'Lauren Lake's Paternity Court,' shot in Atlanta, keeps growing in its third season

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed October 11, 2015

Three syndicated shows are shot in Atlanta: Steve Harvey's 'Family Feud," "Dish Nation" and the judge show "Lauren Lake's Paternity Court."

Lake, a former Atlantan who lived here full time in the late 1990s in the same neighborhood I resided at one time (Kirkwood), lives here a few months out of the year to shoot "Paternity Court" at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Midtown. Although she has to shoot several episodes a day, she works hard to maintain her focus for every case.

"Every case is a brand new family," Lake said, in her robe, minutes before she started a shoot in July. "The energy I give is often a catalyst for them. I want them to understand their story is important. For many of them, this is the first time they are really telling their story. They had been arguing back and forth in this dysfunctional state of denial, shame and animosity."

While most folks are just regular people, the season includes a few minor celebrities. For instance, earlier this month, a 50-year old man questioned whether late music legend Creadel Jones from the 70’s R&B group the Chi-Lites is his father, putting the legend’s royalties on the line. In September, Frankie Lons and Elite Noel, mother and sister of R&B singer Keyshia Cole, appeared, seeking to find out Elite's biological father.

Her show airs on the CW in Atlanta at 1 p.m. and ratings continue to grow nationally and locally as she runs through her third season. While most judge shows fail, this one appears to be a keeper.

Lake's blend of tough love and empathy makes her more like a counselor than a judge per se. "I'm a motivator," she said. "I can give you the truth. I can tell you this is your father and walk away. You'll still be arguing, fussing, fighting. We always say it's bigger than the aha moment of are you or are not. It's what are you going to do with that information?"

The show provides immediate post-show psychiatric counseling and offers resources for families to deal with the aftermath of the paternity tests.

She also airs several update shows each season and catches up with several of the past families to see how they're doing. Sometimes, it's good news. People have improved their lives and relations. They've found closure and created new connections. But not always. Sadly, some families disappear and can't be reached anymore. Some families come back for even more paternity tests.

Lake shoots about 115 episodes a year over four months. But she said being a TV judge is a full-time job and she has had to set aside real estate flipping and home design. Even when she's not shooting, she's planning and promoting it, doing frequent speaking engagements.

She is given a four-page summary of each case but she doesn't read it thoroughly. Rather, she uses it as a point of reference. "My executive producer is always in my ear if there's a point in the story they want me to address," she said. "My instinct is to research and read every single thing but [the executive producer David Armour] likes it better when I'm on a fact-finding mission on air... I have not made a pre-judgment and I don't know the results ahead of time."

The typical case lasts 25 to 30 minutes, trimmed down for broadcast's 21 to 22 minutes.

I watched one case go down in real time, an episode that aired November 18 but was taped over the summer at GPB. It was a tear jerker.

An Atlanta 30-year-old daughter, Miranda Miller, finally decided to figure out who was her father" Kenny White or Cedric Wright. What is bizarre is she had treated both as her father for 30 years but kept them separate.

Her mother wasn't sure who her dad was so Miller kept calling both of them dad into adulthood. "Neither man knew of the other one until two weeks ago," Miller said. "I felt selfish."

"You've been living a lie for 30 years!" Lake said.

"I've been living a double life," she said. She even stayed off social media so both sides wouldn't figure out the other existed.

White was shocked that she was calling another man her father as well, a man he had never seen before.

"You've always been my child," White said.

Wright was equally stunned. "I'm her father," Wright said. "That's my baby!"

"I'm scared of the truth," Miller said. But she felt at age 30, she needed to know.

"These people are your family," Lake said. "I understand how you feel. You were right. It's not your fault."

Wright said he feels he is the dad because his mother looks like Miller. Miller believes the same thing. And when they show the photo on the screen, there is a definite resemblance. But in another photo, it's clear she also has the same nose as White.

"I'm here to seek my truth," Miller said. "I will move forward and build a relationship with whoever it turns out to be."

"This is one of the most amazing cases we've ever seen in this courtroom," Lake said. "I'm overwhelmed!"

Miller's gut tells her that Wright is her dad.

But she's wrong. The DNA results show White is actually her father.

She begins crying and hugs White. "I'm sorry," she said.

Wright looks devastated.

"Thirty years," Wright said. "That's my baby. No matter, she's still my baby. She's still my daughter."

Miller keeps crying and hugs Wright, too.

'You came here because you needed the truth," Lake concluded. "That in no way changes your love for Mr. Wright, his family, the connection you have. This double life, this needed to end today. The big victory is you have  two men who love you. One is your biological father. But both are your dads."

This episode epitomizes why this show works. It wrings real emotion from real situations and Lake manages it all with a deft hand.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.