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Interview with Judge Mathis

judge-mathisGreg Mathis, host of his long-running judge show “Judge Mathis,” stopped by Atlanta earlier this month and I grabbed coffee with him at the Mansion hotel in Buckhead.

Mathis, 49, is affable in person but clearly does not embrace slackers. (He firmly castigates an associate for waking up late and not meeting me and him for the interview on time.)

He expressed concern that in Atlanta, his ratings were down because he had switched affiliates. Actually, he hadn’t switched affiliates. The CW affiliate, which has aired him since he debuted in 1999 when it was a UPN affiliate, changed his air times from 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., when viewership is generally lower. While he doesn’t pull in huge numbers, he has some of the strongest numbers of all shows on the CW during the day.

“All this week people thought I was cancelled,” he said, citing at least a dozen people he’s run across over two days.

When told his lead-in in the afternoon is “Street Court,” where court cases are held literally on the street, he scoffed. “It discredits the genre,” he said. “There’s no reality to what they’re doing.”

Mathis was in Atlanta to be a guest on Mo’Nique’s talk show to discuss his campaign to help prisoners. He was in prison himself as a young man in 1978 (gun and marijuana possesssion) and likes to help out those who were in his shoes. He went to college but he said recidivism is still high: 67 percent return to prison within three years. He lectures prisoners, using himself and others as examples to give them “road maps to success.”

Mathis said he himself was inspired by a jail visit by Rev. Jesse Jackson. He eventually worked with Jackson and is now the chairman of Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition board. “He convinced me to succeed,” Mathis said.

He eventually became a district judge in Michigan before joining the TV judge world.

Mathis tapes two days a week seven months a year, 24 cases per week. (His hour-long show typically features four cases.) Over ten years, he’s taped more than 1,500 shows.

Stories haven’t changed much over the years. He said most involve family and friends borrowing money and not paying up. Like a small claims court, the maximum dollar amount is $5,000 and the show pays the winnings. Mathis never lends money to friends and family. He only gives money away but they need to explain why. He will then attach a lecture to the cash. “It’s almost shameful,” he said. “They know my reputation.”

He uses his judge show to “inspire people to overcome their obstacles. Often the litigant is leading a destructive or non-productive lifestyle. I’m able to give him or her a little guidance and direction, a little tough love and inspiration.” An example was a 17 year old who had been convicted 19 times as a juvenile. He challenged the boy’s macho attitude and told him to channel his energies properly. A year later, he was in community college and working full time. Some, of course, do end up in jail. he said. He can’t reach everybody with a single TV show.

He’s had a couple of celebrities (or pseudo celebrities) on his show, including Frankie, Keyshia Cole’s mom, who hadn’t paid a promoter. (She won the case.). And he had former heavyweight champ Leon Spinks on once.

How long will he keep going with “Judge Mathis”? “People get tired of every show at some point. That point,” he said, “I’ll leave.” He said ratings were down a bit this year but he still gets about 1.5 to two million viewers a week in aggregate. He has a syndicated deal through 2011-12.

If or when he leaves, he said he may pursue public office so he can impact national policy.

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11 comments Add your comment

Sid

December 29th, 2009
9:10 am

Judge Mathis had my single favorite moment in Dumb Courtroom Show History. Some guy was living with dudes he met on the Internet. He borrowed his hosts’ car, took it out and totaled it. As he was being driven away in an ambulance with his skull cracked open, he made sure to tell the EMTs to get his laptop out of the car because it was a really old one and it’s hard to find parts for it and blah blah blah and Judge Mathis just looks at the guy.

“Let me get this straight. You’re laying there on the pavement with your head cracked open, and your first concern is DON’T FORGET MY INTERNET!?” I still laugh at that.

Ms.Simon

December 29th, 2009
9:53 am

They need to change the viewing time back to 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Judge Mathis is one of my favorite judge shows. However, I can no longer watch it now, because I can’t catch it at its new time at 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Shananeeeee Fananeeeee

December 29th, 2009
11:39 am

Do you ever watch the show COPS Mathis? Its a hoot watching all those criminals get busted.

Michael

December 29th, 2009
2:58 pm

I used to like his show a lot more (still like it somewhat) but he has started to think that he is a comedian. I like a humorous show but he needs to put the court part first and the humor second. Sometimes he misses what people are trying to say while he tries to get a joke in.

Dre

December 30th, 2009
7:49 am

Man, I love the Judge Mathis Show. He and Judge Judy are my two favorite reality shows. I hate that they changed the time from 5 PM and 10 PM. What’s wrong with the program directors? Now Good Times is on at 5 PM? Really? Are they getting better ratings with a show from the 70’s verses Judge Mathis? When I see Good Times is on, I watch something else. When I see Judge Mathis, I want to see who he has on today. Great show, but wrong time.

shannon

December 30th, 2009
12:00 pm

I too thought Judge Mathis had been canceled. Thanks for the update on his where abouts. And, yest – they should change hm back to his old time slot.

Giovanni

December 31st, 2009
3:13 pm

Sorry to say it Judge Mathis, but Street Court is a far superior show. It is real, with real litigants and on location. I love seeing what the issue is first hand instead of hearing litigants blab about it. Your show is old and stale.

kelvin

December 31st, 2009
4:43 pm

Never been a fan.. He uses his “prison” or “runs in with the law” to glamourize his career…..I’m so tired of Blacks playing the “street card” to build a rags to riches type story. He was in prison or jail for guns and marijuana? There is a huge differnce then being a reformed gangster vs. being caught as a kid with a joint and a pistol.

kelvin

December 31st, 2009
4:44 pm

Never been a fan.. He uses his “prison” or “runs in with the law” to glamorize his career…..I’m so tired of Blacks playing the “street card” to build a rags to riches type story. He was in prison or jail for guns and marijuana? There is a huge difference then being a reformed gangster vs. being caught as a kid with a joint and a pistol

Cody Jarrett

December 31st, 2009
5:05 pm

Street Court is a much better show. Mathis was always my favorite but the abundance of these “in-court” shows has become a bore. Mathis says that Street Court discredits the genre that there’s no reality to what they’re doing. Hell, Street Court IS reality. Judge Mazz is obviously a hands-on guy. He cuts his own grass, knows how fix a furnace, a roof or a car from real experience making it hard to get over on him. He’s streetwise and on-point. That’s reality. I’d like to see Mathis climb a ladder, look at a roofing job and be able to determine based on first-hand roofing experience what was done wrong. The current judge shows will go the way of the dodo bird. Street Court IS the new genre. Seems he’s worried or he wouldn’t take a pot-shot at it.

Linda

January 1st, 2010
11:24 am

Cody, you are so on the money. Street Court is the Court Show of the furture. Judge Mazz is handsome and knows his stuff. Justice making house calls, its perfect. Mathis is boring and the same old stuff. What is a huckalero? Judge Mazz rocks.