Mike Bloomberg just released a new campaign ad featuring the most trusted jurist in America. It’s not the Chief Justice, but — for a billionaire candidate who needs to connect with working class voters — someone much better: Judith Sheindlin, known in most homes as TV’s “Judge Judy.”
Celebrity endorsements are a well-worn part of politics, of course, but they typically deliver less than candidates hope for: A quick rush of headlines, maybe, but most voters don’t ultimately make choices based on their favorite television characters.
Sheindlin could be different.
That has a lot to do with her brand of television and how her massive audience — nearly ten million people a day — views her.
The 30-second commercial, titled “Judge Him,” shows Sheindlin sitting in what looks like judicial chambers, advocating for Bloomberg’s “steady leadership” in “very challenging times.” The setting and the atmosphere capitalize on what the former New York family court judge has spent nearly 25 television seasons building: credibility.
Audience studies conducted during my years as a CBS executive working with the “Judge Judy” show consistently ranked her as tough, fair, honest and direct — attributes any politician would die for. Her standing in our wider popular culture runs high: According to a 2013 poll, more Americans trust Judge Judy than any of the Supreme Court justices. A 2016 survey revealed 10 percent of college graduates believe she actually already serves on the highest court in the land.
That comes from the unique place daytime shows like “Judge Judy” have in the media landscape. Unlike actors in a drama or comedy, daytime stars such as Sheindlin, Ellen DeGeneres or Dr. Phil McGraw aren’t playing a role — they are simply themselves on the screen, coming into your home every single day. Viewers feel they get to know them as people, and develop a bond that’s deeper than any other celebrity connection. That’s why programs like Sheindlin’s usually run for decades — the audience is very reluctant to let go of that “friendship.”
Daytime luminary Oprah Winfrey endorsed then-Senator Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaClyburn predicts Supreme Court contender J. Michelle Childs would get GOP votes Progressives see Breyer retirement as cold comfort The names to know as Biden mulls Breyer's replacement MORE in May 2007, and experts estimate that action was worth a million votes to the candidate, securing his nomination. Her support was a key signal to Winfrey’s middle-and-working-class audience — at a time when Obama was still unknown in large parts of the country — that he was a “safe” vote, someone you could rely on the way you rely on Oprah, day in and day out.
Bloomberg is looking for the same boost from Sheindlin, who replaced Winfrey as daytime TV’s number one star: Her audience is largely female, mostly working class, and racially diverse — the kind of voters Democrats need to reach in November. Like Obama in 2007, the former New York mayor is not widely known. He can be easily categorized as an out-of-touch-billionaire with a less-than-warm campaign style. But millions of people honestly feel they know Judy Sheindlin — if that connection transfers over to Bloomberg, it could make a difference.
From the start, Bloomberg’s Democratic presidential primary campaign strategy has been unusual and risky: spending big on TV ads nationwide, while skipping the first three states to focus on Super Tuesday’s fourteen-state prize on March 3rd. But it’s beginning to pay off; one new poll shows him at 11 percent, tied for third place with Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOver 80 lawmakers urge Biden to release memo outlining his authority on student debt cancellation Kelly pushes back on Arizona Democrats' move to censure Sinema Fiscal conservatives should support postal reform MORE (D-Mass.)
Once the Sheindlin commercial starts to air, the TV judge will also go on “The View,” CNN, and other programs to support Bloomberg. She’s then set to join the candidate this coming weekend on the campaign trail in Texas. That means more media coverage for Bloomberg on more outlets, big and small, hard news and celebrity news.
For Sheindlin, the upside could be significant as well. After all, Supreme Court Justice Neal Gorsuch writes that he has “great respect” for her, and lot of people already think she’s on the high court.
A President Mike Bloomberg might just make that official.
Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC,” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.