Like other industries, television production was seriously impacted by the pandemic. Many programs postponed filming, and the ones that went ahead had to adopt new health measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Even for Randy Douthit, an experienced executive producer who helmed the Emmy award-winning courtroom program Judge Judy for 25 years, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a unique set of challenges to which he needed to adjust.
“It’s an added cost,” Douthit says. Additional testing and safety procedures put in place increase the time it takes to complete a shoot, which in turn adds to the overall cost of completing a production. Aside from the budget, those working on set felt the tangible effects of the pandemic. Wearing a mask was surely a change from the pre-2020 days; there were also testing and vaccination requirements, and a new attitude the changes brought with them.
“It’s also about being very careful,” Douthit says. “Everyone needs to just be aware.” Even though the precautions add extra steps, the crew has grown accustomed to the safety measures after seeing their value. “Those who were grumpy about getting a test early on, after seeing some situations, they were first in line to get those tests,” he adds.
Tests and masks weren’t the only measures put in place, though. The studio audience, which is usually filled with paid extras, was left vacant once the pandemic started in order to minimize exposure.
Randy Douthit on Working Remotely, Judge Judy-Style
Office workers weren’t the only ones to utilize technology to work remotely during the pandemic: Judge Judy Sheindlin presided over cases remotely, not unlike how many nontelevised court proceedings were moved to videoconferencing platforms. Sheindlin would video in from the East Coast while sitting in front of a reproduction of the background that Judge Judy viewers were used to seeing. Evidence was fed to Sheindlin through a monitor for her to examine before making her rulings.
But the new COVID measures didn’t slow down the pace of the show — after Judge Judy’s 25th and final season aired, Sheindlin and Randy Douthit landed at the streaming service IMDb TV and began making episodes of Judy Justice. “We had to do 120 episodes in three months,” Douthit says. “It was a lot.” After the first round of episodes aired in 2021, the remainder began airing in early 2022.
While Douthit says putting together so many episodes of Judy Justice in such a short time frame was “hard work,” everyone came together to make sure the show went on. “Everyone has to cooperate,” Douthit says. “Everyone has to roll up their sleeves and make sure it gets done. And we got it done.”
Randy Douthit’s Early Days in Television
At this point in his career, Randy Douthit is used to getting to work and getting the job done. The producer got his start at a local television station, working while finishing school. He quickly proved himself to be a hard worker who was dedicated to the job: “I was always there, I was always willing to do whatever it takes to get a show on the air,” he says. He would tell himself, “Just do the job.”
Randy Douthit says his love for the job is one of the reasons he was able to do it so well, although what makes him such a good producer is not just his innate passion, but also his skill, especially his ability to work quickly and efficiently. “If you don’t do something correctly, it causes all kinds of problems,” Douthit says. “So, be quick about it and get it right the first time.” Whether he was working on Larry King Live, Crossfire, Judge Judy, or Judy Justice, Douthit proved himself to be an indispensable part of the team.
Coming from local television, Douthit looked to those around him for mentorship and guidance. He found inspiration in unlikely places; he didn’t admire big names in the industry, but rather, “people that we will never hear about: the production manager, the head of programming,” he says. “I was always fascinated by what they did and how they did it, and I modeled myself after them.”
Douthit worked his way up from humble beginnings at Seattle Today, a once-failing television series that he turned around into a top program. He went on to work on some of the highest-rated shows on the country’s biggest networks; among other things, he was part of the team that was responsible for NBC’s smash hit The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Douthit executive-produced and directed CNN’s three highest-rated shows: Larry King Live, Crossfire, and Capital Gang. Overall, Randy Douthit has spent over 30 years working on renowned TV programs in various genres.
The decades he’s spent working as a producer gave him the necessary skills to adapt to these unprecedented times. Pandemic or not, the biggest challenge of working as a producer remains the same: “to make sure that the production runs smoothly,” Douthit says. His job is to make sure “that people show up, they do what they said they were going to do, [and] there are no surprises.