Remember “Send Brown Downtown?” No, probably not. Most of you weren’t fixated on the lengthy ballot that confronted Shelby Countians in the steamy summer of 1990.
The Brown in question was Joe Brown, candidate for Shelby County Criminal Court and, after he won that race, just plain Judge Joe Brown later on.
In a way he gave up that title, in a way he didn’t. In 1998 he attracted the attention of CBS producers, having won some notoriety as a result of handling an ultimately futile 1997 appeal by James Earl Ray of his 1969 conviction (via guilty plea) for killing Dr. Martin Luther King.
The result was that in 1998 Judge Joe Brown, Shelby County Criminal Court, became Judge Joe Brown of the eponymous TV reality show, Judge Joe Brown, which was paired by CBS Television Distribution with Judge Judy, starring retired Manhattan Family Court Judge Judith Sheindlin, in a national syndication package.
Both shows involved binding-arbitration situations staged as plaintiff-and-defendant courtroom drama with both the competing participants and the TV judge encouraged to ham it up.
For two years, Brown handled both the television show, installments of which were recorded in Los Angeles, and his regular judicial position in Shelby County, to which he had been reelected in 1998, the same year his TV show began.
The wear and tear of so much commuting, along with the far greater financial compensation of the television show, eventually convinced Brown to resign his judicial position in 2000 and focus on his TV career.
Cutting to the chase, last month Brown recorded his final installment of the show, which was canceled by CBS, following the failure of Brown and the network to reach agreement on a financial package. CBS, citing lower ratings, wanted to cut Brown’s compensation, publicized by the network as $20 million annually, although Brown, complaining about “Hollywood trick economics, said he was actually only paid $5 million a year.
In any case, the CBS-syndicated version of Judge Joe Brown is no more (Judge Judy was, incidentally renewed), and Brown is casting about for other syndicators for his courtroom theatrics. He and various partners are also purportedly planning a radio program to be called Real Talks With Judge Joe Brown.
And hark! The Hollywood Reporter maintains in a new article that Brown “also is considering offers to get involved in politics, which could include a run for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee.”
Since Brown has, during the years of his TV judgeship, occasionally returned to Memphis to host fundraisers for various local Democratic candidates, it is to be presumed that his party label as a Senate candidate would also be Democratic. Which means that if he availed himself of his first opportunity at a U.S. Senate seat, challenger Brown could find himself trying to put Republican incumbent Senator Lamar Alexander in the dock of public opinion in 2014.
Alexander should be forewarned: Though journalists who covered Brown as a Criminal Court judge were often impressed with his habit of dramatizing his opinions, they also saw him as being relatively mild-mannered with the contending parties in his courtroom.
But not so the Joe Brown of that Hollywood studio courtroom, who perfected the art of being stern, hard-edged, and sometimes even abusive with those upon whom his adverse judgments fell.
But stay tuned. Maybe there won’t be an Alexander-Brown showdown. Surely it’s as practical to be a faux legislator as a make-believe judge. Is it possible that, sometime down the line, maybe in 2014, we could find ourselves watching a new “reality” show entitled Senator Joe Brown?