Good, “Bad” and Hilarious: TV's Best Fictional Judges

All rise as Kate Walsh takes her place at the bench in television's courtroom.

The "Grey's Anatomy" alum is the latest to don the flowing robes of a judge in her role as unorthodox jurist Rebecca Wright in "Bad Judge," premiering Thursday October 2 on NBC.

Walsh joins a small screen legal landscape awash in honorable characters thanks to court shows (Judges Judy, Joe Brown, Mathis, Pirro), reality series (talent judges Simon Cowell, Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy) and crime procedurals such as "Law & Order" (actors Judith Light, Swoosie Kurtz, Carey Lowell, Sam Grey, Victor Truro and Marlo Thomas have all portrayed judges on one or more of the "L&O" franchises).

A rarer occurrence is the sitcom fictional judge. So in honor of "Bad Judge's" debut, here's a case by case look at five TV judges striving for order, and laughs.


Case file: Set predominantly during the late-night shift of a Manhattan criminal court, the sitcom followed the travails of unorthodox Judge Harold T. "Harry" Stone and the circle of legal, criminal and everyday inhabitants involved in the cases that landed on his desk.

Presiding judge: Occasional "Saturday Night Live" player Harry Anderson portrayed Stone: a compassionate jurist whose parents were former mental patients, and who also happened to be an amateur magician. Though young, Stone was a fan of the fashions and music of the 1940s.

The verdict: Laughter ensued from 1984 to 1992 on NBC as audiences returned each week for new judgments from Stone, and to check-in with public defender Christine Sullivan (Markie Post), prosecutor Daniel R. "Dan" Fielding (John Larroquette) and bailiffs Nostradamus "Bull" Shannon (Richard Moll), Selma Hacker (Selma Diamond) and Roz Russell (Marsha Warfield).

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Case file: Wild child Rebecca Wright knows how to party, but she also happens to be one of Los Angeles' toughest and most respected county circuit court judges. She's a loose cannon in the courtroom prone to saying exactly what's on her mind and devising creative rulings tailored to the peculiarities of her cases.

Presiding judge: Kate Walsh ("Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice") plays Wright as a tough-as-nails judge whose life outside the courtroom is anything but orderly.

The verdict: The viewing jury gets their first chance to sit in judgment when "Bad Judge" premieres on Thursday, October 2 on NBC. Walsh arrives at the sitcom with an established fan base thanks to her stints on "Grey's" and "Practice," and in the movie "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."


Case files: At one time or another every member of the Simpson clan has been hauled before a Springfield judge. Even Marge once faced a shoplifting charge. And the two characters regularly sitting in judgment are Constance Harm and Roy Snyder.


Presiding judges: Both irregular characters in the Simpsons' oeuvre, Judge Constance Harm and Judge Roy Snyder have polar opposite judging styles. Voiced by Jane Kaczmarek ("Malcolm in the Middle"), Harm is sadistic, unforgiving and quick to hand down harsh sentences — especially when it comes to Bart. Snyder (voiced by Harry Shearer) easily forgives, is easily bribed by Mr. Burns, and easily annoyed by the antics of lawyer Lionel Hutz.

The verdict: Two decades and counting of courtroom laughs and famous catchphrases. Judge Snyder: "Boys will be boys!" Judge Harm: "Don't spit on my cupcake and tell me it's frosting!"

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Case file: Set in the small town of Rome, Wisconsin, "Picket Fences" followed the lives of Sheriff Jimmy Brock (Tom Skerritt), town doctor and Brock's wife Jill (Kathy Baker), verbose lawyer Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel) and the oft irritated Judge Henry Bone (Ray Walston).

CBS via Getty Images

Presiding judge: Judge Bone's personal notions of right and wrong often appeared to shape his rulings. Bone's animosity toward Wambaugh's pontificating became a staple scenario and ongoing gag of the series, with the lawyer's pontificating a hair trigger for the judge's ever-escalating grumpiness.

The verdict: Airing from 1992 to 1996 on CBS, "Picket Fences" dealt with subjects often considered taboo on TV at the time, including homophobia, transsexuality, medical ethics and date rape. Though it occasionally struggled for ratings (perhaps due to its regular Friday night time slot), the series had a devoted fan following who returned for the mix of oddball characters, modern drama and gentle humor. Walston ("My Favorite Martian") won a supporting actor Emmy for his work on the series.


Case file: No, it wasn't an ahead-of-its-time series about a same-sex married couple raising a child. It was a sitcom about teenager Nicole Bradford (Staci Keanan) who, following the death of her mother, goes to live with the father she has never met. Make that two fathers, both of whom were mom's former boyfriends: straight-laced Michael was played by Paul Reiser ("Mad About You"), while Greg Evigan ("B.J. and the Bear") portrayed wacky artist Joey. Family court Judge Margaret W. Wilbur would frequently visit the teenager to check in on her and serve as mentor. Wilbur also owned the building the new family lived in making her their landlady.

Presiding judge: Actress Florence Stanley portrayed Wilbur through the show's run from 1987 to 1990 on NBC. Stanley's Wilbur was sardonic, quick-witted, and withering when testosterone levels grew too high. Before "Dads," Stanley gained widespread fame in 1975 when she was cast as Bernice Fish, wife of Detective Fish (Abe Vigoda), on the hit television series "Barney Miller."

Continuance: "My Two Dads" had a crossover with another NBC show, "Night Court," when Judge Wilbur appeared in the "Night Court" episode "Game Show" in 1989.

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