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Video: Jennifer L. Pozner on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” - how many gavels would it take to knock me unconscious?

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

June 21st, 2007

So, as mentioned the other day, I was supposed to appear on “Scarborough Country” to discuss issues related to women and the media — in particular, CBS auditioning ten men to potentially replace Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right” while excluding women from the potential candidate pool – the other night. Since I was going to be there anyway, I agreed to do what was supposed to be an additional, three minute segment on whether or not it’s a good idea for the Anna Nicole Smith judge to get his own TV judge show. (See here for an explanation for the back story about my hesitance to do the “Judge Larry” segment in the first place, why I agreed to do it, and for some basic media crit about what it means that this judge would be getting his own show.)

As it turned out “Scarborough Country” guest host Dan Abrams go so into the Judge Larry wankery that we ended up talking about it for 13 minutes… meaning that the women and media segment (the one I showed up to do) never ended up happening.

View the video for the full “Scarborough Country” segment – in which I debated Alex Ferrer (host of the syndicated show “Judge Alex“) and Variety media reporter Mike Learmonth — via MSNBC’s website.

While the segment was far from hard-hitting or important to the public debate, I was glad to have at least been able to contextualize the judge show in the context of media companies pandering for ratings and helping to make a mockery of the judiciary for the American viewing public (if you’re watching online, I’m first able to jump into the segment about five and half minutes in). The most satisfying moment for me came after Abrams, Ferrar and Learmonth all spoke about how Seidlin is an example of style over substance but that he should get his own judge show anyway because style syndicates well and nets high ratings. I asked, “You know, wouldn’t it be really great if we actually had a judge show, even one out of those many, many shows that do so well in the ratings—wouldn’t it be great if there was a legal show one focused on cases that were actually relevant to the American public? If we’re talking about style over substance, wouldn’t it be nice if among the many, ten, shows out there for legal cases, there could be one about what’s going up in front of the Supreme Court this week?”

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering about the gavel reference in the headline… about twelve minutes in, I actually had to rate the judge on a “one-to-ten gavels scale” for “style, substance and survivability.” Just the sort of fluff I wanted to devote news attention to while people are dying in Iraq, women are suffering in Afghanistan, refugees are fleeing genocide in Darfur… How many gavels would it take to knock all the news judgment out of my head?

View the video here. The full transcript is available below. (It’s long, so I’ve bolded the portions of the discussion in which I was involved.)

MSNBC TRANSCRIPT: note, I’ve corrected a couple of typographical errors in the transcript below. Also, where dialog is not transcribed and just noted as “Cross talk” in the official transcript, I’ve added the original dialog from the video.

‘Scarborough Country’ for June 19
Guests: Alex Ferrer, Jennifer Pozner, Mike Learmonth, Bill Gavin, Barry McCaffrey, Paul Rieckhoff, Charles Figley, Chuck Nice, Kim Serafin, Prince Harry, Prince William

[lead segment]
DAN ABRAMS, GUEST HOST: You got to love Judge Larry. In fact, we found him so entertaining that he‘s tonight‘s top talker. Crazy Judge Larry from the Anna Nicole case ditching the bench, where you only end up on TV during a big case, for what may be the constant TV coverage of a court show. The Florida laughingstock, who had nicknames for the lawyers and cried when he ruled where Anna Nicole Smith should be buried, says it‘s time for him to pursue other opportunities.

Larry Seidlin wrote to the Florida governor, quote, “While those opportunities are varied, they all share in common a further commitment to helping my fellow citizens through roles in the educational system, the media and non-profit organizations.”

Helping his fellow citizens by talking tough to the downtrodden on TV maybe? No, no, no. That‘s not what happened. “Broadcasting and Cable” is reporting tonight that the weepy judge is going to host a TV court show on CBS beginning in 2008. They reported that even before the Anna Nicole case — this is according to TMZ—he was making tapes of himself. And of course, in the courtroom, he was making a fool of himself.


JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: Let‘s—I‘m going to have everyone sit for a minute. Have a seat. I want to move on. You can all be seated. Have a seat. I appreciate it, Texas. Have a seat. Have a seat. Have a seat. You guys can have a seat. You can all be seated. I ask you to sit now, Texas. I‘m moving on. You can have a seat. You‘re getting hungry for lunch. I‘m going to let you take a break, sir. You have a seat. I want everybody to have a seat. Let me ask you to have a seat. I‘m going to stay seated. You can stand up, if you want. I agree.


