Farewell to The Jerry Springer Show: 27 years of fights, bleeps and outrage


The talkshow, which deals in exploitation and moral panic, looks like it has fought its last fight but its impact is felt everywhere from Real Housewives to the White House

After 27 years and almost 4,000 episodes, The Jerry Springer Show has halted production. Officially, the series is in limbo, awaiting a new home, but the writing seems to be on the wall. Maybe the world has seen the last ripped wig, the last flung chair, the last horse sexy enough for a man to marry.

If so, oh well. The likelihood is that you didn’t even know The Jerry Springer Show was still being made. Like many people – including me, until this news broke – you probably assumed that it flamed out back in the early oos, shortly after TV Guide named it the worst TV show of all time. Your assumption, and mine, was that The Jerry Springer Show was such a relentless orgy of humanity’s worst impulses that audiences became too sad to keep watching it. But perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps we just don’t need The Jerry Springer Show any more.

Society has been informed by Jerry Springer to a harrowing degree. Before it debuted in 1991, television was a much more sedate medium. With the possible exception of The Morton Downey Jr Show, the talkshows that predated Springer were calm affairs full of issues and discussion. Springer’s first episode – a family reunion show – tapped into this climate. But this relative tranquility wouldn’t last long; by the middle of the decade, the series dropped all pretence of civility in an all-encompassing quest for ratings.

It paid off. After broadcasting episodes with titles such as “I Slept with 251 Men in 10 Hours!” and “I’m a Breeder for the Klan”, The Jerry Springer Show quickly gained a reputation for tabloid excess. Success followed. In 1998 – the year of the infamous I Married A Horse episode – Springer briefly toppled Oprah in the ratings. A series of videos entitled Too Hot For TV, comprising unbleeped and unpixelated segments of the show, sold in their hundreds of thousands. The show was spoofed, with Springer’s willing participation, in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The show became a full-tilt race to the bottom. It didn’t take long to get there.

Hair raising … two guests have a robust debate during a recording of Jerry Springer. Photograph: Todd Buchanan/Getty Images

In 1999, a 15-year-old boy in Florida was charged with the sexual battery of his eight-year-old half-sister, telling detectives that he had learned about incest from The Jerry Springer Show. A year later, the subject of a segment called Secret Mistresses Confronted was found dead hours after her episode was broadcast. Her ex-husband, who had appeared with her onscreen, was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

But the show ploughed on regardless. The same year as the “mistresses” episode, Springer signed a new $30m contract. He spent the next decade churning out episodes like “Oops … I Had Sex with a Tranny!”, “Midget Madness!” and “You’re a Virgin & I Can’t Wait”.

But nothing this sensational can sustain itself. The show began to invent characters to hurl into the fray, such as the drunk and dishevelled Reverend Shnorr. From this point on, it was be a long, slow road to cancellation.

But look at everything that Springer has given us. The nasty, bear-baiting nature of his show bled into the mainstream and gave us Simon Cowell. Entire TV channels are devoted to witless Real Housewives catfights, each of which is a descendent of Jerry Springer. In the UK, we have Jeremy Kyle, who has kept all the exploitation of The Jerry Springer Show, but retained none of the self-deprecating wit. Springer saw himself as the ringleader of a circus, but Kyle sees himself as a moral crusader, which is much more dangerous.

The show’s sense of mob rule, where audiences are whipped up into a terrifying froth and urged to come down as hard as possible on subjects they know little about, has been replicated on Twitter. Springer’s “final thought”, which attempted to paper over the atrocities of a given episode with trite platitudes, is present in every motivational quote posted to Instagram. And what is Springer’s furious ratings-at-any-cost attitude if not a clear precursor to clickbait?

Worse still, we are living in an age that perfectly demonstrates the danger of giving fuel to bullies and bigots. Two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, Springer tweeted: “Trump’s 1st cabinet picks: a white supremacist, a man with a history of bigotry & another who calls Islam a fake religion. Is this America?” It is, Jerry, and you helped build it.

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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