It’s hard not to watch the previews for the upcoming syndicated courtroom show Paternity Court, which is set to debut later this month, and not think that the show’s concept bares a strikingly familiarity to the wildly popular “Maury”.
Since its premiere over two decades ago, “Maury” has made an art form of paternity test result shows. Regular viewers have played witness to hundreds of episodes – probably thousands of hours – of disgruntled mothers debating with the man in question over whether or not the baby on the big screen has the “father’s” cheekbones or not. They have cheered on the new girlfriend – or in some cases, the mother of the man in question – who makes a rather loud and compelling case how that baby couldn’t possibly be relative as the months just don’t add up. At home viewers hoots and hollers, along side the studio audience as Maury himself, pulls out a piece of paper from a manila envelope and tells the man in question if he is – or is not – the father. If it the latter, the viewers are treated to an improvised dance routine of the “stanky leg,” performed by the recently exonerated “father” and a Oscar-worthy performance by the former disgruntled now embarrassed mom, who has run backstage and hurled herself dramatically across an awaiting couch.
It is this kind of trash-tacular spectacle, which has made “Maury” top of the game for a while now. Only until fairly recently has the show’s ratings slipped, pushing “Maury” into fifth among syndicated talk shows during February Sweeps. However the show still remains top among women 18-49 and because of its longevity, NBC Universal recently announced that it would be signing with “Maury” for another three years – bringing its total run to 25 years.
Lauren Lake, attorney, relationship expert and now television court room judge for “Paternity Court,” which is set to premiere on September 23rd in syndication, said that she looks forward to duplicating some of his success. And like her predecessor, Lake admits that the viewers can expect some of the same sort of, as she calls, “emotionally charged responses”- we have come to appreciate from Maury. However, Lakes makes it clear: “Paternity Court” will be a courtroom and not a circus:
“Our stories will be colorful to say the least. You find people from all types of backgrounds telling some amazing stories where you go – ‘oh that’s unbelievable that this young woman for twenty-something years has been looking for her father and her mother has given her 13 possible names – this is unbelievable’ However, what I find most interesting about our show is that it is about their stories but also about how they got here,” she said.
Long term fans of Maury may remember Lake as one of the resident relationship experts, hired to do on-air counseling for guests of the show. Although Lake never worked on Maury’s crowd-pleasing paternity test shows; her role was to do life coaching to the children-at-risk, who often graced his stage for his more family-centered show. Moreover, she has been a practicing attorney for 18 years, mostly handling entertainment, criminal and yes, family disputes, which at times included paternity and child custody cases. That background, she said, is what makes “Paternity Court” distinctive from the comparison.
In addition to DNA test results, Lake said that the show’s premise is about bringing these families together. The format for the show, which she calls a talk show hybrid with a courtroom setting, will help to add “a level of decorum,” which as judge, she said she will strongly require from the litigants. Although Lake is not a real judge, thus none of her decisions will be legally binding, she said that the litigants will walk away with information about their legal rights including custody and visitation rights. They will also walk away feeling empowered now that they have the truth, she said.
While she wouldn’t go fully on the record to say whether viewers should not expect the same sort of brash and warring behavior, which has long been synonymous with “Maury,” Lake says that each episode will give viewers a deeper insight to how people find themselves standing before her for help – many of which, she said, are at the threshold and have been frustrated, intimidated and otherwise can not afford more traditional legal means.
“They will be coming in with incredible circumstances. Circumstances that we could not imagine in our own mind could ever exist and what we are able to do is listen to them and not judge and exploit them as people. But truthfully breakdown how something so incredible could happen how could you get yourself wrapped in a cycle like this. To know that you can’t get out. And what you see on this show is people coming for help. This isn’t a show where people are coming for 15 minutes of fame. These are people coming and saying that I don’t know where else to go. Or I didn’t have money to hire a lawyer. I feel honored that people come because they trust me with their truth and their secrets,” she said.
Despite the success of Maury and its heavy paternity test result format, the show has been called the “Father of Black Trash TV” and has been condemned heavily for “exploiting domestic abuse for ratings.” And recently there has been vocal opposition to exploitative television in general – particularly those who are championing the cause to reserve the damaging stereotypical ways in which folks are represented like the recent boycott of violence on “Basketball Wives” and the petition to get “All My Baby Mamas” removed from Fall television lineup. It’s hard to tell if “Paternity Court” will be received for what Lake believes are it’s more positive attributes from viewers.
“I tell people that have those concerns about our show to just watch. I bring to the table years of experience working with families; working as a relationship expert and life coach; I take what I do in that courtroom as judge very seriously.”
Lake also said that she is not afraid to meet the litigants – of all races, ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds – right where they are.
“This is a courtroom where we are dealing with life changing issues emotionally charged results; real people and there are no small claims. I am here to tell you that I would never be part of a project that just capitalize off of people’s misery. I am here to empower people; to tell people that despite the worst mistake the most incredible obstacles even years and years and generations of dysfunction it is still possible to take the steps to begin again. And that step begins with the truth.”
Paternity Court will premiere in 92 percent of household – including in all top 50 television markets – on September 23rd. Check your local listings for time and channel or visit the website.