Working for 15 years as an associate director on Judge Judy has definitely influenced Karen Beck. Why else would she be willing to fess up to a gaffe she made decades ago as a booth PA that even her AD never managed to solve?
"It was the 1980s on The Newlywed Game," Beck confesses, "and there was a box behind [AD] India Van Voorhees, and I just started pressing buttons because they looked so cool when they lit up. A bit later I noticed India had the wrong shot in one of her ISO [isolation] channels. I told her, and she gratefully changed it. When it happened again, I told her again, and she said, .Something's wrong with my switcher: my ISO's keep changing.' That’s when I realized the box in front of me was 'hot.' By pressing the buttons I was actually switching all the ISO's."
Beck, who describes herself as the "queen of daytime TV," has been happily switching ISO’s ever since. She’s worked on other reality formats and game shows, but says Judge Judy is unique because there is no script.
"We've had a dog pee at the bench, and our Judge stop cases to give a buzzing fly 'his final day in court,'" Beck grins. "The biggest drama was when we had an earthquake in the middle of a case. We all took cover, quickly getting Judy out from under the [light grid]. When we resumed, Judy looked at the litigants and said that’s what happens when you try to fool Mother Nature."
Other highlights for Beck include the time Steven Spielberg came on the show to sue his sisters for a skit for his mother's birthday, and Ike Turner being sued by his back-up singers for non-payment. "The singers won."
Not that the legal reality show, which tapes three days every other week and enjoys an extended hiatus, isn't without its challenges. After taping, Beck must "build" each show from scratch on an AVID in her office. She prepares a creative cut to email to the off-line editor, deciding where to insert commercials, and how to trim 45-minute-long cases.
"Other than the cameras," she continues, "this isn’t 'television' in the traditional sense. There is no 'shooting to' time, and you don’t dare tell Judy to ‘wrap it up.'"