Like so many TV executives, Hot Bench executive producer David Theodosopoulos has been obsessed with entertainment from a very young age. When he was a boy, he used his dad’s Super 8 camera to shoot TV shows, using his best friend as star and stuntman. Fast-forward to age 19, and Theodosopoulos was making his way to Los Angeles to “break into the business in some fashion.” But a writers’ strike hit almost as soon as he got there and instead of hashing it out slinging hash, he went to school.
Theodosopoulos got his undergraduate degree in business at USC and went on to get his law degree. Even though he had his eye on getting a job at a studio even then, he learned he needed to first cut his teeth at a law firm before studios would even look at him. So he did a few years at Cooper, Epstein & Hurewitz, where he did some legal work for TV studios, and that earned him the connections he needed to get a job in business affairs at Paramount Television, which would later become CBS Television Distribution (CTD). He worked in business affairs for nearly 25 years, doing deals with agents, managers and lawyers, before Judge Judy Sheindlin finally came calling. Theodosopoulos tells B+C about what happened next.
B+C: The path from network TV business affairs executive to executive producer doesn’t seem like an obvious one. How did yours go?
David Theodosopoulos: When Viacom took over Big Ticket, Judge Judy’s production company at the time, Greg Meidel was head of programming. He said to me, ‘I don’t want you to just be business affairs on the other end of the phone. It’s important to me that you know the talent.’ So I would visit Judge Judy [Sheindlin] on set and we got close.
CTD launched Hot Bench in 2014. When we were coming to the close of year three, the showrunner [Maureen FitzPatrick] decided to depart. Judy and I were walking back from lunch and talking about what we were going to do about the showrunner. She said, ‘I have an idea,’ but didn’t tell me what it was. She then apparently called up the head of CTD at the time, Paul Franklin, and said she wanted me to be the showrunner. I hadn’t even heard about it but I got a call from Paul’s office saying that Judy wanted me to do it.
The next evening, we were having a going-away party for some executives and people started congratulating me on my new position. I hadn’t even fully discussed it with my wife yet! But Judy made this happen.
I loved working in business affairs, but I had such faith in Judy. It was not like I was becoming the showrunner of a scripted sitcom. I was going to work on a court show with real cases and a complaint and an answer. It wasn’t the jump you may think.
B+C: Did you feel like you knew how to executive produce a show?
DT: Randy Douthit, who is Judge Judy’s executive producer, stayed on the show for a month and then, as Judy said, I was on my own. But I always knew Randy was there. I joke that he has taught me everything I know but not everything he knows.
B+C: People did not think Hot Bench was going to do much business when it first launched, but it’s become consistently one of daytime’s highest-rated shows. Why do you think the show has been successful?
DT: I think part of it is the fingerprint of Judy herself. Every day, I try to measure up to her level of excellence. There have been many times over the summer where we have been the No. 2 show in daytime and we’ve been the No. 2 court show for more than five years. Being the second-highest-rated show in daytime behind only Judge Judy is something I strive for.
B+C: What is happening with Hot Bench right now in terms of production and what do you expect to happen when it comes time to go back?
DT: On March 13, I sent the staff home and we haven’t been back. We had season six in the can already and knowing that nobody else was in production either, we planned ahead and saved many weeks of season six since we didn’t know when we could come back. If we don’t get back in there soon, we can still launch season seven on Sept. 14 with many original episodes that will take us through many weeks.
We’re in the process of coming up with a plan to return that must be approved. We’d rather be in there sooner than later, but new orders are shutting things down again. COVID continues to be an incredible challenge and it changes day by day.
B+C: I understand that before you were in TV, you were on TV, appearing on several game shows. Did you get on one of them and then kind of catch the bug?
DT: Yes. First I was on Face the Music and then I was the champ for two days on a show called Celebrity Whew! where I played with Grant Goodeve from Eight Is Enough and with Marilyn McCoo from The 5th Dimension. I was then on Card Sharks, which was really fun but I ultimately lost.
Later, I went through the long and involved audition process for Wheel of Fortune, which was then hosted by Bob Goen. They told me that if they didn’t call me after 90 days, I had not been selected. By day 90, I was resigned but then I got the call! So I went on the show, and I won $45,000 and a couple of cars. Later, I negotiated Bob Goen’s deal at Entertainment Tonight.
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