Byron Allen’s Allen Media Group signed Lake, a former Atlantan, and created a new judge show “We the People with Judge Lauren Lake.” But the Cutlers didn’t find a new producer until Atlanta-based Crazy Legs Productions signed them and brought them to Atlanta to tape 150 episodes over six weeks and 18 shooting days.
“Cutlers Court,” a variant of their original show that focuses on a broader array of subjects beyond infidelity, debuted on Sept. 11 in 80% of TV markets including 1 p.m. weekdays in Atlanta on WUPA-TV, which is continuing to air “Couples Court” repeats at 2 p.m.
“Cutlers Court” is the only judge show with a married couple on the dais. While they do don ceremonial judge robes, they are veteran attorneys based out of Kansas City and have never been judges. None of their decisions on the show are binding.
“Sometimes people come in strictly for advice,” Keith said on the last shooting day at Pop Studios in Atlanta last week during a lunch break. “Should they stay in a relationship or not? We give them our opinion. Sometimes, they follow it. Sometimes, they don’t.”
“We told a toxic couple not to stay together,” Dana said. “He proposed to her on the set. I had an incredulous look on my face when she said yes!”
Based on a sampling of four episodes, the show is not full of vitriol and yelling. The Cutlers keep the conversations flowing with Keith occasionally castigating a defendant or plaintiff for interrupting. They feel more like two kind therapists than stern judges.
The Cutlers use forensic phone searches, lie detector tests and paternity tests, standard evidentiary tools on TV judge shows. In one case, a woman was seeking a cat her ex had taken from her during the breakup that she said was a gift. (He even brought the black cat into the courtroom.) Another featured a paternity case where a DNA test was used to decide if a man was the father of a young child but minus the whooping and hollering of a “Maury” episode.
“We’ll hear cases like a mother-in-law hates me and is tearing our marriage apart. Or I have stepkids, the mom coddles them and won’t let me discipline them,” Dana said.
The episodes include part of the deliberations between Dana and Keith after the plaintiff and defendant leave the room. “Sometimes we’ll get opinions from the audience,” Keith said. The pews usually includes about 20 extras who provide background reactions to whatever is happening.
About half the 150 cases are from metro Atlanta, said Crazy Legs president Tom Cappello. Crazy Legs, which has been around since 2004, has had a lot of success with true crime shows like ID’s “Swamp Murders” and “Your Worst Nightmare” and has ventured into other reality show genres and even feature films. This is Crazy Legs’ first syndicated judge show, which Cappello found was a viable series to shoot in the middle of a writers and actors strike.
“This is the biggest order of episodes we’ve ever made,” Cappello said. “I love the efficiency! I love the energy!”
The Cutlers, he said, “are a dream. They are buttoned up professionals but also so compassionate. They don’t always agree with each other but they sort things out on the bench. I think the litigants walk away better off after their time with the Cutlers regardless of the outcome.”
Shooting each episode is fairly efficient and takes about an hour, including 33 to 35 minutes of actual shooting. Editors trim it down to about 18 minutes of actual “judging” time. The Cutlers don’t need a lot of “retakes.”
“Some people when they tell stories think they need to include every detail and fact,” Dana said. “We try to steer them to the meat of the matter.”
As for the robes, the Cutlers don’t mind the costume. “It’s comfortable,” Dana said. “It feels like a bathrobe.”
The Cutlers said they came into the judge show world in 2017 with no clue whether anyone would watch. “It was a new concept to have a husband-wife judge team,” Dana said. “We were glad people liked us.”
In fact, repeats of their original judge show still air on Atlanta-based Bounce TV at 10 a.m. weekdays and have appeared on OWN in the past. “I have imagined Oprah Winfrey watching our show and that’s crazy to me,” Dana said.
The couple has been together since college when Dana attended Spelman and Keith was an undergraduate at Morehouse four decades ago. They have been married since 1989.
“When we decided to start dating,” Dana said, “we were very cautious about it. We had been good friends and running buddies.” But once they committed, they committed. He proposed to her before senior year after she had a terrible day.
“I envisioned myself being like Beyoncé, perfectly coifed” on her engagement day, she said, though she then said that was long before Beyoncé was a thing. “Instead, I was a ratty hot mess!”
“I don’t remember it that way,” Keith said. “She was perfect!”
They said being on TV has not had any tangibly negative impact on their private law practice. “We do civil defense litigation,” Keith said. “We represent insurance companies and school districts.”
Dana: “I work with charter schools and the schools get a kick out of it.”
And several of their actual judge friends have flown in and watched them tape their shows. “They’re a little envious,” Dana said. “No rules or evidentiary procedures. We have freedom. We get to say stuff they can’t.”
IF YOU WATCH
“Cutlers Court,” available in Atlanta at noon on weekdays on WUPA-TV. Check your local listings in other cities.
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.