The showrunner for two Emmy-nominated programs talks about the evolution of her career and her love for Georgia’s production community.
The day I interviewed Myeshia Mizuno, she was in the process of buying a house. “I actually have my home inspection later this afternoon,” she told me as we discussed her relocation to Atlanta. Mizuno is one of the many film and television transplants who are either settling in or purchasing a second residence in Georgia due to the growth of production and job opportunities in the area. “I will always be a Cali girl at heart,” she admits, “but I enjoy it here.”
In her case, Mizuno has constant gigs in Atlanta working as an executive producer on two hit series. Both are arbitration-based court shows. Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court is the one that brought her to Georgia. Since being here, she also helped launch Couples Court with the Cutlers. During our late-November conversation, we discussed the two Emmy-nominated programs, the evolution of her career, and her love of the local industry.
Oz: How did you get started in television production?
MM: I grew up in Los Angeles, Ventura County, and went to Cal State Northridge initially as an engineering major. When I realized I was going to be in study hall for the entire four-year duration, I figured quickly I had to change my major. So, I ended up going speech and communications, and at the time I didn’t realize what I was going to do with that, but I enjoyed the courses.
From there, I got a job at a boutique ad agency in Santa Monica called Donat/Wald. I worked my way up from being a part-time kind of office assistant to being their account executive and did everything from print to radio and television commercials. That’s where I kind of got the bug and the thought of, ooh, maybe I want to be in TV. I left there and got my first gig at MTV.
Can you explain more about the “bug”?
The excitement of it. Starting off at an ad agency working on commercials, it was the feeling of being on a set, the feeling of so many different elements having to be pulled together to make something happen. There’s nothing like that feeling, especially what I do, starting with nothing at the top of a week, with an idea perhaps, and then by the end of the week, you’ve shot it and are cutting and putting it together. There’s something about that process that appealed to me and excited me.
What are some of the early jobs you did at MTV and for other shows, and what kind of experience did they provide?
My first foray into television production, I went in as a rights and clearance person, which is very interesting, learning and understanding that everything you see can’t necessarily go on television. That was a good education. And I worked on a show called Fanatic, which was a big show for MTV back in the ’90s. I did that for a few seasons.
From there, I got my entry into court. I was with Judge Judy’s season five, six, and part of seven. She’s now in what, season 23? So, it was the early days. That was an education, to say the least. Working with real people and starting to appreciate how to book real people and talk to real people and get people to trust you with their stories just via telephone. I always tell people it’s a great skill to be able to get people to divulge and tell their stories and trust you from a cold call. That’s kind of where I would say I cut my teeth in learning how to produce.
From there, it’s just been a trajectory and you know, that’s when you start to learn the freelance hustle, going from gig to gig, show to show, building relationships, which is huge in this business. And I’ve been very blessed to be in television well over 20 years now.
“That’s kind of where I would say I cut my teeth in learning to produce.”
Does the job still excite you as it did then?
Everyone isn’t blessed to build a career in television. And to be a woman . . . to be an African American woman . . . to have done as much as I have has been a blessing, and I have to remind myself of that at times. But I think the excitement of putting something together and seeing it come alive and then watching it play back for you on television, I still get a kick out of that.
I’ve been blessed to do everything from talk shows to game shows to reality shows to being involved in scripted programming, and having been a development executive. The ultimate is still the process and the final product being aired on television, because it’s all the same in that regard. Seeing that finished product air; not just that it comes to life for you, but it comes alive for the general public; that’s very unique about what I do. Having the opportunity to have done a number of different things has been exciting and a pleasure. And yet there’s still a lot more I haven’t done that I want to do.
You have primarily worked on unscripted content. Is that your preference?
You know, I’ve done a lot of daytime, and I think within television you can get kind of pigeon-holed, or you find your niche. Daytime television has been very good to me, from the talk to the game to the court. I’ve built a reputation of being able to do that. And I think a big part of that is because I’m able to work with real people and get them to tell their stories or express themselves, and from that, to be able to make a compelling piece of entertainment. So, it’s been my niche, and it’s kind of the way I’ve gone.
But there’s a lot more I’d like to do. I’m not opposed to one day going more scripted or primetime or something very different, and I think having the skill set of being able to be a multi-faceted producer, which is what I consider myself, I’m excited about what could happen later on down the line in my career.
What is so appealing about the court show format?
What I like about the format, and why I think people relate to it, is you get an immediate resolution. Generally within your 30-minute court case, you get some sort of resolution, be it a small claims or be it the type of two shows that I do. Paternity Court and Couples Court with the Cutlers has a resolution to a personal issue, to a relationship type issue. People see themselves in these litigants. “I’ve been in that situation…,” or “I remember some time when somebody ran over my fence….” People can relate very easily.
This is why you’ve got devotees who are avid court watchers. It’s funny for us, we produce so many episodes a year and then if we have an episode repeat, immediately our fans will tell us, “I saw that one already!” or “I already know what happened to that!” They’re addicted. With Judge Judy, people tune in for her every day. I have a girlfriend who is an executive in New York in television and she DVRs Judge Judy. There’s something about the court format as well as the personality, the judges themselves, that people tune in for.
What makes your shows distinct from the rest?
The difference from a Judge Judy or a Judge Mathis or a People’s Court, those deal with small claims issues, generally. We deal with a relationship issue. For Paternity Court, we’re dealing with a paternity issue. Couples Court, we’re dealing with a relationship issue between a couple. Those stories are so prevalent throughout the world.
Paternity Court is so unique in that it’s handled differently than any other show that does paternity. I think we handle it in a very careful manner, because it’s set in a courtroom and Lauren [Lake], being who she is, gives such wise words of wisdom, and it’s very compassionate and sympathetic and empathetic to the litigant.
Paternity Court is a much more emotional show because you’re actually dealing with a result that can and does affect someone’s life, their paternity. Having that question answered for someone is pivotal. It’s huge. Whether they’re a little baby and don’t even realize the situation is going on right now or they’re a 30-, 40-, 50-year-old person, which happens all the time, entering our courtroom and saying, “I don’t know who my father is,” or, “this secret just came out at a family function two years ago that the man I thought was my dad isn’t.”
Those stories are just so compelling. I tell people all the time, reality is stranger than fiction. Some of the stories that we’ve heard . . . and we’ve now shot, in our six years, over 750 episodes . . . you can’t make them up, and you can’t believe what people go through and the strength of the human spirit of these people. So, we take great care to allow our litigants to tell their story. We know that we’re doing them a service by helping them get an answer. Sometimes it goes the way they want. Sometimes it doesn’t. But ultimately they leave here with the knowledge that they didn’t have beforehand.
“Reality is stranger than fiction.”