"J.R. Ewing is in the lobby asking for you," Larry Hagmans Orlando Weekly publisher Mike Johnson, only slightly aware of the irony -- he bears no small resemblance to J.R. himself, youngish and cute, between the "Jeannie" and "Dallas" years.
Alas, it's not that Texas tycoon leering 60 feet tall at the receptionist's desk, but rather Larry Joe Doherty, Mr. "Texas Justice" himself, of the late afternoon reality/court show (UPN, weekdays, 5:30 p.m.). Fresh from a blaxploitative proceeding on the 102 JAMZ morning show, Larry Joe is squeezing me in for a Styrofoam cup of joe and some caricatured rambling about justice, his show and our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.
"Don't mess with Texas," I'm thinking, burping up the screwdriver breakfast currently soothing my courtroom jitters.
"I'll take mine black," he Texas teas.
Of course you will.
"What makes your show different?" I bore myself, settling down to business.
"Well, "Texas Justice" is entertaining; that's the major distinction," he smirks. ""Texas Justice" is officially described as a hybrid. But it just seems to me to make sense that people want their day in court, so a talk/court hybrid fits with my view of what the court ought to allow people to do."
My view of same involves more choreography, like Rod Stewart's chirpy "Love Touch" video, in which plaintiffs and defendants sing their testimony and juries provide the backing vocals. Rod Stewart has great hair, after all. And nothing says justice like great hair.
Must ... stop ... drinking.
Doherty got his call to fame in the form of some telephone kismet. A friend told him about the gig, and while he was pondering contacting the producer, the producer called him.
"It was a cosmic convergence of time, opportunity and desire," he claims.
Coincidence, then. "So, were you as outspoken and ridiculous in real court?"
"You can say that," he says that. "My primary practice is suing lawyers who commit malpractice. For the past 25 years, that's been a self-created subspecialty of board certification in personal-injury trial work."
Uh-huh. And this is a self-created subspecialty of bored amusement in personally degrading journalism work. We're practically twins.
"Isn't all of this reality court stuff staged, or at least somewhat fictionalized?" I naysay.
"No. I mean, no to the 'staged,'" he stages. "People called stringers sort through court dockets all over the United States and make referrals that court shows may be interested in."
They find cases like "Bail Money," in which Linda sues Henry for an unpaid personal loan for bail money. Henry cashed the bail bond loan and squandered it. He contends that he never asked for the money anyway. Linda's suing for her money back, plus bus fare to court.
Then there's the case of Jonna vs. Twyler, titled "The Camaro!" (their exclamation point, not mine). Great friends with similarly woven hair, Jonna sold Twyler a bitchin' 1994 Camaro, but Twyler won't pay the balance. Moreover, Twyler was doing Jonna a favor as Jonna was about to lose said bitchin' Camaro to the repo man. But the car broke down, and now Twyler don't give no damn. I wish I had a Camaro.
I can't make this stuff up. But surely somebody does.
"I have no idea what selection process is used. I have no input," Larry Joe hot-potatoes. "The cases come to me as straight up as if they came to the court that they were filed in."
Straight-up and low down.
"You've been called some mix of Larry Hagman, Ross Perot and Dr. Phil," I unflatter him. "Your thoughts?"
"Ross Perot? Are my ears that prominent? I don't have much hair, but ... "
"So, you come from the state of the Bushes," I move on.
"Yeah, and the shrubs and trees," he tickles me. "In the beginning, God created the Democrats in Texas, and we created the Republicans."
Larry Joe does possess that peculiar Texan tendency to deliver countrified wisdom with Yosemite Sam authorit-I. Which is a mating call for me, I must admit. For example:
"My favorite one is 'wellifafroghadwingshewoblumpblumpblump."
"Well if a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his rump when he jumps," he clarifies.
And another nugget:
"People always come into court what if'n. If you kick the lid off the yuck bucket, you'll be here all day."
Yuck. Mr. Justice glazes into a flashback haze regarding his most satisfying case ever, which turns out to be another car-repo story, only this one involves a car with the family Bible still in it. The heavy hand of God slams down and forces the repo man to pay several thousand dollars for the Bible, thus making up the price of the car. At least I think that's how the yarn goes. I've fallen asleep long before the verdict.
"Guilty!" I groggily awaken, hand held to the sky.
I've suddenly fallen in love with Larry Joe! Until he asks, "Is this gonna be in your 'B-Line?'"