For 25 years, Petri Byrd (aka “Byrd”) has faithfully stood by as judge Judith Sheindlin’s bailiff on the syndicated court program Judge Judy. Byrd’s a man of few words on the daily courtroom show but he’s going to get to say some poignant ones when he debuts on The Bold and the Beautiful on Friday, August 5, as the officiant at Steffy (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood) and Finn’s (Tanner Novlan) wedding!
TV Insider chatted with Byrd about his B&B guest spot, how he got his long-running gig on Judge Judy, and what his plans are now that, after a two-and-a-half decade run, Judge Judy has adjourned.
No pressure but if you say “umm” to any of my questions I have a great comeback line.
Petri Byrd: [Laughs] How do I know that?
How’d your joining B&B come about?
My motto is be kind to everyone and have an affable personality. A lot of people think I’m a hard-ass on TV so they don’t approach me. I wasn’t sure how I got the role. Later, I found out that Eva Basler (B&B’s VP of Communications), whom I’d met at the Daytime Emmys one year, thought highly enough of me to recommend me for this part. I was floored but also ready to work, especially as we’d recently stopped production of Judge Judy after 25 years.
How was shooting the wedding?
It was so easy and wonderful. Last October, I married a couple [in real life] who are friends of my wife and mine. I found out I could get a “one-day pass” to become an officiator. I have to say I felt very comfortable in this role.
Had you ever watched any soap operas?
I used to watch All My Children. Debbi Morgan (ex-Angie) is a close friend of mine. But I have to be honest — I wasn’t as familiar with The Bold and the Beautiful. I’d heard of it, of course. The title is iconic. Years ago, Robert Townsend did an HBO special which included a take-off on soap operas — he called it The Bold, the Black, and the Beautiful.
When I was taping the show, John McCook (Eric) invited me to hang out in his dressing room in between scenes so I wouldn’t have to walk all the way back to my room. His room has all these great photos of him and people, including Carol Burnett. He regaled me with stories about the different locales that the show has shot in over the years. I had a great time talking to him.
Have you ever had to get in between Judge Judy and someone who tried to, shall we say, approach the bench?
No. To my amazement, nobody’s ever gone after Judge Judy. Most of the interaction between the litigants takes place after the verdict. After they get outside, they sometimes think ‘Wait a minute! She just read me up and down and she decided against me!’
You help escort the plaintiff and defendants out of the courtroom after the decision is handed down. I bet that’s not as easy as it looks.
You have to give [the two parties] some sort of separation. One time, I made the mistake of letting someone behind me get too close to the person in front of me. I had to turn around and ask, “Are you really trying to jump over me to get to this guy? Wait till you get back to your neighborhood!”
Where’s the most unusual place you’ve been recognized for being on Judge Judy?
I was in a restaurant in Hong Kong and this man kept looking at me. He tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a TV that was airing a commercial. Then, I saw that the program airing was Judge Judy! “That’s you!” he said. That’s when I realized the impact of our show worldwide.
We live in a world in which people don’t always accept responsibility for their actions and decisions. Judge Judy’s success comes from the fact that she cuts to the chase and deconstructs flimsy excuses. There’s nothing like when Judge Judy says to someone “‘Umm…’ is not an answer!”
It’s been a lesson for me because of those things you just mentioned. A lot of times people don’t take responsibility for their actions. For me, it’s also been an abject lesson in understanding that people want justice. But it’s not always about money. People who come onto the show aren’t looking necessarily for dollars or notoriety. Those are byproducts of their needs for justice. You want your neighbor or a total stranger or whoever to take responsibility for doing what they’d done to you.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as wanting an apology. If a photographer has screwed up someone’s wedding photos, maybe that photographer could invite the bride, who probably still has the wedding gown, and the groom, for whom a tuxedo can be rented, to come in and take some new photos. What a wonderful world it would be!
What’s up next for you?
My wife and I have a production company. We’re trying to get some productions off the ground. One is a musical about the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a wonderful piece that I saw at the National Black Theatre Festival and I want the world to see it. I want it to be like the old Playhouse 90. That’s where I saw a production of Requiem for a Heavyweight. Those shows had stars in them who were just beginning to get into their prime. We’re also trying to pitch a mediation show. I’ve sat at the foot of the master for 25 years and I think I’ve learned a thing or two.
How did you get the Judge Judy gig?
I used to be a bailiff in New York. One of the judges I worked with was Judge Sheindlin. Later, I moved out to California and was working as a high school guidance counselor. One day, I was reading Liz Smith’s column and it had an item that Judge Judith Sheindlin [was getting her own show]. I thought this is great because Judy is tough, fair, and witty. I faxed her a letter to congratulate her and added a “P.S.” I said, “If you ever need a bailiff, I still look good in a uniform!” About three weeks later, she called me. She thanked me for the letter and said we do need a bailiff. She recommended me for the job. That turned into a 25-year career — thus far.
What was it like playing a version of yourself on Curb Your Enthusiasm?
That was fun and also an odd experience. On other shows, you get the script and go forward. You might be able to do an ad lib here or there and then, they’ll write it in. With Curb Your Enthusiasm, whatever flies, flies — as long as what you say lands to where Larry David can best hit it out of the park. Being on that show was a lot of fun. If Larry reads this, I’m still available — now more than ever!
Are you ready to come back for B&B’s next wedding?
Absolutely. I’d like to be their resident pastor! The [newlyweds] can come and see me [for consulting] if they find themselves in trouble! I had a wonderful time. They made me feel welcome. And every now and then someone would come up to me and say, “I love you on Judge Judy. Can we take a picture together?”
The Bold and the Beautiful, Weekdays, CBS