For more than a quarter-century, whenever I’d hear or see Jerry Springer, a country song title would come to mind:
How Can We Miss You If You Never Go Away?
After 27 years and nearly 4,000 tawdry, shameless, idiotic episodes, it appears as if “The Jerry Springer Show” is finally headed to that great Cesspool in the Ground.
“The staff was informed in April about the murky fate, when the syndicated show didn’t get a pickup from the station group. The CW swooped in with a deal to air the series, but the order is currently just for repeats.”
Please, CW, PLEASE: Don’t order any more new episodes. Airing out the old trash is odious enough, but please don’t contribute to any further Springer-fueled pollution.
Way back when, I kept a framed, handwritten note from Jerry Springer on a shelf in my office. Visitors would think it was some kind of joke — and in a way, it was. A fun conversation piece.
But I really WAS a guest on “The Jerry Springer Show.”
No, it wasn’t the “Kung Fu Hillbilly” episode, nor was I a guest on “I Married a Horse!” or “Bitter Backstabbers.”
In fact, the episode involved no chair-throwing, no bleeped-out yelling, no calls for security to separate combatants. As I recall, Springer moderated a civil and informative discussion about the journalism of the day.
This was in the early 1990s, when Springer’s nationally syndicated show had only recently set up shop in Chicago. You see, before Springer cemented his way into the history books as the ringmaster of arguably the trashiest, ugliest, nastiest, most exploitative and most depressing program ever aired on American television, he presided over a legitimate TV talk program, featuring notable guests debating important topics.
When that didn’t work, a new executive producer was hired, and “The Jerry Springer Show” underwent a transformation more repulsive than anything experienced by a late-night movie creature.
Day after day, Springer played the P.T. Barnum to a never-ending freak-show parade of guests as he pandered to the lowest common denominator.
Guests would come out and reveal deep secrets on national television. Cheating on a spouse, having a strange fetish, that sort of thing.
Hate groups were trotted out so the host and the studio audience (and the folks at home) could boo and hiss.
Transvestites were exploited for laughs. Prostitutes bragged about their work.
Some guests would flash the audience. Others would start brawling as the feverish crowd chanted “JAIR-REE, JAIR-REE, JAIR-REE!”
(Springer would almost always be in the crowd when the violence broke out, shaking his head and staying out of the fray, as if to say, “Hey folks, this isn’t MY doing.”)
Springer was a bigger lightning rod than any antenna atop any skyscraper in Chicago. Locals and tourists alike delighted in attending “Springer” tapings, either out of sincere affection for the show, or in some kind of ironic, detached way.
When Springer appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone costumed as Lucifer, Saint Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger launched a protest against the show.
In 1997, the esteemed NBC-5 anchors Ron Magers and Carol Marin were horrified when it was announced Springer would be doing commentaries on the 10 p.m. newscast. (The Springer show taped in NBC Tower, which of course is also home to WMAQ-Channel 5.) Marin delivered an emotional and powerful farewell message on a live newscast; Springer’s first commentary was about the “elitist snobbery” of his critics. (Shortly thereafter, JAIR-REE quit the gig. He didn’t even last a week.)
Even though “The Jerry Springer Show” was taped in Chicago from 1991 to 2009 (when production moved to Connecticut), Springer was never embraced as a Chicago guy and (perhaps wisely) never seemed to try to become a part of the fabric of Chicago life. I’d see him out and about once in a while, and he was always pleasant and low-key — because of course that was just a character he was playing on a silly TV show, and none of it should be taken seriously.
Except it was a seriously offensive, degrading, garbage product, and Jerry and his EP guru Richard Dominick always knew that. In 2002, when TV Guide named “Springer” as the worst show in television history, Dominick said, “We’re thrilled to accept this prestigious award from TV Guide. And I’d like to thank my mother.”
At the conclusion of every slugfest/sleazefest of a show, Springer would face the camera for a putatively heartfelt commentary that concluded with him saying, “Until next time, take care of yourself and each other.”
That’s Hall of Fame level hypocrisy right there. “The Jerry Springer Show” was never about anyone taking care of anyone else.
It was about Jerry exploiting some of the saddest and most terribly broken people in the world.