ABRAMS: All right. So my take, this guy‘s obviously a joke in the legal community, which could mean that he‘d make a great TV judge. So the question. In the three crucial categories of style, substance and survivability, my ratings for Judge Larry. I give him an eight for style. He‘s funny, engaging, unpredictable and unforgettable. Substance, he gets a one. He really comes across as something of an idiot. Survivability, also an eight because, you know, many times these judge shows are about style over substance.

I‘m joined now by someone who knows very well about these programs, Judge Alex Ferrer, host of the syndicated courtroom TV show “Judge Alex.” He‘s also been a Florida circuit court judge, and he knows Judge Larry personally. Jennifer Pozner is director of Women in Media and News. And Michael Learmonth is the media reporter for “Variety.”

All right. Thanks a lot for all of you coming on the program. Judge, I got to start with you, all right? You know—you know this guy, and he‘s now going to get his own syndicated show. Was he trying out the whole time during the Anna Nicole case?

ALEX FERRER, “JUDGE ALEX”: You know, I‘ve heard that. I don‘t think so. I mean, I know Larry, but I don‘t know him well enough to say that he couldn‘t be auditioning during that case, but most of the lawyers who I‘ve spoken to who have appeared before him basically say the same thing. He‘s just, you know, not the same as most judges. He‘s a little bit out there. But he‘s a really nice guy. And he is a really nice guy. I couldn‘t say that he was auditioning, but it certainly may have been on his mind.

ABRAMS: Do you think that he is going to serve as an embarrassment to judges on judge shows around this country?


FERRER: You know, I don‘t think he‘ll be an embarrassment. I mean, look, you know, I do take a little offense to your comment that it‘s always style over substance on those court shows. I personally seem to do very well on the TV court show circuit, but I also did very well on the bunch. However, you know what? When it comes to what people will tune in to watch, he may do fantastic. You never know. People may tune in and love him because of the entertainment value of the show. Or he could end up very quickly getting replaced by somebody else. You know, the longevity of these shows is a guess for anybody. So you know, you can only wait and see.

ABRAMS: All right. Before I—before I go to the other guests for a minute, let‘s take a little bit more a look at Judge Larry. Here he‘s trying to play it tough.


SEIDLIN: California, listen to me. California, remember that song, “California Dreamin‘”?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I always consider myself a New Yorker, so…

SEIDLIN: All right. I want—I want peace on earth here. No, I don‘t want you to cloud (ph) me up.


SEIDLIN: No, I‘m serious. Don‘t—you want to prevail with your positions, you‘re going to have to—I‘m the ruler, you‘re going to have to be following my instructions. Don‘t let my smile know the inside is tough. Don‘t test me anymore. Don‘t test me.


SEIDLIN: I‘ve been tested by the best. So don‘t test me.


SEIDLIN: All right. So don‘t test me.


SEIDLIN: Yes. I can fight a ten-round fight.


ABRAMS: All right. Mike Learmonth, I mean, look, this guy—put aside substance for a minute. He should be a TV court judge, right?

MIKE LEARMONTH, “VARIETY”: Well, I mean, there are—by my count, there are nine court judges on television right now. So I mean, why not? I mean, this is one of the only genres working in syndication, so it seems no reason why he shouldn‘t just join the crowd.

ABRAMS: Let‘s talk about the ratings for a minute. “Judge Judy” down by 2 percent. “The People‘s Court” down 7 percent. Judge Mathis (ph), 2.3 percent. “Christina‘s (ph) Court” up 1.4 — can we put this up — 1.4 percent. Judge Maria Lopez (ph) up .9 of 1 percent. We apparently don‘t have that.

All right. Jennifer Pozner, I mean, is this guy going to make it?

JENNIFER POZNER, WOMEN IN MEDIA AND NEWS: You know, I think that—we’ve been talking about style over substance. I think that he loses on both counts. CBS, I think, offered him—I seem to remember CBS offered him a potential slot for a judge show, and I they should take a lesson from Paris Hilton: Just because you‘re famous doesn‘t mean you‘re good at anything. And if he gets a show, it‘ll just be basically another example of media companies pandering for ratings and rewarding somebody who grandstanded so much in that case that…

ABRAMS: But you said—let me ask you about…


ABRAMS: You said pandering for ratings, OK?


