gavel miniseries like the O.J. Simpson murder trial, we viewers have convinced ourselves we know more jurisprudence than Alan Dershowitz.
With that in mind, “People’s Court” now invites us to go online (www.peoplescourt.com), where we can render our own verdicts and second-guess Judge Koch’s. The show is “totally new and interactive,” its anchor, Carol Martin, likes to tell her audience.
“Let’s check on our live website poll,” says Martin, a former TV news anchor sitting at what looks like a - well, a TV news set. An up-to-the-moment tally appears on the screen.
Then she cuts to sidewalk reporter Harvey Levin, who consults passersby bunched before the camera on the newly dubbed People’s Corner (others know it as Manhattan’s Herald Square).
“Carol, a split decision down here on the street,” Levin declares. He turns to a member of the gaggle. “Let’s find out who should win and why.”
Before his day is over, Koch will also adjudicate, among others, disputes over fraternity sweatshirts and a band booked to play at a wedding reception.
But if the cases seem familiar, the style with which they are disposed of varies wildly from the old days. Wapner’s gruff, no-nonsense manner is as distant a memory as is erstwhile host Doug Llewelyn and court officer Rusty Burrell.
In contrast to Wapner, Koch is a model of affability, as go-down-easy as an egg cream.