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Jerry Springer: talk show king
posted by Paul on 2/18/01

Today's topic: " I wrote an article about Jerry Springer! I'm also a lesbian! "

Talk shows were one of the biggest fads of the last decade. Cheap to produce and extremely popular, they filtered through the air-waves at at an alarming rate. Originally popularized by Oprah, Sally Jessy, Donahue and Geraldo, networks were quick to cash-in with a stream of copycats - just as they're demonstating now with those reality shows. The concept was simple: invite people into a studio ( with audience )and let them discuss the more heartbreaking, lurid or shocking aspects of their lives. A faux-concerned/ insincere host will stand at a distance, microphone in hand coupled with condescension and shock on face. Advice is offered, surprises are unveiled and the audience leaves, content that their lives aren't nearly " as bad as that ". Until the next day.

Pretty simple, really. Not to mention cost-effective. Talk shows are exploitative and therapeutic, helping us viewers put our own minor crises in perspective. For their on-air confessions and inevitable humilation, guests receive the V.I.P ( irony, much? ) treatment - a night in a hotel, free meals and chauffeured Limos. Fair trade?

They seem to think so. How else can you explain the enduring popularity of the talk show, where production is so dependent on racy topics and vocal guests?

It seemed anyone with a voice was gettting into the talk show game for a while. I started becoming interested in them about 1993 - just before the " Ricki effect ", when every successive talk-show had to be fresh, hip and energetic. It was more low-key then - hankerchiefs and hugs. But the forum style of talk show was dying out, so producers decided to re-invent the genre, finding new ways to appeal to as-of-yet unreached demographics. Because we just couldn't do without another reminder of how depraved society has become.

Here's a very quick look at some of the stranger choice of talk show hosts.

Name: Gabrielle Carteris
Show: " Gabrielle "
Style of show: Old-school " group therapy ". Nothing new or innovative.
Before she was a talk show host: Appeared in substandard TV movies; played nerdy Andrea in " Beverly Hills 90210 "
Talk show demographic: Housewives.
Her style: Friend from next door.
Hit or miss: Big miss. Very short-lived and unmemorable outing.

Name: Ricki Lake
Show: " Ricki "
Style of show: Brighter, breezier style of talk show. Less serious. Younger.
Before she was a talk show host: She appeared as the blimp in " Hairspray ".
Talk show demographic: College kids and housewives.
Her style: Big-boned girl with nothing but love.
Hit or miss: Huge hit. Won over the younger demographic.

Name: Montel Williams
Show: " Montel "
Style of show: Geraldo with no hair and a black body.
Before he was a talk show host: Served in the military.
Interesting tidbit: Had both of his nipples removed, the result of an inaccurate cancer diagnosis. What a tit.
Talk show demographic: Housewives.
His style: Hot chocolate with a sugary tongue.
Hit or miss: A moderate hit.

There were more entrants than that. Most show up for half a season, then disappear back to bit-part obscurity. Queen Latifah was given a show, Leeza Gibbons proved even more insincere than usual and Jenny Jones continues to screech through her painfully irrelevant show. And while Oprah took the higher ground and pursued a one-woman clean-up operation of America, we were left without a ringmaster to wallow in America's filth. But he was there. Lurking beneath societal decay. From the mayoral office he strode... with one purpose in mind:

To exploit the gap-toothed yokels of trailer-trashdom.

His name?

Jerry Springer

It's hard not to enjoy this brand of guttersniping. Jerry's show is so over-the-top and so crazy that even the most humorless of droogs must get a rise out of it. Actually, I know that's not true, since I've been called everything from " immoral " to " weird " for watching this " sick " show. I honestly don't know what's so sick about it. Jerry invites a group of hillbillies or whores, lets them vent for 20 minutes, cracks a few childish jokes and we all laugh at their idiocy. The show follows a very simple formula, but with crazy titles like " Aliens dissected my genitals " and " My hamster is cheating on me with my best friend's husband ", it's a formula I don't mind consuming.

We have Jerry and his smirky charm asking the questions; Steve the " Stone Cold " lookalike to break up the obligatory fights; and the audience who " ooh " and " aah " like they're auditioning for a French porno. Here's a very abbreviated version of every show.

" I have a secret to tell my partner "

- Guest comes out. Usually overweight or unintelligible.

Guest: Jerry, I'm here today to say I luv mah husband, but I got a secret to tell him.

Jerry: What's your secret? Before we bring out your unsuspecting, lamb to the slaughter husband, we're all dying to know.

Guest: I...I...I'm really a man, Jerry.

Audience " oohs " and " aahs "

Jerry: No way!

Guest: There's more. I'm sleeping with his brother, best friend AND younger son.

Audience " oohs " and " aahs "

Jerry: Well, let's bring him out.

Poor schmuck walks out and embraces the love of his life. Meaningless affirmations follow. " Yeah, we're really happy ". " She is da one for me, yo " e.t.c

Guest: Honey, I got a secret to tell you.

Schmuck: Ok.

Guest: Please promise you won't get mad.

Schmuck: Ok.

Guest: This is really hard for me.

Audience laugh. Jerry shooshes them.

Schmuck: Ok.

Guest: You know I love you, boo.

Schmuck: Ok. Get on with it, for fuck's sake!

Guest: I'm a man.

Schmuck jumps up, spurns his " lover " and mocks disgust/anger.

Schmuck: I thought that was a pimple between your legs.

Guest: Shut your mouth, bitch! At least I got somethin' between mah legs. And so does your brother, who I been secretly fucking for the past six years.

Jerry: Let's bring out... Cletus.

Schmuck makes a blind charge at Cletus. Like most bottom-dwellers, they scrap rather than fight. They pull each other's shirts and swear a lot. They throw chairs. Steve breaks them up. They sit down.

( calm restored )

Schmuck: How could you do that? You're my brother, man.

Cletus: She came onto me. Crazy whore. Look at her.

Guest: Shut yo mouth, yo stoopid little fucka. Ain't none of yo real men. And oh yeah I been sleepin' wit yo son. And let me say he got a bigga one than yo.

Jerry: He drives a bigger truck?

Audience explodes with laughter


And it continues like that. The sexual criticisms fly faster than the furniture, while the poor schmoes telling their stories are oblivious to the fact that they are the butt of every college joke. It's good, dirty fun. Cheap, unseemly television poking fun at the lowerbreds. All wrapped up by Jerry's soulful, yet out of place " final thoughts ". After the carnage of another show, Jerry sits calmly in front of the camera and delivers a poker-faced monologue about the moral of the story. It's like having Oprah pop up at the end of " T2 " and explain that murder isn't the answer. The moral with " The Jerry Springer Show " is that there is no moral. It's just an hour replete with willing degenerates and whores. Like walking around Las Vegas...

Final Thoughts: The talk show fad doesn't look to be easing up anytime soon. Jerry's popularity may have diminished considerably since the shock and tumbles of 1998. We've seen it all before. Audiences are jaded, and many have tuned out. The censors have clamped down on the more risque elements of his show. However, enough people are tuning in to bolster Jerry's standing as the king of the sleazy talk show. As long as there are colleges around the world, he'll continue to be a cult favorite. So I guess the moral is: exploit the more unsavory aspects of humanity. Or relish the mayhem.

Take care of yourself and each other.