To say Jerry Springer didn’t have an impact on our culture is like saying cigarette smoking doesn’t cause cancer.
But here we are in 2018 as what we saw as outrageous back then is the norm now. Before Jersey Shore, Flavor Of Love, Love And Hip-Hop, The Real Housewives of Whatever City, and other reality tripe – and before the incivility we see everywhere these days, there was Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! As his show enters “production hiatus” – perhaps permanently as The CW recently bought rerun rights to his show, we look back at the legacy Jerry Springer left.
When Springer started in 1991, it was produced at Cincinnati’s WLWT (where he anchored their newscasts) and was your typical discussion show a la Donahue – early guests include Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oliver North. In 1992, the show moved to Chicago’s NBC Tower and two years later, the series nearly faced cancellation. So in order to boost ratings, the show needed to up the sleaze factor. And boy, did it ever with topics like “My Boyfriend Turned Out To Be A Girl” among others. In 1994 and 1995, Springer was one of many “trash TV” shows in the marketplace, including Ricki Lake, Charles Perez, and Jenny Jones, whose “secret crush” episode led to a murder.
Then came the on-air fighting – something you’d rarely see on a talk show until Geraldo Rivera’s nose was busted by a chair in a melee involving Neo-Nazi skinheads on an 1988 episode of his talk show. Springer’s first altercation came in a 1994 episode with a group of Black Panthers and Nazis squaring off.
By 1997, Springer soared to the top with numbers not seen in daytime syndication in decades with numerous on-air altercations. Management at WMAQ thought it was a good idea for Springer to do a nightly commentary segment on the station’s 10 p.m. newscast, leading to the resignation of anchors Ron Magers and Carol Marin. The show had a lengthy list of critics from both sides of the political coin, from the liberal Rev. Michael Pflager of St. Sabina Church (who led boycotts outside the NBC Tower over the show) to the conservative Parents Television Council. Even The Chicago City Council – the same group who gave us “Council Wars” – hauled Springer into a hearing asking whether or not the fights on the show were authentic.
In the late 1990s, Springer defined pop culture with more than fifteen million viewers a day. He wrote a book named Ringmaster which became a movie. He had an opera about himself. There was a VH1 spinoff called The Springer Hustle, airing until the network realized it can stage fights on its own reality shows. There was even a MTV “spring break” edition of his talk show.
And through all of this, Springer himself didn’t understand the hype, often stating his show had no redeeming value.
We can see the influence of Springer in society on an everyday basis. We see it in politics with the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land (Springer even said Trump belonged on his show, not the White House.) We see the influence in dozens of cable reality shows like Shore. We see it on social media and on YouTube, with confrontations, fights, and other viral videos. We even see it in sports, with every baseball brawl and hockey fight. Springer even spawned numerous Spanish-language knockoffs such as Laura and Jose Luis Sin Censura, which was even more racy than Springer as protests over anti-LGBT content forced Estrella TV to pull the plug as this blog documented in 2013.
Springer has been culturally irrelevant for some time now – like The Simpsons and Family Guy, it has long crossed over to “is this show still on the air?” territory. In Chicago, its once sky-high ratings for NBC 5 were reduced to rubble by the time it reached WPWR’s little-watched daytime schedule as topics became more bizarre and at one time had puppets, a character named “Reverend Schnorr”, and even an in-house midget. The show left its longtime Chicago home in 2009 for Connecticut as most locals here didn’t notice or care. More violent fights have happened on Love and Hip-Hop and Jersey Shore than there have been on Springer in recent years. It’s no surprise its departure is being greeted with yawns.
As Springer says at the end of every episode… “take care of yourself…and each other.”
Leave it to a show like his to point out exactly what we’re not doing.