Is it accurate to describe ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ as a “talk” show? Jerry himself doesn’t think so. He acknowledges that actual “talking” has had very little do with the show’s success.
As everyone knows, ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ is a free-wheeling, brawling screech-fest populated by people who come on to “talk” – and fight – about dysfunctional relationships with family members and other loved ones (among the show titles you can see on the home page of jerryspringertv.com : “I Had Sex with 3 Sisters,” “I Had Sex with Your Tranny Brother” and “It’s the Rooster or Me!” about a man’s unnatural love for a chicken).
To Jerry, the show is a “circus” that in spite of itself has had the staying power to outlast dozens of other daytime talk shows (“ludicrous” and “stupid” are two other words he uses to describe it).
Like Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez periodically passing some other baseball legend on the list of all-time home-run hitters, Jerry Springer will move up the list of longest-running TV talk show hosts this coming season when he starts his 20th (yes, permission granted to drop your jaw in astonishment) on Sept. 13. If you’re keeping score, that means he passes Sally Jessy Raphael, who made it through 19 seasons, but was denied a 20th when her show was canceled in 2002.
Why is he still at it? In an interview, Fancast asked him that question and learned that Springer, 66, loves working in show business, especially because, as he readily admits, he possesses no discernible show business talent such as singing, dancing or acting. Despite that, he’s busier than ever these days, hosting his circus of a talk show, hosting the Game Show Network dating show ‘Baggage’ (weeknights at 6:30/5:30c) and also emceeing a live, stage version of ‘America’s Got Talent,’ which this year is scheduled for Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal in October.
Twenty seasons? No one’s more amazed than Springer himself, a former politician and local news anchor in Cincinnati who somehow emerged decades later as a national TV icon. Here’s what he had to say.
Jerry, one of the secrets to your success seems to be your traction with young people. How do you explain that?
I think it’s probably because I’m non-threatening. I think I couldn’t do these shows if I was their age, but when you’re old enough to be their father and in some cases their grandfather, it’s like I’m the uncle or the teacher who isn’t quite with it, but you kind of like him because he’s nonjudgmental. I think that’s what it is.
See a clip from Jerry’s first show:
Let’s get down to basics. Is it really appropriate to label your show a “talk” show?
No. There’s no way you can call my show a talk show. It’s a circus. But there is a slice of authenticity [to ‘The Jerry Springer Show’] that traditional television never showed. Part of its popularity, other than its craziness, was in the way it showed how real people get when they’re angry and sometimes when they’re angry they use foul language.
Of course, the wild scenes that result from all that anger have been criticized for years. How do you respond to that?
What is so interesting is the hypocrisy of the argument against the show, which is that it’s perfectly OK to talk about these issues if you are either rich, powerful, famous, or good-looking. Whether it’s on the late-night talk shows or the daytime shows, you can have a celebrity talking about every dysfunction in their life, or they can write books about it and be bestsellers and we love these people. We can’t get their autographs quickly enough. And yet, if someone who is not known and of low income and didn’t go to Harvard, if they talk about [the same things], all of a sudden we call them trash. The behavior is identical! Only the language is different.
Over the years, your show went through a number of phases – first there was no fighting, then the fighting increased, followed by a cutback in the fighting in the face of criticism (including the infamous Chicago City Council hearing in 1999 about your show), then returning to the fighting. And then the world evolved and nowadays, no one bats an eyelash. Is it shocking to you that your show isn’t that shocking anymore? What’s your take on that?
Well, I remember the first year we were doing shows, we did a show on interracial dating and I remember there were protesters outside the studio and here we are 20 years later and we have a president who is a product of an interracial marriage. So, yeah, I’m totally aware – shocked would not be the word – but I am totally aware that we have evolved, I would say overwhelmingly for the better. That does not mean that all these behaviors are good, no. But overall in terms of the society, we are so much more open, so much more tolerant. And society, whether someone likes it or not, is moving in that direction. I promise you, 10 years from now, the absurdity of people arguing over gay marriage will just be ludicrous.
Watch the best ‘Springer’ food fights:
You seem to be quite comfortable now just going along with your show year after year.
Heck, yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great way to make a living. But I don’t think you could find one interview where I’ve ever said that the show I do is important. I mean, it’s ludicrous, it’s stupid. If someone says it’s a circus, I say, ‘Yes, and . . .?’ Of course it is. I’m not fooling myself. I’m not living in this bubble. I know exactly what it is and I enjoy doing it. People obviously enjoy watching it, but it’s stupid, end of story. It’s a job – I’m an entertainer.
What about politics? You’ve toyed with running for higher office over the years. Do you think you ever will?
The politics never leaves me. Just this morning [Aug. 17], I was on ‘Imus’ talking about politics. And on Friday I’m on ‘Hannity’ talking politics. So that doesn’t stop. The truth is that’s what I feel most passionately about. [But] no, there’s no race around now anyway and anything I would ever do if I do return would be in Ohio. The closest I got to doing that was in ’04 and ’06 when everything was in place and I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Look, at this point in my life, I wasn’t going to starve whatever I did. It was just how much of the decision was turning on ego, and how much I was going to change anybody’s life. And when you weigh that, well, then you start to ask, ‘Why am I doing this?’
With all the criticism your show took back in the ’90s leading up to and including the Chicago City Council misadventure in 1999, do you ever think back on all of that and think, Ha, I outlasted all of you?
Well, I could see how I could think that way. And I think the only reason I don’t really feel that is because I never took the show personally. In other words, I never took the criticism personally. I remember that the Chicago City Council meeting was a hoot. I had a great time. It wasn’t like I was there trembling. With no disrespect to the council, I wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to answer these difficult questions?’ It was a zoo. It was silly. Why is a city council worried about a TV show? I’m the host. I didn’t create the show.
How can you be so detached from the production of your own show?
What you will find if you talk to anyone who has ever worked on my show, without one single exception, they will tell you I don’t know anything about the running of the show. In fact, I’m not told what the guest’s stories are. I go into makeup and then handed a card with the names of the guests and my job is to just ask questions as if I was sitting at home. That’s it. So I have nothing to do with it. I have no interest in it.