From the backstreets of the Herman Gardens projects to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Greg Mathis is a made-in-Detroit story from which TV legends are forged. The former 36th District Court judge’s syndicated, Emmy-winning courtroom series Judge Mathis is entering its 24th season, making him the longest-running male African American television host in history. (Can’t forget Oprah.)
Beyond his teasing, comedic approach with his litigants and the life lessons he dispenses from the bench, Mathis is equally known for his charitable works and commitment to the Black community. So it only makes sense he would want to expand his legacy by starring in a reality TV series, Mattis Family Matters, now airing at 10 p.m. Sundays on E! Entertainment Television, right?
“Absolutely not!” replies his eldest son, Greg Mathis, Jr., with a hearty laugh during a Zoom conversation last week. “He didn’t take a single meeting, he didn’t make one phone call. He was like, ‘Who the heck would want to do a reality TV show on our family?’”
The answer would be (A) for Amir Mathis, Greg Jr.’s youngest sibling, who got his start in the TV industry by working as a production assistant on Dad’s show and has gone on to launch his own production company as an executive producer. Amir has been working on this project for years. When he initially approached his family with the idea, Greg Jr. recalls the group response was tacit support.
“When he asked us if we would be interested we all said yes, thinking it would never happen,” Greg Jr. recalls. “My father said, ‘There’s 10,000 shows pitched every single year, but you go ahead, son, see what you can do.’ To his credit, Amir worked at it and worked at it and it finally happened. And when it did, we had all signed on so long ago nobody wanted to back out. Plus, he’s the baby of the family, so like in every family the baby gets away with almost everything. Nobody can say no to him.”
This reluctant reality series revolves around the premise that the entire Mathis family has reunited in Los Angeles after being spread across the country for years. Greg Sr. and his wife, Oak Park High alum and entrepreneur Linda, have called SoCal home since 2005; two of their four children, Amir and his sister Camara Mathis Webb, a wife, mother and entertainment attorney, have been living the L.A. lifestyle, too. But Greg Jr., who worked as a political staffer in Washington, D.C. for nearly a decade, and Jade, an attorney, public speaker and firstborn Mathis offspring, are more recent arrivals to the family’s West Coast nest. And while Judge Mathis rules his TV courtroom with an iron gavel and has helped thousands with his advice, at home he’s just like most other husbands and dads: often ignored and struggling to get his points across.
Among the storylines Mathis Family Matters will explore in its 10 episodes is the relationship between Greg Jr. and longtime boyfriend Elliott Cooper, his partner in real estate ventures as well as in life. One could maintain that there is no better time in television history to explore a Black male gay liaison in primetime. Greg Jr. might have needed some convincing: prior to the series going into production, neither he nor Cooper had come out publicly as gay.
“That was probably the most anxiety I’ve ever had in my life,” Greg Jr., 33, says of his revelation. “You know, sometimes we feel like it’s a new day and folks are much more accepting and welcoming. But just last week E! put up a reel showing us at the L.A. Pride parade and it just blew up with hateful comments, people saying the nastiest things. We think we’re ready for that, and we realize that even just being ourselves and showing a Black gay couple on television is a huge step forward.
“I know growing up I would have loved to have seen this type of representation, to ease my own fears and anxieties of coming out knowing I was gay and being able to be who I really was. But I also think we’ve seen so many different stereotypes on television of what a gay Black man is, and maybe not the fullest spectrum of what a gay Black relationship looks like. So I’m hoping this will be an opportunity for viewers to see something slightly different and hopefully change some minds. It will showcase how both of our parents reacted to us coming out, my dad and Elliott’s dad, and how they’re both dealing with the coming out process.”
And speaking of “coming out” in the broader context: Judge Greg has been accustomed to the intense glare of media coverage for nearly a quarter-century. The Kardashians, Braxtons, and countless other TV-reality families have alternately surged or purged due to the 24-7 spotlight. It certainly didn’t benefit Todd and Savannah Chrisley (Chrisley Knows Best), recently convicted on charges of bank fraud and tax evasion. Does Greg Jr. — known as “Bobby” to his family since birth, when sister Camara had trouble pronouncing “baby” — think he, his mother and siblings are prepared for the onslaught of attention that comes with having your lives dissected on television every week?
“We definitely have talked about it, and I think the one thing I’m happiest about is that we have each other as a support system,” Bobby says. “You can never control what other people say about you, but you can control how you react. We are definitely not perfect, but we stick together.”
He adds, “Looking back, I’m grateful that we did it, because I think it brought us even closer together than we were before. And also, the opportunity to shift the narrative of what a Black family looks like, what a Black father is, and how we interact with each other. I think Dad finally started to get a little bit excited thinking about the difference we could make in the lives of people.”
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