In the small-world department, new "Paternity Court" judge Lauren Lake and I were neighbors on the same street 14 years ago in Kirkwood, five miles east of downtown Atlanta. But we were a bit too far apart to know each other personally.
"I loved Kirkwood," she said. "I loved the people. They were artsy and eclectic!"
A Detroit native, she said she has lived a double life as an attorney and an entertainer. She came to Atlanta in 1996 right after the Olympics and opened a music studio on Edgewood Ave. and represented some artists, too.
When one of her acts was signed by Interscope Records, she moved to New York City in 1999 (and sold her Kirkwood home.) She worked full-time criminal defense, family and entertainment law over the years while moonlighting as a background singer for artists such as P. Diddy and Mary J. Blige. She also began doing legal analysis for the cable news networks such as Court TV, Fox News and CNN.
A producer approached Lake to be the "judge" for "Paternity Court" because she has a child custody and matrimonial law background. They wanted to place the "Maury" paternity/DNA shows into a court setting.
So Lake is the latest hard-hitting TV judge to hit the syndicated airwaves, filling a gap left by former TV judges Glenda Hatchett from Atlanta and Greg Mathis.
"My purpose is to break the law down so people understand how to use it to their advantage," Lake said. "People are so intimidated by the law. I want them to have that aha moment: are you the child's father or are you sisters or is that baby your grandchild?"
While "Maury" does the paternity test results in a "Springer"-like setting with security guards and whooping audiences, "Paternity Court" is far less circus like. Early ratings have been encouraging. This is from the latest "Paternity Court" press release about first-week ratings:
Atlanta (WUPA/CW): Beat Divorce Court head to head among households, Women 25-54 and Adults 25-54. Outperformed its Cold Case Files Sep. 2012 time period history by +23% among HH and +64% among adults 25-54.
"A show like 'Maury' is interesting," Lake said. "We're taking it to another level by adding a legal perspective. It's more empowerment. Where do we go from here?"
Like most court shows, her decisions are non-binding. But she does provide people closure in terms of DNA testing they might not otherwise afford.
And she said even before the show had aired, they were flooded with applications. "We've had everyone from a professional chef to a young former gang member," she said.
So many people, she said, have incomplete family histories. "They don't know where they belong," she said. "So many people are missing a couple pieces of the puzzle. It holds them back in life. This resonates with viewers. It makes me appreciate and not take for granted what I have. In America, we keep so many dirty little secrets. People face some of their darkest fears and shame. I call it like I see it. I tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear."
During one case that aired her second week, a potential father said his possible daughter was going for a "sympathy thing as opposed to a paternity thing" by requesting a test.
That cold line drew an "awww" from the audience and anger from Lake. "Wait a minute!" Lake said to him, her eyes piercing. "As a father and potential father, you should have sympathy and empathy for the question she has concerning her paternity!" (He ultimately was her dad.)
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