Sheriff Andy Taylor was rare indeed, and not just because he kept order in Mayberry without carrying a gun. What was even more unusual about the main character of The Andy Griffith Show was the fact that he was a single father raising his son.
In 1960, right around the time that show was set, only eight percent of all households in the United States were headed by a single father. Fifty years later, mainly because of the Women’s Movement that began in the Sixties and Seventies, that percentage has risen to 25 percent.
While Griffith’s character is a widower, the majority of single fathers are separated from the mothers of their children. Back in the Sixties that situation would have been almost unheard of, but nowadays it has become quite common.
The main reason for the huge increase in single fathers raising their children can be traced to a similar increase in another field, the number of females entering the law profession and serving as judges. In too many cases male arbiters invariably favored the female parent, almost to the point where few separated fathers believed they had any chance in a custody hearing.
Fortunately for single fathers, more women have become judges. Unlike the male magistrates who have traditionally viewed the mother as the most suitable caregiver and the father as the primary economic provider, their female counterparts see past these outdated stereotypes in order to make more objective decisions regarding custody.
American television reflects this superiority of female judges, as a look at the various court shows can demonstrate. Of the dozen or so programs that use the legal format, all but one (Greg Matthis) of those with male judges have failed.
Judge Joe Brown lasted just a few years before poor ratings shut him down, and more recently Judge Alex Ferrer suffered the same fate. Both men too often sided with female litigants, swayed by feminine tears or by their subconscious role as protectors of the so-called “weaker sex.”
Andrew Napolitano of Power of Attorney is another classic example of why males have been in disfavor by TV audiences. His court series debuted in 2001, but Napolitano was so unappealing that it lasted just two seasons.
Part of the reason for its failure was the judge’s blatant favoritism toward female litigants, who prevailed in nearly every case against a male opponent. The series was so forgettable that it has never even been given a page on Wikipedia.
Conversely, court shows headed by women have dominated the ratings war, led by Judith Schienlin of Judge Judy. Tonya Acker and Patricia Dimango have kept Hot Bench in second place, not much farther ahead of Faith Jenkins of Judge Faith and Lynn Toler of Divorce Court.
Marilyn Milian is now in her twentieth year on The People’s Court, far outlasting her three male predecessors. Its first judge Joseph Wapner started out strong in the early days of courtroom TV, but once women arbiters like Judge Judy got involved his ratings went down. The show replaced him with former New York mayor Ed Koch, who fared little better than Wapner.
The People’s Court persisted on having a male judge when Wapner stepped down, so Jerry Shienlin took control of the gavel. His ratings were even lower than his predecessors, prompting the producers to finally hire a female to preside.
The emergence of females in the legal field has served as a huge benefit for single fathers, which undoubtedly will benefit America’s children as well. Their success on TV court shows clearly has demonstrated that society prefers that hearings be decided by the gender less likely to be swayed by stereotypical, outdated roles.