ABRAMS: What else is one of these TV court shows? I mean, they are entertainment shows.

POZNER: We’ll we’re agreed there, definitely.

ABRAMS: They‘re entertainment shows, right?

POZNER: Yes. No, I agree that they…

FERRER: No, I disagree with you, Dan.

POZNER: I agree that they‘re entertainment shows, but what I‘m saying is that this guy grandstanded and showboated so much for the cameras during an actual legal case that the body in question—they—bloggers were on a decomposition watch, he dragged it on for so long. It‘s—it‘s basically—this is a guy who was a—made a mockery of the bench. And if they give him his own show, this will be yet another person representing the judiciary to the American viewing public? I think it‘s pandering.

ABRAMS: All right. Judge, you were offended by my comment?

FERRER: No, no. I wasn‘t offended. I just disagree with you to a certain—in a certain respect. I think people watch judge shows for different reasons. And there are some people who gravitate to the judges who really stick by the law and run a tight courtroom. I try to do that. There are judges (SIC) who will tune to watch somebody because they feel that they‘re just out there and different. And yes, it is entertainment, but it‘s entertainment mixed with the law. And generally, people walk away from watching my court show with a lesson about the law, as well as, hopefully, being entertained.

Will people tune in and watch him? I think people will tune in to watch him just to see what he‘s like because they remember what he was like in Anna Nicole. It‘s a question of whether they‘ll stick with him after they‘ve tuned in initially…

ABRAMS: But is there anything…

FERRER: … and that remains to be seen.

ABRAMS: Is there anything to the fact that he‘s such a joke that he does a disservice—now put yourself back in your old role as a judge and as a lawyer and someone who cares about the legal community. Is there any concern that a guy who‘s such a joke gets his own show and becomes a representation to everyone of what lawyers and judges are like in this country?

FERRER: Well, I‘ll tell you this. The majority of the lawyers who I‘ve spoken to who have appeared in front of him like him because they say he‘s—he‘s a real human being and he talks to them like a real person, and they can—and they‘re not browbeaten. There are a lot of judges out there who maintain that image of the judge that we all, you know, like to see, but they abuse the lawyers in front of them. They abuse the witnesses in front of them. They abuse the jurors. And they treat everybody like a second class citizen. And a lot of the attorneys really like the fact that he doesn‘t do that.

Is he my style? No, he‘s not my style at all. But I—you know, I certainly wouldn‘t blame him for that.

ABRAMS: All right. Here‘s another piece of sound—I‘ve got my gavel here—another piece of sound from Judge Larry in the courtroom.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let the record reflect she‘s pointing to my table. That is inflammatory. It‘s prejudicial. And I want her censored.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what? In addressing the court in Florida (INAUDIBLE) to the court.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your Honor, I have given great deference over three days.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where I come from, we are respected.

SEIDLIN: I‘m going to allow you—I‘m going to allow you to ask your question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And may I please request that you ask her to stay in her seat?


ABRAMS: All right. That wasn‘t much about the judge there, but certainly some interesting drama from the Anna Nicole case.

All right, Mike, so What do you think that—if you were—you know, look, you study the media a lot. If you were giving someone advice on what to look for in one of these may judges, what would you say they need?

LEARMONTH: Well, I think—I mean, a wide variety of them work on television. I mean, just to put this in perspective, I mean, “Judge Judy,” the most successful judge show out there, she gets better numbers than Katie Couric. I mean, tons of people watch these shows. And I think there‘s—you know, it‘s pretty much the only type of show that works in syndication. And you know, there‘s—you know, there‘s six of them here who get pretty good numbers. So I mean, I think there‘s a wide variety of personalities that work.

ABRAMS: Here‘s…

POZNER: You know, wouldn’t that be really great if we actually had a judge show, even one out of those many, many shows that do so well in the ratings—wouldn‘t it be great if there was a legal show that focused on cases that were actually relevant to the American public?…

ABRAMS: Oh, I know, but come on. Look, I know, but it‘s so preachy. These are—these are—these are done by…

POZNER: No, I‘m not…

ABRAMS: … the entertainment department.

POZNER: Right. I know they‘re…

ABRAMS: I mean, I know it would be nice.

