EXCLUSIVE: WGNO goes behind the scenes with Judge Mathis for his 18th season

CHICAGO (WGNO) - Court TV has become very popular over the years. People from all over the country would come to a TV studio to have a small claims case overseen by a judge while millions of people watch at home.  We've seen many judges come and go on TV, but one particular judge is still going strong!

Judge Greg Mathis is taping his 18th season of the Judge Mathis show. Although Mathis is a retired judge, his rulings are final, just like real court cases. The defendant and plaintiff are real people who have actual cases to dispute.

Of course, when it comes to TV, it requires a little entertainment to keep normal cases interesting, and that's where Judge Mathis comes in. Mathis brings has a unique personality that will make you laugh, cry, and learn a little something about the law.

When Mathis served as a Superior Court judge for Michigan's 36th District, he had to rule over his cases in a more professional manner.

"They would say ',Judge Mathis we've gotten complaints from your conduct. This is a dignified and very serious court,'" Mathis laughed as he talked about the difference between TV court and his courtroom in Michigan.

The judge has had plenty of time to work his personality in the show.

"When I first started I was trying to emulate the success of Judge Judy and the way she runs her court, and folks would complain that I was a little too mean. So I figured Judge Judy could be mean, but I can't. Well, I shouldn't go out of my way to be somebody I'm not," Mathis said.

Judge Mathis tapes his show at NBC Studios in downtown Chicago. The show tapes hundreds of cases in a matter of three months. The judge sees up to 12 cases a day when court is in session. Because his show is so popular, you can get free tickets and sit through several cases. There's no music,  no announcer, and no commercials when you're apart of the audience. It just raw entertainment.

Mathis himself has been through many trials and error in his previous life, and he uses the power of TV today to send a message to young men and women struggling to survive in society.

"I was an ex-offender, and I stayed in college until I had my record expunged," he recalled. "So I tell many ex-offenders that say, 'Well I can't get anything in society.' I say, 'Well, get a Ph.D. and stay in school until you do. Now if you're going to drop out, don't invest in yourself."

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WGNO's Entertaint Reporter Jabari Thomas takes a photo with Judge Mathis after his interview.