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“Tort Tales” and TV Judges: Amplifying, Modifying, or Countering the Antitort Narrative?


  • Joshua C. Wilson,

  • Erin Ackerman

  • The authors would like to thank Robert Kagan, Joel Grossman, Doris Marie Provine, Brian K. Arbour, Maxwell Mak, and Ellen Keith for their assistance, guidance, and comments on the various stages of this project. We are also grateful for the financial assistance of the PSC-CUNY Research Award and the John Jay College Research Assistance Program. Please address correspondence to Joshua C. Wilson or Erin Ackerman, Political Science Department, John Jay College, City University of New York, 524 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019; e-mail:;


This article joins the debate about the popular pervasiveness of antitort and antilitigation attitudes by examining whether, and to what extent, antitort or antilitigation sentiment is present in the narratives about law offered by reality-based television judge shows. Given the persistent debate about tort reform and scholars' recognition of the role played in this debate by simplified narratives about the legal system, we analyze whether reality-based TV judge shows as a genre contribute to the creation and dissemination antitort and antilitigation sentiment. Earlier studies led us to hypothesize that TV judge shows would largely support the antitort and antilitigation narratives. After coding over 55 hours of such shows, however, we conclude that they do not adopt this narrative. Rather, these shows present a view of the civil law system that largely treats plaintiffs' claims as legitimate and showcases the majority of defendants as wrongdoers. In spite of this, we argue that the particular dramatic qualities of TV judge shows limit their potential to serve as a strong counternarrative to antitort and antilitigation stories.