Originally posted Wednesday, September 19, 2018 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Over 60 years, some form of “Divorce Court” has floated around TV. The latest incarnation featuring former municipal court judge Lynn Toler debuted in 2006 but for the first time, the show is shooting in Atlanta at Tyler Perry Studios.
The daytime judge show moved from Los Angeles to take advantage of Georgia’s generous tax credits. Two other judge shows - “Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court” and “Couples Court With the Cutlers” - already shoot at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Midtown for the same reason.
Andy Hirsch, the senior booking producer for “Divorce Court,” said the 20th season is still seeking new couples in metro Atlanta through early November. You can email him at Andy@divorcecourt.com if you think the show might help you out. He also has a number you can call: 424-208-4261.
Toler, who lives in Phoenix most of the year, has taped more than 2,000 episodes and it shows. She is extraordinarily efficient.
During one taping last month featuring a couple that clearly had no future, she asked the producers to re-take her intro because she mispronounced the boyfriend’s name. Otherwise, she taped the rest of the episode without pause, save for a few seconds between commercial breaks. A 30-minute episode took less than 25 minutes to tape.
Toler, in an interview during a lunch break, said she typically does 10 episodes a day and sets aside a mere 16 shooting days a year over six trips for an entire season.
I caught up with her early in production over the summer so they hadn’t quite reached that level of productivity.
In L.A., “I had a crew that had been there 15 years. It was like we knew how to expedite,” Toler said. “I would have seven, eight minutes between shows. Here, we’re just trying to get everything in place. Everything is new.”
Indeed, the revamped set at Tyler Perry Studios is sleek and modern and no longer looks like a traditional courtroom. That’s the template most judge shows have used going back to Judge Joseph Wapner and the early “People’s Court.” Toler has also dispensed with the judge’s robe. “I’m happy to wear a slim-fitted suit,” she said.
She also had to bring in a new bailiff, Nick Barrotta, a 27-year-old New York native. “She’s a vet,” Barrotta said during a break. “She means business. She’s crisp. She genuinely cares and hears each side of the story.” He gets to talk to the guests after it’s over, using his broadcast journalism background.
During this particular episode, a couple that had been together four years was clearly in trouble. He said she was always hiding stuff from him. “While we’re in bed, she puts her phone to her face so I can’t see who she’s texting.”
The girlfriend felt stifled. “I can’t talk to any male figure without him going on a crazy rampage.” She said if she does tell him the truth, he assumes the worst, which gives her less reason to tell him anything. He also required her to call him if she left the house for any reason.
Toler had no problem honing in on the problem: the boyfriend is an insecure control freak. His rationale: “She asked me to control her!”
The audience groaned.
When she asked each of them to provide positive traits of the other, he said he likes her hair and how she does anything he asks her to do. “She’ll eat anything, she’ll make anything I want,” he said.
Toler was not impressed. In summary, “she’s obedient and her hair is pretty,” she said stonily.
Later, she offers her judicial wisdom: “Someone who believes the relationship revolves around him and only around him is a dangerous, unhealthy thing. It never gets better. It only gets worse... The more you do to try to satisfy him, the more he’ll ask of you. You’re his designated whipping boy.”
Controlling people, she added, “chip away at you inch by inch until you’re almost not there anymore. Then they get angry that you’re not there because they tore you up.”
After the taping, Toler said people go on her show because “they want my take on their relationship. They think I give good advice.”
She isn’t sure how many of the relationships survive but she figures most stick it out, “even if I told them to run. Hopefully I’ve said something within the context of the conversation that allowed them to stay together.”
“It amazes me,” she added, “how many people fight so hard to secure a relationship that ain’t good.”
Toler has been married since 1989 to the same man, Eric Mumford, and said the show has in a way helped her own relationship. “I see all these women who are always unhappy. You have to address issues and communicate. You can’t bottle up all these resentments.”
She has learned to keep arguments with her hubby brief and to the point. Express your point succinctly and how you feel, then work things out, she said. Plus: keep it to the topic at hand, not harp on your spouse’s past mistakes or character flaws.
She is amazed how attached younger folks now are to their devices. “We have a relationship based on two people in a room,” she said. She can see how easy it is to step out on a relationship now with Facebook and social media. “I’m mad at my husband but my ex just old me how pretty I am today,” she said sarcastically.
“Divorce Court,” (check your local listings in terms of when it’s on). In Atlanta, it’s seen on Peachtree TV at 3 p.m. weekdays. Toler is also on WE-TV’s “Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars,” which airs on Friday evenings.
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