POZNER: … done by entertainment…

ABRAMS: It would be nice. It would be great.

POZNER: I‘m actually agreeing with your point earlier about…

ABRAMS: Yes, I know. I know.

POZNER: … the style over substance…

ABRAMS: I know.

POZNER: What I‘m saying is if we‘re talking about style over substance, wouldn‘t it be nice…

ABRAMS: It would be nice.

POZNER: … if among the many ten (ph) shows out there for legal cases, there could be one…


POZNER: … about what‘s going up in front of the Supreme Court this week?

ABRAMS: Yes, it would be nice if there—look, I love the Supreme Court. I‘ve studied the Supreme Court. I would love it. But the bottom line is…

POZNER: We’re agreed, then.

ABRAMS: … if there could be one show that didn‘t care at all how it in the ratings and simply became a judge show that no one watches. I mean…

POZNER: Well, yes, you know, but it could be promoted. It could be…

ABRAMS: It could be. It wouldn‘t—I…

POZNER: … cross-promoted…

ABRAMS: I promise you. Michael…

FERRER: Seven people would watch.

ABRAMS: Michael, you back me up on this. There is no chance a show with a judge about the Supreme Court in daytime television would ever work.

LEARMONTH: Yes, that‘s pretty much a non-starter. I mean, you know, they‘ll do that on your show, Dan. I mean…


LEARMONTH: … that‘s news. That‘s not entertainment.

ABRAMS: Right. This is what they want to see. They want to see Judge Larry crying.


SEIDLIN: Richard Milstein, Esquire, as the guardian ad litem for Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern, is awarded custody of the remains of Anna Nicole Smith. Oh! I want her buried with her son in the Bahamas. I want them to be together. Oh!


ABRAMS: Oh, God! All right. So let‘s go—let‘s go through the guests and give him—I gave him an eight for style, a one on substance, an eight on survivability. Judge Alex, what do you make of him?

FERRER: I‘d say on style, I‘d have to give him 8 to 10, somewhere in that range, because he does have his own style. No question about it, he‘s unique.

ABRAMS: Substance?

FERRER: You know, I can‘t rate him on substance. I‘ll tell you why.

I think it‘s unfair to rate him—I never appeared in front of him, and I think it‘s unfair to rate him based on one case, especially the Anna Nicole case, of all. So I couldn‘t—I couldn‘t really give you (INAUDIBLE)

ABRAMS: Survivability?

FERRER: And that one, the jury‘s out, too. I‘d say probably middle of the road because 9 out of 10 new shows fail in the first year. It‘s very difficult to make it. Whether people stick around and watch him after year one or after the first week or not, the jury‘s out on that.

ABRAMS: All right. Jennifer, your ratings?

POZNER: Well, I think that in terms of style, I‘d give him maybe a 1 or 2. He has his own style. I don‘t like it, but he has it. For substance, I give him a zero, and I think it‘s totally fair to do that because this is the reason why he would have this case is that—Anna Nicole‘s case.

ABRAMS: Right.

POZNER: And survivability, I would say 3 or 4 because they‘ll cross-promote the heck out of that show, if they do decide to run it. But I think that it would—if it survives at all, it‘ll be based on cross-promotion and marketing, not on substance.

ABRAMS: Mike, what do you make of it?

LEARMONTH: Well, style—I mean, I‘ll give him pretty low marks because, I mean, he has his own style, but I think it‘s an incredibly annoying style.


POZNER: Agreed!

LEARMONTH: Substance, I mean, I‘ll give him a couple gavels because, you know, I mean, I think he made the right decision on Anna Nicole‘s body, in the end. And survivability—I mean, you know, the TV networks are starved for content, so, I mean, that might give him a few years.

ABRAMS: Judge Alex, as I say good-bye, is there a trick to the gavel that I‘ve got here in my—is there some style issue if I want to—you know?

FERRER: I think the bottom line is, ultimately, you have to be yourself as a judge on television, and it either works or it doesn‘t work. If you try to pretend to be someone else, I think it comes off as phony.

And other judges have tried that, and it just doesn‘t work.

ABRAMS: Same thing with hosting a television talk show. Judge Alex Ferrer, Jennifer Pozner and Mike Learmonth, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

POZNER: Thank you.

FERRER: Thank you, Dan.

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